Tough “Community”

I have joined (and left) several service dog “support” groups on facebook recently.  I have noticed things on these pages that made me feel that I was better off “on my own” so to speak.  Each group, as with most (or all in my opinion) social media attracted drama, poorly spoken opinions and a “my way is the only way” attitudes.  Each group had a slightly different feel and different levels of drama were accepted on each page but it all seemed counter productive to me.  I found that with each question or issue presented there were a multitude of people ready to give advice and/or their opinion, which could be a good thing but somehow almost never seemed to be.  Often I found myself thinking, “Wow these people have way too much time on their hands” which is strange because I am unemployed and home all day…

I was often taken aback by the attacks that would start out with a simple training question being posed on the page.  People respond with how they deal with those problems with their own dogs (good feedback it seems) but then often they would continue on with what the wrong way to do it was or how the specific question asker was doing it wrong.  These were not suggestions or constructive criticism, these were serious and sometimes brutal attacks and declarations.  I consider myself a relatively well spoken person.  I try to give myself a little cool off period if something evokes a strong emotional response before I respond or give an opinion, because I know how emotions can make us more extreme (me especially).  Perhaps many of the people on these pages have forgotten too give themselves a cooling off period?

Things as simple as the way a person feeds their Service Dog, or how they choose to identify their SD.  Who cares?!  Sure, I spend a fortune on dog food and our three dogs don’t eat the same food because Jordan is allergic to red meat and peas (who would have thought, peas?!) and Judah needs a higher protein higher fat food (as does the puppy, obviously) to keep him at a good weight.  Jordan is a lab, the last thing he needs is more fat!  The boys (that’s how we refer to the dogs as a pack, perhaps a girl next?) eat Taste of the Wild, Jordan it’s their fish formula while Judah and the puppy eat the Fowl (chicken, turkey, duck, quail etc.).  It’s a grain free food and they do great on it.  Often on these pages people ask the food question, well, being a former “dog food professional” I am always willing to share my knowledge.  I would explain the benefits of grain free vs. with grain foods, talked about the importance of the quality of ingredients above all else and explain that if all else fails it is more about what isn’t in the food rather than what is (no corn, wheat or soy- these are not digestible for dogs and cats and are basically long term exposure to an allergen, leading to skin and ear problems, shedding and dander, tear stains etc.).  I was attacked over this conversation!  Seriously?!

Well I shouldn’t suggest that grain free is the only way to go- um… I didn’t.  In fact there are some dogs that don’t do well at all on a grain free diet.  I have a friend that after suggesting his new dog eat a grain free diet he got Blue Buffalo’s grain free fish (great food, if I could afford it- I would try the boys on it) he was having trouble keeping weight on the dog.  He was feeding 6 cups a day to this dog and he was still far too skinny.  So I suggested he try a food with grains in it, his dog is a very high energy guy and I thought he may need more carbs, well didn’t that make a great difference.  He is still feeding Blue Buffalo just a different formula and his dog is doing great.  I was simply answering the question posed by a first time dog owner with her new service dog.  I explained the differences in the foods, what makes them different and how each type can be beneficial depending on the dog, but my attacker didn’t see that, she saw that I hadn’t suggested the food that she feeds her dog so assumed I was speaking out of turn.  When I posed the question as to what her background was within the realm of dog food she immediately stopped participating in the conversation.

It was not my intention to chase the woman out of the conversation but merely to defend my position.  I do not share information unless I know what I am talking about and I am always willing to hear (or read) an opposing view, I may not agree but I will respect the positions of others and I expect them to respect mine.  One of the most heated discussion topics on these pages is of course training.  I know that there are many opinions on how to train all types of dogs, service dogs or not.   I am often confronted in the service dog world with the “positive only” training style.  While I do think that this is extremely valuable method of training I believe that there is a time and place to use it.  Yes, I use this method of training when I am teaching my dogs anything that is a “human behavior”, i.e. something that a dog wouldn’t naturally perform.  When we do scent training exercises, oh boy am I a positive only advocate, teaching tricks and tasks- same thing.  However, when I am teaching my dog how to be a member of my pack I prefer to use what I consider a more natural way using pack dynamics and by “speaking dog”.  I don’t think that this is the only way to train your dog, but it is the way that makes the most sense to me and it is the one I use.  I often use Cesar Milan (“The Dog Whisperer”) as an example, he speaks dog to dogs- seems logical to me.  I often work with dogs that have behavioral problems and find that throwing food at the problem never teaches them to learn coping skills.  When it comes to respect of my space, social behavior, walking, playing and other natural dog behaviors I believe that “training” isn’t the solution to those situations (just my opinion).

I grew up working on a horse farm and saw a lot training methods used and always found that natural horsemanship was the most productive and worked best to build a strong relationship between horse and human.  After spending countless hours watching these horses interact with each other I began to see their methods of communication and these were the principals of the “training” style that I use to this day.  Why would we do it any different with dogs?  People often think that these methods are counter intuitive, but lets be realistic- dogs are predatory animals, there for their methods of communication will reflect that.  I don’t believe in unnecessary dominance or a thug approach to dealing with dogs but there is a certain amount of respect that needs to be learned from enforcing pack dynamics.  People often question how we live in a house with 4 male dogs and no problems.  In my opinion it’s simple and anyone can live that way- our dogs know that none of them are the leader, the humans are.  They certainly communicate with each other and there is a definite pack order but the people are always at the top.  When any dog that I work with shows he is reactive to a given situation I choose to teach the dog to work through it, teach him how to face and deal with those problems.  I think that avoidance is a step in the process but should not be the end solution (that’s what we teach when we distract dogs from their problem areas).  Though I have strong opinions about training I do not think that it is my place to tell people their way is wrong.

I may sit on the other side of my computer and angrily grumble under my breath but I certainly don’t attack people for their opinions and situation.  I think that respect is a key component in any relationship between creatures of any species- including humans.  If I can’t respect those of my own species how could I ever respect a member of another species?  Dogs are just that dogs.  Though we have spent thousands of years breeding them to fit into our lives and serve a multitude of purposes (which we continue to adapt) they are still dogs, only 2/10 of a percentage point away from wolves.  I believe that respecting your dog as a dog and communicating with him as such is the best way to develop a strong and trusting relationship.  Every dog has different needs based on it’s breed, age, energy level, fears, etc. it is our responsibility to recognize, respect and fulfill these needs.  First and foremost they are animals, next they are dogs– these are the largest and most primary parts of your best friend, it’s important to respect that by communicating in a way that he both understands and responds to.

I was so put off by the responses of people on these “support group” pages that I removed myself from each one that I found.  While Ido know that not all people with service dogs are of this same state of mind I have found that many of these pages are flooded with them.  People who think that they are above the rules, above the judgement of others, above the basic respect that all things deserve- it was a little shocking, though I don’t think it should be.  Like I stated at the beginning, too much time on their hands- these people, in any community, will always be ready and willing to stir the pot.  I think I will stick to my blog friends for support for now (while I hope I haven’t offended any of them with this post).  I hope that as I am a part of this “community” for longer I will meet more people who are there simply for support and not to police the masses.  There are plenty of open minded (or at least respectful) people out there that are part of the service dog community, these people are always available to support and befriend a new member.  I think that until people ask for my advice in a professional context I will continue to bite my tongue (sometimes until it bleeds).     🙂

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