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Going to the dogs (and a small reminiscence about going to the horses)

Just a little lite something this morning:

A Hollywood animal trainer’s secrets for getting dogs to act on cue. (H/T PT) I’m definitely going to see that movie White God, though it sounds as if it’ll be painful to watch.*

The latest place therapy dogs (or even just well-behaved family pets) are showing up: funeral homes.


* It’s true and a relief what she says at the end about the differences in training movie animals today vs in the past. She uses horses as an example, how they’re now trained to fall in battle scenes rather than cruelly tripped. I had a friend you probably saw in a dozen or so movies, though you never noticed him; you just saw a cavalryman (usually) or an anonymous Indian or western gunslinger and his horse crashing spectacularly to the ground.

Amazingly enough, this kind of work is often not done by professional stuntmen. It’s done by people like my friend, whose hobby was Civil War (sic) re-enacting. When not participating in equestrian mayhem, he was a sleazy salesperson, event promoter, and part-time money launderer. He was also the only person I ever knew who had the brake lines on his car cut by a) gangsters or b) a jealous husband; he was never sure which. (He ended up in the median strip on a highway, relatively undamaged.) He was quite unflapped about the prospect of breaking his neck, though he was a bit upset when, during a re-enactment campout, a rattlesnake bit him within an inch of a very precious bodily part.

Not surprisingly, he died young. Surprisingly, it was a quiet, sedentary, and downright boring death.


  1. KiA
    KiA July 31, 2015 8:41 am

    yuck. dog movies: essentially human behavior portrayed thru dog skin. no thanks.

    i’m not a fan of obedience training. having a dog perform human tricks on cue strips the dog of its canineity. it’s for the circus and human entertainment. since i am not entertained by this, i do not support it.

    i also find such portrayal a problem because it forms people’s perception and expectation of dog behavior. i have heard many people say “oh [xx-dog] is like..” and proceed to voice over human characteristics. accuracy rate? near null. people’s expectations? it’s been my experience that people often interfere with their dog interacting with other dogs (in an off leash dog park) because the dog is not acting in accordance to human behavior standards.

    i am a huge fan of cesar millan. he very rarely voice commands a dog. he does not do obedience training. he simply understands dog behavior and effectively communicates dog language. and that’s pretty much what it takes to have a dog with good canine manners.

  2. Claire
    Claire July 31, 2015 11:10 am

    As I understand it, KiA, this movie is a political allegory and isn’t intended to represent the behavior of real dogs.

  3. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty July 31, 2015 11:10 am

    Each to his/her own, KiA. For my money, nothing beats good training for animals of all kinds if they must interact with people. I don’t expect them to be people, or demonstrate human traits, but I don’t want animals to harm humans, or be harmed by them either.

    I’ve raised dogs and horses, goats and other animals, and made every effort to train them so they could perform their intended jobs (we didn’t have any lap type foo foo critters) and be safe for people around them. I was a 4H goat leader, and training the animals was just one way for the children involved to learn self discipline, as well as have a good experience with their animals.

    Animals in the wild are completely different, and don’t require any training. Animals that live with people do. How that works out is up to the people who own the animals.

  4. Claire
    Claire July 31, 2015 11:42 am

    Well said, ML. Also, KiA, you might want to read up more on Cesar Millan. I agree it’s impressive to watch him work, But while some people in the dog world do like him, a majority would probably tell you that his methods are both old fashioned and potentially dangerous.

  5. Pat
    Pat July 31, 2015 12:07 pm

    “But while some people in the dog world do like him, a majority would probably tell you that his methods are both old fashioned and potentially dangerous.”

    Why “potentally dsngerous’, Claire? I’ve heard him called “old-fashioned”, but don’t understand why his methods would be considered dangerous.

  6. Claire
    Claire July 31, 2015 12:31 pm

    Pat — Short version is that his methods are based on outdated ideas of dominance and submission.

    Here’s a good (and rather lengthy, with examples) summation of the more recent thinking on the subject:

    She talks a fair bit about Millan (again with video examples) and says basically what I’ve heard others say: Yes, Millan is good at dominating dogs to get them to submit to his will, but if the owners, on their own, tried the same techniques, they might get bit — by a frightened, exhausted animal that would otherwise never harm a person.

    Millan himself gets bit every so often, too. I’ve only watched five or six of his shows and I’ve seen him get nipped twice. And he’s the expert!

  7. LarryA
    LarryA July 31, 2015 12:40 pm

    Animals in the wild are completely different, and don’t require any training.

    I’m hoping you mean wild animals don’t require any training by people.

  8. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty July 31, 2015 12:57 pm

    LarryA… I don’t think that wild animals, in the wild, are exactly “trained,” by humans or otherwise. I think they live by instinct, and those that are successful at it survive.

    Now, training otherwise “wild animals” in captivity, like lions or bears… that’s another whole can of worms. If someone wants to go to the trouble and expense of keeping such animals, no skin off my nose… and none of my business, whatever I think of it. 🙂

  9. Claire
    Claire July 31, 2015 1:02 pm

    “I think they live by instinct”

    Sorry, ML, but the role of instinct has been, if not debunked, at least seriously minimized after more observation observation and research. Even in the wild, animals are very much “trained” by the behavior of their parents, pack members, herd members, and even their prey.

  10. Pat
    Pat July 31, 2015 1:22 pm

    Interesting subject, quite apart from the movie. Though I do hope the object of the movie is not lost in the process of enjoying the dogs.

    Thanks for the link on dominance, I learned a good deal.

  11. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty August 1, 2015 7:28 am

    I suspect we are using the word “trained” in different ways. I see “training” as a deliberate, intentional process that requires at least some rational thinking and an objective goal.

    Wild animals, and untrained others, do LEARN from experience, and many species actually do teach their offspring, but that does not equal actual “training” as far as I can see. Animals are not sapient, self aware, nor do they have access to linear, multigenerational memory, only individual experience. An abused chicken does not convey its experience to subsequent generations.

    But as for instinct being “debunked,” I don’t think so… and we may not be using even this word in the same way. Instinct drives an animal to seek the kind of food its body needs, and other such things that are necessary for survival. The experiences of day to day life are certainly affected by their instincts, the “muscle memory” of a species, but even more by the animal’s responses to things immediately. They can’t really make informed decisions, obviously, so good choices lead to further the viability of the species, and bad choices generally remove them from the gene pool… which leads to reduced contamination of the “muscle memory” of the whole species. It is an extremely complex process, and humans don’t know much about it, any more than they do about their own brains. Trying to set up a “study” to determine any part of it would be seriously difficult, and I don’t see any real economic benefit for an outfit to spend that kind of money unless they have an agenda – such as “animal rights ….”

    I would suggest folks seriously consider the methods and problems with such “research” before they accept too much of it. As with much – if not most – research in the last 25 years or so, their conclusions are arrived at beforehand, and the “research” is written and conducted to “prove” it. We’ve all seen how easy it is to manipulate data and to avoid or destroy that which doesn’t support the agenda. Quite aside from ignoring reality and the scientific process.

    I simply don’t trust much research these days, and certainly not “surveys” that are nothing more than collections of opinion, even when the subjects are not actively in collusion with the researchers. It’s a mess, for sure, but the vast body of the bogus or seriously questionable researchers cast a serious shade over any that might be legitimate, and there is often no way to tell one from another.

  12. Shel
    Shel August 1, 2015 11:50 am

    My views are quite simplistic, and anthropomorphic, compared to the above. Take away the ability to gesticulate (but animals can point with their heads), a spoken language (although I have to believe they communicate a whole lot better than we understand), and true abstract logic, I don’t see a whole lot of difference between them and us. In Farley Mowat’s book “Cry of the Wolf” he recounted an incident where an Indian, who claimed to have been left with wolves for a time by his parents, interpreted some wolf calls to have a very specific meaning that proved correct, and Farley could not figure any way that the Indian could have known about it otherwise.

    I see different social patterns and body language (but even dogs’ and humans’ facial expressions are remarkably similar). I don’t know any emotion that humans feel that dogs don’t seem to show. There are good people and bad people, good dogs and bad dogs (though darn few of the latter). And while we talk about their limitations in reasoning power, I’ve known a couple of dogs that were pretty good at outsmarting me (I understand that may not mean much), but they would plan ahead and then make it work. To those who aren’t aware of having had it happen to them (which may well mean you missed it), I can attest that one feels very, very dumb after the discovery that one has just been outsmarted by a dog. A particularly cerebral one – who will have my heart for eternity – even pulled the “what’s that over there?” trick on me, and I didn’t even realize he had done it until a friend pointed it out to me.

    I would even say individual dogs might be classified using Jung’s personality types; e.g., most Irish Setters could be considered “feelers” instead of “thinkers.” As to awareness of family relationships, humans only react to what they’ve experienced; adopted children don’t know they were adopted until they were told, etc. Someone once told me of a study that worms were taught something (I can’t remember what) and then sacrificed and their brains or bodies were fed to other worms, who then seemed to know what to do. This fits with Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious; if the theory fits humans, I don’t know why it wouldn’t fit other mammals. I marvel sometimes at the complexity of only two dogs interacting; it seems almost as if watching a slow motion video played over and would be the only way to catch it all.

    Konrad Lorenz detailed a number of remarkable observations in his wonderful classic “Man Meets Dog” (there has to be a cheaper way to get it)

    That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

  13. LarryA
    LarryA August 1, 2015 10:40 pm

    All I know, ML, is that herd and pack animals raised outside their groups don’t know how to survive in them, and that orphan predators have to be taught how to hunt before they can be released.
    Of course, we may be using different definitions.

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