Recently there was a news regarding the treatment of a dog who was cast in a movie, where it was forced by its handler to enter the artificial rapids, poor dog was struggling in fear to get out but was thrown back into the water couple of times, there was also an instant where the dog was seen drowning and filming had to be stopped. Well I'm not surprised that such things are happening in the competitive world, in a way I can totally understand why. A movie is worth millions of dollars, every scene is just as important and costly, if the handler were to refuse putting his dog into the pool then he could've been in deep trouble, using cgi in animal films like this is not cost effective, it may also flop and cost investors a lot of loss.
Just take a look at the second link, someone(actor?) trying to cover up the footage by saying that the person who submitted the video was not showing everything and just want to ruin the movie. No matter what the agenda is, anybody with minimal behavioral knowledge can clearly understand that the dog in the video was extremely stressed out and was even forced into the pool repeatedly, drowning with one of the staff screaming to cut was not even close to fake.
Well I've been wanting to write something about this long before, and I guess this news pushed me to finish the article. Competitive dogs, which in my opinion means dogs that are trained for competitive purpose - dog shows, obedience, agility, tricks, movies, online stars, models etc. All these requires a lot of dedication, daily practices and natural talent to stand out. Since young I've always been wondering if things like these are needed and if they are really beneficial for dogs, I've always been a person that thinks differently, which I believe helps me to overcome problems that most people would find impossible. More often than not, ideas like these will result in hate from the community because it defies the natural reaction of an individual, and I believe after sharing my thoughts on competitive dogs, many trainers would also disagree and some may even be pissed off, well I'm sorry because I don't care, this is my opinion.
When a dog participates in a competition, both the trainer and dog will have to work very hard in order to stand out from the rest, lots of training and practices are required, many times trainers are stressed out by this and may resort to "short cuts" to speed up training progress, one of them is by using force and pain. I'm not even into the part where shocks and punching is involved, simple things like yelling and pinching is already effective enough to scare most dogs. There's no need to tell me how you specifically train your dog, I can go to dog shows and just a simple glance at their body language already says all. Unfortunately, fearful dogs tend to win more competitions because pain is more effective than food - You would rather feel less pain than be given a treat right?
There are a number of trainers that had been caught using abusive techniques to speed up competitive training, and most would answer that when they first started out, it was their trainer that taught them such methods, if you think about it this meant that abusive methods had been commonly taught for quite some time. Many of the trainers that are not caught have managed to set up their own company and there's nothing much we can do about these, they just need to pay $5000 for a force free certification and everything will be covered up.
Even if there's no abuse involved, for example using treats (which is much better), in my opinion is not even close to being fair to dogs. Yes by using food you can motivate a dog to perform and even exile, sometimes at a slower pace but at least it's harmless right? Well the whole idea is not just the methods used, but what outcome the humans want and for what purpose.
Note: I hope you know where this is going and are prepared to read further.
When a person trains a dog for competition, what does he want?
He wants to win!
He wants his school to be famous!
He wants his dog to be sought after!
He wants advertisement deals!
He wants fame!
He wants money!
What does the dog want?
It just wishes to impress you.
Is this even logical and fair to the dog?
I go to dog shows and I see beautiful dogs! The "best" are usually used for breeding to make even more beautiful puppies, then sold for exorbitant prices. Yes lots of time and effort on the breeder's part, but the dogs does not look happy to be on the stage, they do not enjoy being touched by strangers and picking on parts of their body, dogs also do not boast like peacocks, they do not impress their mates by dancing or strutting, this is not their nature. Nevertheless, I have to emphasize that among all competitive sections, dog shows in my opinion is among the least stressful ones, the worst ones are obedience, agility and pet stars.
In Obedience, the commonly used dogs are retrievers and shepherds, why? Because they are some of the most trainable breeds for obedience, so don't tell me that these people doesn't want to win. If you are really good, why limit breeds, why not challenge yourself with a chow chow or bulldog (known to be hard to train)? Because it doesn't make sense if one has the mentality to win medals, trainers might even disgrace themselves if their "hard to train" dogs doesn't perform as well as other schools.
The dog does not care for money, the dog does not care about medals, the dog does not care about the fame of you nor your school. Why do we need to push them for these things that are totally useless to them?
As for Amber, we teach her commands and tricks, she can understand more than 20 words but she could've easily exceeded 50 if we were to push her. However I prefer to go slow, teaching her the things that are important first, the rest is just for fun and bonding time. If I were to calculate, in these 5 years less than 20 people had seen her doing tricks, all of the displays were requested and we don't benefit anything from them, no stress if she can't do well. Simply put Amber is just enjoying herself at her own pace without fear of mistake or rushing, now this is what I call having fun!
That being said, if every competitive event were to cease, the dog world could become a boring place, events would be just about games and mingling, pretty dull isn't it? Putting negative opinions aside, I do find myself enjoying dog shows including agility and tricks, though not to the extend that I'd find myself cheering for any individual to win. I feel that events like this do not need to stop but winning should never be the main goal, events should be more about enjoying the day with one another, socializing and making new friends.
Well in the end, everything has its pros and cons, I am in no position to change the trend anyways, but being myself I will never put my own dogs in stress situations like competitive events. What about you?