Dog Training Horror Stories

Covers of dog training books from the old days

I don’t read horror stories. But in the collection of dog training books I have, there are horror stories worse than I could have imagined. Dog training methods in past years have been far from reward-based methods and would most likely constitute animal abuse in current times. Terms like “force,” “chop,” “jerk,” and “jolt” abound.

Dog Etiquette,” a booklet from Ralston Purina dated 1944, suggests a cure for car chasing is to have the dog on a long leash that is tied to a tree where he can see cars. “When he dashes out, he’ll get a jerk that may help break this bad habit.” (Or his neck.) Alternatively, have a friend ride in the car and squirt the dog with water or “switch him severely with a long whip.”

In “Home Obedience Training,” a 1947 book by Fred Spooner, there is good advice, such as use immediate praise, speak in a tone of voice to “keep that tail wagging,” and never tease a dog. But then the book takes a dark turn by offering these suggestions:

  • For car chasing: Whip the dog, but not in the face.
  • For excessive barking, several ideas presented, including: Full-force cold water from a hose or throw dirt down the dog’s throat every time he barks.
  • For killing chickens: “Severe thrashing with a chicken he has killed may do the trick.” But a better solution is to wire a dead chicken (which has been soaked in coal oil) to the dog’s collar and leave it tied on for several days.

Perhaps the largest and longest-running collection of cruel methods to cure problem dogs comes in “The Koehler Method of Dog Training” by W.R. Koehler. Koehler was a dog trainer during WWII, instructor for various dog clubs, and trained several dogs that appeared in movies. The book was first published in 1962; the edition of the book I have is from 1979, the 23rd printing. It is still in print as of 1996 and as a Kindle edition in 2014, which makes me incredibly sad to think so many people bought this book and may have followed these tactics. The first part of the book deals with basic obedience in a force-filled manner and the second part provides cures for “problems.”

For example:

When dealing with a “protest biter,” (protesting the handler’s demands of training), the handler is to work the dog “to the point where the dog makes his grab.” But before the teeth meet skin, the dog “is jerked from the ground” by his leash and collar and suspended in mid-air. “However, to let the biting dog recover his footing while he still had strength to renew the attach would be a cruelty. The only justifiable course is to hold him suspended until he has neither the strength nor inclination to renew the fight.”

If the dog is too “big and formidable for anyone to hang up,” the author suggests finding a piece of rubber hose, like a washing machine hose, about 16” long. Into this hose, slide a wooden dowel of the same length. This is the trainer’s “tranquilizer.” With this tool, the handler is to use a “chopping stroke” that “brings the hose across the animal’s muzzle between the eyes and the nose. If the correction was humane (forceful enough to be effective), the ‘biting idea’ was jarred from the dog’s mind and replaced with the conviction that attack was not worth the numbing and inevitable consequences.”

Destructive chewing is cured by aversion. “Select a piece of the material he has chewed (and you needn’t catch him in the act) and place it well back, crossways, in his mouth. Use a strip of adhesive tape to wrap the muzzle securely in front of the chewed material, so that no amount of gagging and clawing can force it from him mouth.” Keep it there about an hour, he advises. But don’t think that one instance will be curative. Do it again the next day, even if the dog hasn’t chewed it. The author’s surveys revealed that “80% of destructive chewers can be reformed” if this process is kept up at least six days.

To correct barking, “Equip yourself with a man’s leather belt or strap heavy enough to give your particular dog a good tanning. Yup — we’re going to strike him. Real hard.”

This method is also good for curing dogs who chase people who are running, skating, etc. “Give him about five minutes of the hardest tanning you can administer. Use a belt heavy enough to make him really feel your efforts.”

And this helpful advice, “Truthfully, it might be well to explain your situation to the police so they’ll know you’ll have to make a better citizen of your dog, even if you have to do it the hard way; then they’ll be prepared to answer any protest from kind folks who would rather have your dog put to sleep than punished.”

Other correction devices described are:

  • throw chains
  • slingshots using clusters of BBs, with recommendations of commercial-brand slingshots that shoot “harder and straighter” than home-made ones
  • instructions for electrifying fences and screen doors (if the dog jumps or digs under fences or scratches at the door to come into the house)

For my last example from the book, the Koehler solution to hole digging by the dog.

If you come home and find your dog has dug a hole, fill the hole brimful of water. With the training collar and leash, bring the dog to the hole and shove his nose into the water; hold him there until he is sure he’s drowning. … A great many dogs will associate this horrible experience with the hole they dug. However, to make sure of a permanent impression, fill the hole with water and repeat the experience the next day, whether the dog digs any more
or not. … Class surveys have shown that more than seventy percent of the dogs who experience this correction for as many as six consecutive days swear off hole digging.

We have come so far.

– Karen and Pete

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