The first question I got asked in my interview for veterinary school shocked me but I believe I got accepted in large part, because of how I answered it.

I was nervous and even more so once I was invited into the office. The large animal veterinarian on the faculty, took a look at me and reclined in his chair. He sat behind an old wooden desk piled with papers barely contained in the small office.

The door closed.

He said nothing.

After a few minutes, he leaned forward with a big sigh, narrowed his eyes and asked me, “What’s a little bitty girl like you gonna do with a 400# sow?”

I was pretty tiny. At 4’11”, I only weighed about 98# but this was not a question I had prepared for. I surprised myself as I quickly answered, maybe too quickly, “The same way you would. Any animal that large or larger is stronger than both of us so I would have to use training and tools to control them, just as you do.”

I don’t remember much of the interview after that but I left feeling confident. I was right. I got in.

That story returns to me when I see people using prong collars and other devices to control, basically, an itty bitty dog. Compared to a horse, bull, llama and other large animals, a dog is itty bitty and for you to think that you need to use painful or scary tactics to control them is nonsense.

It’s true that sometimes people use aversive tactics with large animals but it is also true that many don’t and that’s because it’s not necessary. We can control an elephant, a killer whale, a walrus and a raccoon with positive reinforcement techniques, environmental management and even medication when needed. So believe it.

Control does not have to hurt.

And certainly…
teaching and training never have to hurt.

After I got into veterinary school, I spent some time in a nearby, well-known and respected small animal practice. I was grateful to be chosen for such a prestigious hospital, but to my horror, I witnessed things I had not expected.

After a few days there, the technicians brought back a small black miniature poodle for vaccinations. The dog was resisting any handling and soon, there were four technicians along with one of the veterinarians, wrestling with this little tiny dog at the end of a rabies pole!!! I could hardly believe it.

With a shelf full of tranquilizers and sedatives, why was this necessary? As they laid on top of this dog, I shuddered thinking this handling could be life-threatening.

This incident with the poodle happened almost 30 years ago so we now know much more about fear free and low restraint handling as well as positive reinforecment training. But sadly, this type of restraint is still sometimes used and also sad, many people still think we need to force our dogs or overpower them to get the behavior we want.

If you are struggling with your dog’s behavior, please don’t believe you need to use painful or fear based methods or that you have to be the “alpha”.

It just isn’t true.

And isn’t that a relief? If you love your dog, you don’t want to hurt them anyway.

Think about this and next time, I’ll share an interesting story from an evening out at the Lake County Farmpark.

You can control a large, strong dog with the right tools and training. You can.

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