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Thursday, February 9, 2012

How to address humans who mistreat pets

A lot of my blog is about treating our dogs with compassion; setting them up for success; rewarding good behavior instead of waiting for our dogs to mess up then punishing them.

People deserve no less compassion,

but I must admit that when I see people mistreating their dogs, I often get judgmental.  I just can’t fathom why someone would get a dog then leave him/her outside all day and all night in all sorts of elements.

Although I often catch myself being guilty of fundamental attribution error, I try to force myself to remember that just because someone doesn’t think like I think or act like I would act, they are not always bad people.

Some people might have had parents who  never took care of dogs and those folks never learned any better.

I also know from my own personal experience that using negatives will just turn a person off. So we cannot just go at people and tell them how cruel they are or how better off their dog would be. That would make them defensive and angry.

Treat people like we treat our dogs
When I train my dogs, I try to find tiny little things to reward to eventually get me to the behavior I want.  i.e. when I want my dog to roll over, I don’t expect a roll over the first time I teach it. I might ask for a just a head dip, then maybe a bend in the shoulder, then maybe a down, then maybe play dead. Eventually, the dog will roll all the way over and have fun doing it because he/she was rewarded for tiny successes along the way.

We should try to apply the same logic when working with humans. Don’t expect them to go from being awful pet parents to good pet parents after one condescending lecture.

Maybe the first thing might be an outdoor shelter, then maybe a crate in the house, then maybe gated into the spare bathroom. Once the owners start seeing the dog as a family member, they might take it from there. Start with offering them an old dog house you aren’t using (actually you just bought if for their dog but they don’t need to know that)

Here is what I suggest

Establish a rapport - at first don’t even discuss the dog.  Just chat, try to find something you have in common. Something you both like or even something you both hate. A sports team, a TV show, a book etc..

Eventually try to steer the conversation towards the subject of the dog - in a positive manner.  i.e.” I noticed you have a (insert breed here). I was just reading that (insert something good about the breed here)”  Maybe even get them some books or magazines on the breed - maybe you can make the dog more interesting in their mind. i.e. “I”m finished with this book I was just reading if you’d like to check out.”

Then try to subtly ascertain how/why the dog is living outdoors. Then try to positively and subtly offer alternatives.

Maybe they were raised in a family that always had outside dogs. If so, invite them to your house and show them how pets can be be indoor family members

Maybe they don’t even like dogs but had the dog dumped on them. If so, help them find placement at a shelter or at another home.

Maybe someone is allergic. If so, show them how they can work around allergies like setting up a dog free zone in the house or wiping down the dog daily or  taking medication, etc..

Maybe the dog isn’t house trained. I so, show them how to positively potty train their dog without punishing.

Maybe the dog is destructive. If so, give them some old Kongs and show them how to stuff them to keep the dog occupied.

Maybe the dog makes too much noise.  Once again, Kongs and other toys might keep the dog occupied and quiet.

Maybe they think the dog is stinky. Tell them you just got a couple of coupons for a free self service dog bath and was wondering if their dog would like to come along while you take your dog.

Maybe they think an outside barking dig is an intruder deterrent. Explain to them how an indoor dog can do a much better job of protecting them.

Other things to try.

Train the dog or teach them how to train so that the dog might be cuter and/or more interesting to them.

Tell them you just read a book on clicker training. Your dog picked up things right away and you’d be curious to know if you could apply it to a dog who doesn’t know you.  Ask if you can try to teach the dog some basic commands.  Then if you could teach the dog some really cute tricks, they  might like the dog a bit more.  I don’t spend a lot of time with puppies but from the little experience I’ve had, I have noticed that they raise their paws often. This could be captured and shaped into a “high give” or “wave”

Maybe show them how the dog can learn to walk on leash (without being yanked around) then introduce them to all sorts of dog friendly activities that could they partake in with the dog.

Divide and Conquer
While you are establishing rapport, try to figure out who dislikes the dog the least and really work on that person.  Then the next person and so on. Or maybe just one person is good enough.

Take Matters into your own hands - if you dare. The beauty of clicker training is that you don’t have to touch the dog or even be close to the dog. With some work, you might able to teach the dog how to be quiet, how to sit, lay down etc. by clicking and tossing treats.
Problems with this
- weight gain
- dietary restrictions
- angry owners
- other animals in the yard who might fight over food

If the dog has no other friends, you could play with him over the fence. Put a ball on long string, toss it and have the dog bring it back to the fence to get you to toss it again.  When done playing pull the ball back over to your side.

I hesitate to mention an indoor crate. They are needed to keep puppies out of trouble, but so many people abuse them  - keep dogs locked up for way to long. So when you talk to them about crates but sure to discuss that leaving the pup in too long can cause behavioral issues. And it’s okay to put a pup in big crate. Especially if he is going to be left there for hours at a time.

If things are bad enough to report, then by all means, call 311 and report an animal being left out in the elements with no shelter.

Final Thoughts
I was once in a situation where I was concerned about a neighbor dog. I did several of the things mentioned above.  I wound up buying  their dog ad dog house,  all sorts of leashes and harnesses, getting their dog fixed, walking their dog daily and I never got them to “like” their dog. It broke my heart when I had to move and leave that dog there.

So the downside is that there is a chance that none of the above will work.  On a more positive note, if you could convince them to give up the pup, you might have an easier time placing him if he has had some training and socialization.

Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor.  The title is misleading. The book is about all species  - humans, horses, llamas, dogs, etc.. It’s a small 200 page book. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing. Try reading just Chapter 4.

Reaching the Animal Mind - by Karen Pryor - This one is more about animals but has some human applications as well. Read the chapter on tag teaching.

Getting Started Clicker Training For Dogs by Karen  Pryor. I have not read this one but as I understand it, it’s a beginners book. I’m sure it will have helpful info on how to clicker train the pup

My blog:  Puddin’s Training Tips. I have a bunch of info and videos on force free training. Not much on clicker training yet.

Kikopup youtube channel. Lots of great videos on dog training using positive reinforcement.

Love has no age limit - by Patricia McConnell.   An excellent beginner book on getting a new rescue dog.  It’s more like a pamphlet. I would buy them a copy. No clicker training but it has some good advice on force free training.

How to be the Leader of the Pack and Have Your Dog Love You For It. By Patricia McConnell. This is a small pamphlet that can easily be read in one sitting. I don’t recommend watching the Dog Whisperer since most of his technique should NOT be tried by the average pet parent (as it states several times during the program). This book has some excellent compassionate ways that pet parents can establish leadership.

Living with pet allergies from HSUS

Crates: A Good Thing Gone Bad

Grisha Stewart’s Behavior Adjustment Training - Chapter 3 on Management has some instructions or quieting barking outdoor dogs.

Low Cost Spay/Neuter/Vaccinations

Taming Vet Bills

Dominance Theory - first draft of a presentation I’m working on

For dog friendly activities, go to and type in “dogs” to find out all the things they can do with their dog. The most active group is probably the San Antonio Nature Hounds.


  1. Awesome information! I can tell you have great compassion for dogs, their training and reaching out to people who may need a little nudge to learn how to like their dog more. You've posted some great article links and will choose a few to read that applies for my helping my neighbor and their pup.
    Thanks so much for your help.

    1. Thanks Day. I hope something will work for the poor pup. I'd love to snatch every dog who isn't being treated humanely but the sad part is, where would they go? If we can convince people to treat their pets better, then those dogs can stay where they are. Which frees up room to get more dogs off the street.
      Thanks for caring
      La Trenda