The Channel 5 debacle: the abuse of dogs in the name of ‘entertainment’!

This blog relates to the appalling treatment of dogs meted out by Graeme Hall in Channel 5’s series ‘Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly’.

Nothing gets a debate going like talking about dog training. Suffice to say that Hall’s methods are based on punishment and dominance. I have only watched Episode 1 of the current Series 3. In the ‘case’ of the unfortunate Great Dane, Trip, for example, look at Hall’s body language, towering over the subject with chest puffed out and hands on hips, yelling ‘no, no, no’! If I were a dog I’d be terrified! How often do I hear ‘yes, yes, yes,’ followed by praise and reward? He demonstrates no understanding of the science of learning – dog training in particular. Not once, in the episode was food involved (or any other primary reinforcer) – known to be a great motivator for dogs. Maybe the odd half hearted ‘good boy’, with inappropriate timing! The viewer is presented with a false picture; that punishment works. Of course it works in the short term but don’t forget we only have (what appears to be) 15 minutes to resolves the dogs’ ‘issues’. In reality they may be resolved in a couple of hours at best, but more usually days, weeks, even months.

In C5’s own words the program is classified as entertainment, not education. Entertainment? The abuse of animals in the 21st century?

The problem is that using punishment to train a dog is not actually training him/her. It is only teaching him/her to avoid punishment and the perpetrator, not what to do instead. When punishment is used in training, there is always fallout later and the dog will end up with a different behavioural issue to that which was first presented, not to mention an unhappy, withdrawn dog. For punishment to be effective the timing has to be exquisite with the timing of a computer (or indeed the dam) which most trainers do not have. Reinforcement, on the other hand, can be hit and miss, sometimes intentionally so, which is one reason why it works so well; it keeps the dog guessing! In any case how is a dog expected to learn when he/she is frightened? – they tend to run away given the opportunity – or, for example, exaggerate / escalate any pulling and lunging as happened in the episode!

Hall is presented with such; a pulling and lunging Great Dane. His so called ‘flick and release’, along with ‘blocking’ the dog, is advocated. He makes no attempt to remove the dog from the flashpoint causing much distress for the animal. What about systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning (SDCC)? The Great Dane, at one point, is eyeing the trigger, but below threshold. Rather than praising and reinforcing the wanted behaviour (NOT pulling and lunging), Hall is ignoring the dog whilst chatting to the owner. Typically, the reward here would be to induce self calming by placing treats on the ground and allowing the dog to sniff. This acts threefold; putting the dog in charge, calming the dog, establishing and reinforcing an alternative behaviour whilst being aware of the trigger – not simply distracting him. Even a simple neck massage. A missed opportunity indeed!

Training involves use of ‘The Training Quadrant’ but for brevity, suffice to say that we use ‘positive reinforcement’ (R+), and very occasionally ‘negative punishment’ (P-), that is the withholding of a treat or reward. Often I hear: “dogs are pack animals and need to be told who is in charge”. This falls into two categories; the pack theory and the dominance theory. And that’s just what they are; THEORIES!

1. The OED has some 13 definitions of the word ‘pack’. But for our purposes, ‘a group of wolves living and hunting together’ or ‘a group of wild animals hunting to bring down prey’. We can see that neither of these is true of the domesticated dog and observations will confirm this. For example ‘street dogs’ may hang around in groups but will scavenge or hunt for small prey as loners. (NB: The African wild dog, whilst being of the Canidae family, is of a different species – Lycaon pictus).

2. Dogs may or may not form a linear hierarchy amongst themselves (intra-species), depending on their individual personalities, but there is no evidence (in fact the reverse is true) that they form an inter-species ‘pecking order’. They have no desire or interest in dominating their human, nor should we want to dominate them. All dogs want is a quiet life and for their basic needs to be met. Sure, we need to show them the way by using R+, encouragement, communication, empathy, kindness………the same as we would a three year old child. Dogs’ and humans’ brains have a remarkably similar physiology. In both species the release of, for example, oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone, and dopamine, responsible for ‘feeling good’ and addiction, occurs. Yes, dogs can actually fall in love with their human/s!

The general public are presented with the false notion that punitive methods of training work. It makes good TV. It does not show the potential fallout for the dog and the potential danger to the dog owning public by creating an unhappy, unbalanced and potentially dangerous dog.

Sections 4, 9(c) and 9(e) of the Animal Welfare Act (2006) place a duty of care upon a keeper or those in charge of animals. These state that an animal must not be caused unnecessary suffering and be allowed to display normal behaviour for the species. This episode is not exclusive and video evidence is shown in Series 1 and 2 that suffering occurs in many, if not most, instances.

This topic is discussed further in a related blog:

It would be prudent to become familiar with The Training

2 thoughts on “The Channel 5 debacle: the abuse of dogs in the name of ‘entertainment’!

  1. Very well said Richard, this topic angers me no end and it makes our lives as cynologists, behaviour counsellors, trainers and animal LOVERS very much more difficult in terms of trying to adjust public perception. What exactly is ‘very bad’ or even just ‘bad’ behaviour I wonder? The arrogance of these so-called trainers means that anything that doesn’t conform to what humans find appealing or acceptable is therefore ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’. Yet if they were to take the time and effort to learn the perceptions of the animals in question, they would find that actually they are very NORMAL behaviours. Sometimes they are behaviours which humans have found appealing at some point, and thus have rewarded the dog in some way (ah cute puppy digging the flowerbed, audible laugh and verbal reinforcement), but now they have decided they dont’ like those behaviours any more and so they punish the dog…sigh.
    The dominance debate rumbles on and is a huge hurdle, I find. When will these so-called trainers stop brainwashing the public into thinking our dogs want to take over the world?? As you say, hierarchy within the species, may or may not be a thing (I personally think it’s very fluid depending on the dogs, their individual motivators, the environment, their feelings at a particular point etc etc), but interspecific – I agree wholeheartedly. Could there be another reason the dog won’t get off the sofa? Is it because he is absolutely determined to be the head of the household or could it be it’s warm and comfortable and there’s nothing different he/she wants to do right now?! (rhetorical questions!). I could bang on all day…
    How these TV channels justify animal cruelty as entertainment, I do not know, I’m with you. It boils my blood. Just two days ago, a proposed Netflix programme was brought to my attention, for which there is a petition as it evidently uses P+ in the form of chokes and prongs. Anyone who agrees that this is animlal cruelty, please add your signature!
    I have shared this Richard and hope that many people read your very justifed words of caution and disappointment – thank you for writing this 🙂
    Apologies if you get two similar comments from me – I wrote it once and it got deleted when it asked me to sign in (or I think it did!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Yoko. It’s a minefield and I really don’t what else to say. Yes using emotive words such as ‘naughty’, ‘bad’ is anthropomorphizing the dog. To them it’s natural behaviour. The words are of course ‘unwanted’, ‘wanted’ etc. As you say we could bang on all night. I am aware of the upcoming Netflix program. BTW did you find this link on FB? If so, whereabouts?


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