Friday, August 28, 2009

Michael Vick Rises Again

So, Michael Vick played in an NFL preseason game yesterday. And the media coverage notes that there was very little in the way of protests. I'm not going to debate here whether or not this person should have a second chance in the rarefied air of an NFL quarterback. What I do want to make note of is the way the media is now referring to matters when discussing Vick.
In all the hours and hours of discussion before last night's game addressing whether or not Vick should be allowed to rejoin the league, I consistently heard his transgression referred to as "being involved in dogfighting." This is what really frosted me. Vick wasn't just walking down the street with his pet pit bull and got dragged into a dogfighting den. He had a kennel of pits specificially for that purpose, as far as I could tell from the original media coverage, he arranged some of the dogfights, and there is no doubt that he was involved in killing dogs in rather hideous fashion.
So he was just "involved in dogfighting." And I would like that point -- a pretty major one to my way of thinking -- remembered and restated when discussions revolve around Vick and his "redemption."
And I don't listen to hours and hours of sports broadcasting, but I am pretty interested, and I never heard any announcer refer to the many studies that link cruelty to animals with other crimes such as family abuse and even serial killing. I would really like the media to give this transgression the weight it deserves.
In all the discussion, I haven't heard anything about what Vick is doing to redeem himself. There was a brief flurry of speculation about him involving himself with PETA (wouldn't that be a wonderful thing--read that with heavy sarcasm), but that didn't fly, and I haven't heard anything since about him donating any of his salary to animal welfare or volunteering to clean out kennels at a local shelter, or anything like that.
I'm glad there wasn't a media circus upon his return to the game, but I'm very unhappy with the current coverage. It seems that he "made a mistake" and everyone deserves a second chance. Maybe so, but giving that second chance shouldn't involve any reversion of history. Vick did things far worse than anyone is currently publicly giving him credit for. And that's wrong, no matter how you feel about his future football career.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fun little ditty on YouTube

First off, I have to admit that I know little about the world of YouTube. I only look at things that friends send me. I've never actually gone to YouTube looking for videos to view. So I'm definitely not the one to tell you how to get there or do that.
But given that, I think it's worth the effort to find this one. It's called "God and Dog" by Wendy Francisco, and is a song accompanied by animation. Most dog people have long been amused or bemused by the fact that "dog" is "God" spelled backward. Does this make dogs divine, or brothers of the devil (that whole backwards thing gets involved in Satanism somehow)? Personally, I don't see how you can get a lot more divine than the unwavering love of a dog, so I don't think there's any doubt about that one.
And in the interest of full disclosure, I will say here that I don't subscribe to any particular religion. I do believe in morality and doing good, and don't think religion is necessary for either of those things. While I know many people for whom religion is a great comfort, it has also done much damage in the world. And whole religions use their holy books to foster anti-dog sentiments and actions. . . which puts the lie to the whole thing in my book.
Anyway, wandering off topic here. I hope you enjoy the YouTube effort. But beware. . . the song has been running in my head after viewing it twice.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Learning Dog Training from Television

This article was originally written for the IAABC website, and has frequently been requested to hand out to dog owners.

You can find a substantial amount of dog training on television these days. But, just like network sitcoms and dramas, quality varies. So how to you watch a television show dealing with matters canine and evaluate what you're seeing? Your training philosophy may or may not be the same as mine, but in the spirit of somewhat scientific inquiry, I think these points will help you make an assessment.
1. Remember you are watching television. That means, at the very least, that you're not seeing training and results in real time. Any ill responses can be edited out. What looks in the program like it took mere minutes may actually have been edited dowm from hours of real time. Events may even be shown in an order other than what occurred in real life. Some of this may be done simply to meet time constraints, but others reasons could be less benign -- to make the star of the show look better, to imply that the technique being shown is faster/easier than it actually is, to omit anything producers would prefer viewers not see. Always keep in mind that television presents a skewed view of reality, partly from necessity and partly from motives of one sort or another.
2. Give some thought to any disclaimers or warnings the show may contain. Yes, we live in a litigious society and producers want to protect themselves, but if a dog training program is broadcast with the caveat "do not attempt this at home," then it isn't serving any real education purpose. It's either nothing more than pure entertainment or it's a purely commercial message masquerading as a regular show. Think about it -- if you aren't supposed to use the techniques being shown, what are you meanto to get out of the show?
3. Turn off the sound so you don't hear what the trainer or the voiceover may be saying, and watch the body language of the dog. Make up your own mind about if the dog is enjoying the experience, if the dog is stressed, what you think the dog might be learning. Most programs repeat regularly (and many people have Tivo), so wathc the first time with the sound off, make note of your observations, then watch again with the volume up, and see how the show's version of what is happening agrees or disagrees with what you saw. Don't just assume that the trainer is right and you are wrong.
4. Ask yourself "is this something I want to do/would enjoy doing with my dog?" Unless your dog has serious behavioral issues (in which case you need face-to-face help from a behavior specialist), training should be enjoyable for both of you. If you don't like what you're doing, odds are you won't do it as often or as wholeheartedly as you should. Training works best in frequent short sessions, so you need to do it often. If you don't like what you're doing, that's not likely.
5. Don't be swayed by the physical appearance, voice, or "presence" of the show host. You may enjoy listening to him or watching her, but that has little to do with the effectiveness of the training. Watch the dog or, if the camera angle permits, watch the face of the owner as training is done to her or his dog. Do they look like they're enjoying the experience, or are they apprehensive or alarmed? Show hosts are chosen because producers expect the audience to like them and tune in to see them. That doesn't make them reputable experts.
6. Look for any follow-up informaiton. Does the show go back and check in on how the dogs and owners are doing? Are the owners given any instructions for how to continue their training? Don't just assume that what may have looked like it worked in the show continued working indefinitely. Training is a fluid process that often requires ongoing adjustment.
This is just a half dozen basic techniques for assessing what you're seeing. If you watch just to watch, it doesn't matter, but if you're thinking about applying anything you see on tv to your interactions with your own dog, please take the time to give it some serious thought.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Welcome to My Dog-Inhabited World

I sort of figured out this blog thing with my first blog, GrabLifebytheLeash, and now that I've got a better handle on it, I'd like to start fresh. So welcome to
DogsInSociety. In this blog, I will look at how dogs fit into society, what works and what doesn't, what I wish I could wipe off the face of the earth, the occasional heartwarming story, and lots more.
I will use this space to praise those taking the time to help dogs fit into society, scorn those who are having the opposite effect. For example, I have before me an ad for the "pet's eye view camera." The truly horrifying copy proudly exclaims "After your pet gets home from a day of exploring, simply plug the camera into your computer to see the captured images. Its water-resistant ABS housing will keep it secure while your best friend roams the world." Sigh. Who out there still thinks it's a good idea to let your best friend "roam the world"? There unfortunately is plenty of this sort of idiocy out in the world, and I am, quite frankly, sick and tired of it. So yes, this is a place for me to vent, but I hope that it will do more than that. I hope that it will slowly but steadily move us toward a fine and fitting place for dogs in society. One where they aren't raised in filthy, tiny cages in puppy mills, trained to fight each other in pits, abandoned to "roam the world" or used as hostages in domestic violence situations.
So I hope you'll join me here often. I promise to post regularly (something I did not do with my first blog), and to try and keep it interesting for all. Please comment to let me know you're here and I'm not just talking to myself, and to provide your own outlook on any issues I may raise.