Monday, 26 September 2016

Resource guarding: why you should not emulate ‘Jordan Shelley’

Many people are outraged by Jordan Shelley’s treatment of a Jack Russell Terrier on the One Show last week.  I wrote about it here yesterday.   Many have posted up on the BBC’s facebook page and complained to the BBC.

Most are upset because they felt Jordan Shelley’s method for treating resource guarding was cruel.   It certainly looked unpleasant. In this article I want to explain why I found the programme so disturbing.

I too was upset by Jordan Shelley’s approach ,  but for different reasons.   Whilst I thought the method was very stressful for the dog,  that alone would not stop me using it,  if it were effective and,  if there were no other alternatives.

People’s safety is after all, a priority.

What upset me, was the fact that the Mr Shelley’s method has two massive flaws  and that the show completely ignored a much better alternative method.

Flaws in Jordan Shelley’s approach to resource guarding

It is only specific to people feared by the dog
It puts the dog owner at risk of being bitten
Specific to certain people

Dogs are not very good at generalization.  To get a good long term ‘training effect’  new behaviors have to initially be retrained in many different locations and in many different situations.  Jordan Shelley did not mention this on  the programme.  Or if he did, it was edited out.

So,  whilst he may have created a situation where the JRT is afraid to guard his food in the presence of the family members and Mr Shelley himself,  he has not created any protection for other people that might happen to approach the dog whilst it is eating.    What if a neighbor pops round and walks past the dog in sandals or flip-flops,  what if a visiting toddler tries to give the dog a hug whilst he is eating?  

Dogs do not exist in a vacuum.  Training has to cover all normal eventualities

Putting owners at risk

Perhaps the most serious aspect of the show,  was the risk to anyone attempting such methods  at home.   Especially with a larger, heavier dog.   A bite on the leg from a JRT is nasty,  but unlikely to be fatal or disfiguring.  The same cannot be said for some other breeds of dog.

Putting your foot in the mouth of a snapping, snarling, angry dog,  is just about the silliest thing I have seen this year.   I can’t really add any more to that except to say that an angry dog, even a terrier is quite capable of jumping up an reaching your face in a millisecond.   You may not have a chance to back away.   Please, do not even think about using this method.

The alternative to Jordan Shelley’s approach to resource guarding

I feel that the BBC made a serious error when it chose to ignore or worse still failed to research,  the accepted modern approach to the treatment of resource guarding  (an example of which you can read here).

I appreciate that this modern method might not make great television.  There is little growling involved,  no theatrics, no shouting and no dramatic change in the dog’s demeanor.  The method takes several days and occasionally weeks,  to bring results.

The method is however effective and long lasting.  It protects everyone that approaches the dog’s bowl including visiting small children and unsuspecting strangers.   No-one gets bitten,  no-one gets bullied.  It is a calm and inoffensively nice behavioral modification system.

I hope that the BBC will take note of the concerns that have been expressed over this programme. Resource guarding is one of the most common problems experienced by dog owners.  The link above is one of the most popular articles on the Labrador Site.

Sadly,  many dog owners will not be aware of the flaws in Mr Shelley’s approach,  or of  the existence of a better alternative method. Indeed, I believe that the silent majority of viewers out there will probably think that the pay-off for temporarily upsetting the dog (as demonstrated in the show) is worthwhile.

I believe it is really important that the BBC now tell their viewers about the right approach to resource guarding.

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