There is a trainer who shall remain nameless who believes in controlling a dog by what she calls the “Down Restraint Technique.” Translation: Alpha rolling a dog and keeping it pinned to the ground with an elbow in the dog’s throat, leaning on it’s side and having several people hold down the feet spread apart–yep, several people are required to pile on — until it submits.
The point of this?! Here’s the trainer’s rational: “What we’re doing is basically ‘de-throning’ the king. Since he is dominant/aggressive. So this shows him that we control everything, even his body.”
This dog was neither dominant nor aggressive — just frightened and large. But this sure is a great way to make a dog unpredictably aggressive by teaching it to hide it’s warning signals. I can’t even speak to the idiocy of this!
Anyone who thinks man-handling a dog teaches control is someone you should run far away from. Here’s the point: If you need to control your dog, you don’t have a trained dog. In order for a dog to be controlled, IMHO, that requires that you give the dog tools for self-control. It’s the difference between fear and abuse, and education and learning.
I’d previously mentioned my trainer and Ph.D. Psychologist friend, Heide Coppotelli, who is one of the best in the country. Here’s what she had to say on control. It’s long but worth the read, whether you have a dog or not.
“Glad to see this topic come up. Control is a very mixed bag, in my view, something critical to life that gets taken way far afield and goes very wrong… Got to musing about this. Maybe a little surprised to find where it led back to…
Deep in the brain are programs that are devoted to control–starting with homeostasis, the regulation of vital body work within livable range. Then there are the numerous interactive processes by which we monitor, respond to, and check up on our connection to the environment–all the feedback processes/loops, including trial-and-error (operant) learning–they, too, function on the principle of control. On still another level, there are the rules and roles that maintain adaptive connections and interaction within social groupings–also depending on some measure of control.
All these vital processes are based on a give-and-take feedback plan, a balancing mechanism that operates over a whole range (of viable and adaptive values) and that guides events back toward a centering point when they move ‘too’ far in one direction or in another away from a theoretic midpoint. Without the variability, there would be no adaptation and no survival. Without a control process, there would be no capturing the variations into a survivable range.
It is human ego that has turned the concept of control into what amounts to a power trip (another addictive substance), i.e., ego has embraced power OVER–in relation to pretty much everything around us.
This notion of power over, once you begin to start looking more closely, is deeply embedded even in many religious frameworks and has overshadowed with various political, economic, and technical means even our cherished idea ‘freedom.’ Think about all the ways that the idea of â€˜power overâ€™ permeates modern medicine. Is it any wonder that it is almost as ubiquitous as hair in dog work.
Our kind has construed itself pretty much as masters of the universe– despite where a whole bunch of the planet travels on some part of the weekend to pay homage to a higher power than ourselves. I often think there’s a preponderance of lip service. Cynically, I would sometimes say, “…and on the 7th day, the Ego took a rest,” until I realized that ego didn’t take that day off either…
Getting back to dog work… It really takes a growing awareness of ourselves to change from being consumed with ‘power over’– however we dress it up with words and images to make it slick and sell it as good–to ‘working with.’ That would involve *listening to* rather than ‘doing to,’ and THAT, we complain, takes time, time that we are persuaded we simply do not have. It takes effort we can’t add to our multi-tasked lives, we plead.
If you can stand to read a little more of this commentary, let me add a really huge irony. Our species not only freakishly pursues power over everything it can get its hands on, we humans pair it with a heap of totally out-of-control behavior! Think global warming and environmental destruction, military spending around the world, population explosion, addictive consumption, and on and on.
Clearly a mess almost too big to contemplate. Do we throw our hands up, then? Well, that’s what I liked so much about what someone wrote–she thought about this, was taken aback, and then started to look at power/control real close to home, with herself. She nurtured awareness and took conscious actions, small, slow, steady. THAT can change the world. You’d like what Mother Teresa said to a reporter once! She was asked, how can we solve the problem of world hunger? Her reply, without missing a beat was, “Feed one hungry person.” That was her wisdom, the secret energy of toiling in the mess with personal commitment, practical personal acts, and the influence of personal example.
Back then to the world in which we live, where the first thing that so many children say as they walk up to me with one of my dogs is, “Can you make that dog sit?!” Spend a moment on what that sentence carries in it, what it implies about the human stance–from very early on… I can at that moment make a difference, not only by the REQUEST of a sit (as someone said in another discussion), as opposed to a demand, but I can also teach the child a different way of being with a dog.
There are many, many moments in our days when we can do the equivalent of feeding one hungry person to address the shame of inflicting â€˜power overâ€™ on the dogs who inhabit our lives–at home, in town, in class, at the ring…. Methinks that we HAVE TO do it. That’s why I’m hoping we who talk about this with one another will also speak up and out–not with a lot of brassy noise-making, but with a steady personal voice, and the personal acts that give that voice credibility and set an example in the world around us.
Now, if healthy control is properly a *balance* concept, then our example is needed to articulate not only when control turns to shameful power over, but also when it slides to shameful extremes represented by a lack of healthy control–that is, by neglect, indifference, discarding of dogs… and also insane indulgence that overburdens dogs with excessive emotion, goodies, and stimulation.
Railing at people isn’t going to do it. But, we can make a difference with the courage to look at ourselves and to speak by example, to not step away from looking into the eyes of those whom we find oppressed, but also looking into the eyes of those who wield the power that oppresses them. Feeding that one hungry person is the beginning. Don’t do it under a bushel, is what I’d add.
For me, I am realizing that the bigger challenge is often not that of speaking the truth or living it with the dog right in front of me, but to live and speak the truth without strangling the livin’ shit out of the human in front of me who is ‘controlling’ a dog and to whom I want to get the message. And that brings me back to the incredible difficulty of the power struggle within–and to the recognition that if I want to influence the person who is heaping power over a dog, I cannot do it by heaping my power over the person. Believe it, that’s a challenge. I keep trying to learn from Mother Teresa how to do that… stand in the truth and share it. She didn’t say, “… to solve the problem of world hunger, you slug the sob who hogged the rice bag…”
Heide (scruffy student) Coppotelli