Does the way my friend's wife (mis?)treats her dog validate my dislike of her?
May 14, 2010 5:27 PM   Subscribe

Does the way my friend's wife (mis?)treats her dog validate my dislike of her?

While visiting my friend, his new puppy went over to his wife and started to nuzzle into her lap--she pulled away and said "no, I'm going to give you affection when I want" and then she sort of explained that this was part of the puppy's training (to show she's the boss, etc.)

Is this sick? It's hard for me to be objective as I already see her as a witholding, passive-aggressive shrew (much like the wife of the main character in "Breaking Bad"). Also, it goes against how we treat our cats--part of the joy of having them is responding to their bids for affection, respecting their needs, etc (but, cats don't respond to much any training)

So, is this a dog/cat thing, or a decent person/borderline psychotic person thing?
posted by Jon44 to Pets & Animals (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Does the way my friend's wife (mis?)treats her dog validate my dislike of her?

No, your dislike of your friend's wife is causing you to look for reasons to further dislike her.
posted by runningwithscissors at 5:31 PM on May 14, 2010 [35 favorites]


My money's on the second, but IANApsychologist. There's a training technique called "Nothing in Life Is Free", but I'm not sure if that's usually applied to affection. Apparently it sometimes is, anyway.
posted by dilettante at 5:32 PM on May 14, 2010


it's a viable training technique.
posted by nadawi at 5:34 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sounds like she's following a NILIF program, which doesn't necessarily make her a bad person (incidentally, NILIF is what your cats are using on you).
posted by jamaro at 5:36 PM on May 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Some people approach dog training from a perspective that says the human owner's role is to be the alpha dog and show the other dog(s) who's boss because that's what dogs want/need. The idea is that your dog doesn't much care if he's the boss or the follower, he just needs to know which he is. Your friend's wife isn't being cruel. She isn't starving the puppy or hitting him. She's implementing a particular training regimen. You just don't like her.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:41 PM on May 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


Her behavior shows she like to demonstrate her power and will look long and hard to find ways to do that. As dilettante said she can find all kinds of intellectual ways to justify the behavior, and apparently has to. Even if this a well considered and good training method, she could have gently pushed the dog into a down silently and had the same training effect. Her words meant nothing to the pup; they were for you.

Her training methods don't mean much, but her behavior supports your conclusions.
posted by Some1 at 5:41 PM on May 14, 2010


as far as the validating the dislike part - this question and the answers might be a good read for you.

and, hating your friend's wife doesn't hurt you or her near as much as it hurts him. maybe something to keep in mind while coming up with new ways to reinforce your dislike.
posted by nadawi at 5:42 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


NILIF may be the root--but isn't it possible the dog was trying to SHOW affection to her (and her seeing everything as a power struggle made her unable to see it?)
posted by Jon44 at 5:44 PM on May 14, 2010


anything under the sun is possible, but your stated bias keeps you from seeing at least half of those options.
posted by nadawi at 5:48 PM on May 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


NILIF may be the root--but isn't it possible the dog was trying to SHOW affection to her (and her seeing everything as a power struggle made her unable to see it?)

Well, ok, look at it this way: Isn't it possible that she's using a valid training method, but your seeing everything she does as malicious makes you unable to see it?
posted by runningwithscissors at 5:49 PM on May 14, 2010 [12 favorites]


I guess the fact she told the dog this is a little odd. Otherwise no.
posted by fire&wings at 5:54 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's kind of what NILF is about.

I suspect RWS has the heart of it, there.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:59 PM on May 14, 2010


The point of NILIF is that the dog can't just do whatever it wants whenever it wants. It has to be polite and wait to be invited to get attention. This is good for the dog's psychological well being. You can't compare dogs and cats this way. The dog may have been trying to give the wife affection, but it's not the dog's job to do that, so he has to learn not to do that. Any confusion about roles makes the dog confused and anxious.
posted by amethysts at 5:59 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll just say I really wish I had done this with my dog. I (and everyone else) gave her affection whenever she asked for it as a puppy, and now she bowls people over trying to get attention from them and sits begging and crying when it doesn't happen. I currently am trying to retrain her by withholding affection (and asking my friends to do the same) until she is calm and not asking for it. What she said to the dog was probably more for your benefit than the dog's- she was trying to explain to you why she was ignoring the dog and potentially asking that you treat her dog in a similar way.
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:00 PM on May 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


her behavior with the dog is acceptable training. Your take on it is biased by your opinion, the two may or may not be connected, but, without impartial observation and interpretation, this will be hard to tell. I'm guessing you don't want to pay for that type of followup...

Give her a break on this, if she is as you describe, she'll probably find another way to show you...
posted by HuronBob at 6:02 PM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


The wonderful thing about many dogs is that they love you unconditionally, all the time, and love to show it.
The difficult thing about many dogs is that they love you unconditionally, all the time, and love to show it.

We love our family dogs to pieces, but one of them is always, always "on"-- to the point where he'd be happy licking your face for hours on end if you'd let him. We don't discipline him any further than a "Stop it," but I can see why many people would want to set firmer boundaries, especially with a larger animal. If the puppy will grow up to be big, the possibility of it jumping on and scaring (or, worse, hurting) visitors when excited is something owners have to deal with when the dog is quite young.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:02 PM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


isn't it possible the dog was trying to SHOW affection to her

If she's following a particular training regimen, she has specific ways of dealing with behaviors from the dog, whether those behaviors are affectionate or aggressive or something else. It doesn't matter if the dog was trying to show her affection or trying to beg a treat from her or trying to bite her or doing anything else: she's working on maintaining consistency in the training. Again, you just don't like her. Also, maybe, you're a cat person and this is a dog thing.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:03 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you're looking for permission to dislike your friend's wife, then you don't need permission. It's okay to dislike people, what matters is how you react to that feeling. Plus, you already have the non dog-related reasons to dislike her. It's not like the dog-related reason changes anything else.

That said, I'm sympathetic because I tend to immediately dislike anyone that I think is being an asshole to an animal, or to anyone else over whom they have power. When it's a discipline situation I cut them some slack because it can be necessary. I hadn't heard before the answers in this thread that it's a real training method, so I probably would have perceived her as being unnecessarily cruel even if I didn't already dislike her; while you'd be more inclined to perceive it that way because of your dislike, I'm not sure that's 100% the cause of your reaction. There are other people would who be put off by that, even if it's just ignorance on their part.

But it ultimately doesn't matter: you can read up on the training method and decide how you feel about it; either you'll think the training method is whack too, or else it'll help alleviate some of your discomfort when you have to see her do it again. After all, disliking someone is really stressful, so understanding her motivation better could get rid of some of your stress interacting with her. It's a lot easier to feel irritated and angry at people we dislike because we tend not to spend too much effort trying to find more charitable reasons for the way they act. At the very least, you'll know that she has some concern for the dog, even if you think she's misguided.
posted by Nattie at 6:03 PM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


This way your friend's wife is treating the dog is totally legit. Some dogs (like mine) will literally not stop "showing affection".

It might help if you think of the way the dog was acting as begging for attention rather than showing affection, as that's more likely what the dog was doing.
posted by kylej at 6:15 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


That is a completely valid training technique. If she makes the dog sit or lie down before she feeds it, are you going to judge her for that valid technique, too?

Dogs are not people. They have different psychologies and different ways of understanding the world. In order to live with them, it's important to make sure that the ground rules are clear to everyone. She is doing what she is doing to make sure that dog is a good life companion, which will benefit everyone, including the dog.

Your dislike of this woman is coloring your attitude toward everything she does.
posted by winna at 6:20 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dog training program that you don't approve of != borderline psychotic. I'm afraid that this line of thinking may say more about you than it does about her.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:21 PM on May 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is how I treat my dog. He doesn't get to dictate to me when and how I'll behave. If he's licking my toes, and I didn't offer them to him, I'll escalate up the correction scale from "no" to physical restraint to time-outs if he doesn't stop. This isn't because I don't like by dog's affection. It's because once the dog thinks he can be affectionate without permission, he starts thinking he can jump on counters without permission, or run off after a squirrel without permission.

While it may gall other people, my dog is not just my friend. He's my minion. He's in training for a job (hunting). When I speak for my dog (like you do), he doesn't call me "daddy" and my wife "mommy". We're both "boss". And because of this approach, he's better trained at 8 months than any of the other puppies at the dog park, and better trained than any dog my family has ever owned.

On the other hand, he spends 80% of his time at home sitting by my side, with me lazily petting him. And I often call him over just so I can wool him around and scratch him.

My cats, on the other hand, come up and stick their heads under my hands for pets. They get them immediately.

So, you don't like this woman. That's fine. But her training method is one that I find highly effective, and which seemingly results in happy dogs.

Her behavior shows she like to demonstrate her power and will look long and hard to find ways to do that. As dilettante said she can find all kinds of intellectual ways to justify the behavior, and apparently has to. Even if this a well considered and good training method, she could have gently pushed the dog into a down silently and had the same training effect. Her words meant nothing to the pup; they were for you.

Ummmm, no.

The words were for the OP's benefit. But it was to explain why she was refusing affection. It wasn't to demonstrate power. It was to explain why she was doing this seemingly weird action--I mean, who doesn't want their dog to demand affection whenever it wants?
posted by Netzapper at 6:26 PM on May 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


It was to explain why she was doing this seemingly weird action--I mean, who doesn't want their dog to demand affection whenever it wants?

But then, who feels the need to verbally justify their actions?
posted by cmoj at 6:39 PM on May 14, 2010


I agree that Nattie has the right answer, completely.

At the same time, I think that if the actions of your friend's wife, and the verbal explanation of her actions are a legit and accepted part of "NILIF" then that is both cruel to the dog and at best dehumanizing and tortuous to an owner. At worst it is a flimsy excuse for sadistic powerhungry people to mistreat an animal with the laughable idea that they ARE an alpha animal. No, no you're not, your a human, do you see what you just did there? you made yourself look like an idiot because you just called yourself a dog. If you were REALLY an alpha canine you would lead the pack in an attack ona gazelle and be peeing on your furniture so that visitors know its not theirs.

(I want to be very clear, I have no idea what NILIF is but my strong statement above is assuming that Bitchy-wife lady is taking a valid, useful and probably well thought out, well researched training technique, that represents dog-human interaction and empathy that validates both participants and oversimplifying it to a one dimensional dogma, and then using it to justify why she can act like whatever she wants to get whatever results she wants. Including pretending she is of a different species to get out of her ethical obligations to act like a human with empathy).

But what do I know?
posted by DetonatedManiac at 6:49 PM on May 14, 2010


and I quikly want to reiterate... there is a big emphasis on the IF in the statement:

"...I think that if the actions of your friend's wife..."
posted by DetonatedManiac at 6:51 PM on May 14, 2010


But then, who feels the need to verbally justify their actions?

People who perceive that their observer will judge them to be borderline psychotic.
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:52 PM on May 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


[few comments removed - folks this is getting a little lulzy and a little off-topic]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:28 PM on May 14, 2010


At worst it is a flimsy excuse for sadistic powerhungry people to mistreat an animal with the laughable idea that they ARE an alpha animal. No, no you're not, your a human, do you see what you just did there? you made yourself look like an idiot because you just called yourself a dog. If you were REALLY an alpha canine you would lead the pack in an attack ona gazelle and be peeing on your furniture so that visitors know its not theirs.

I don't understand this line of reasoning.

My dog is not cognitively advanced enough to have a theory of mind. He can't relate to me as a human. I am advanced enough to have a theory of mind. So the best way to get a happy relationship is for me to relate to him as a dog. Since the options for dog relationships are basically either alpha or beta, I have to pick one. The only option that won't result in my dog blithely leading our "pack" into traffic on the freeway as he chases a songbird is for me to assume the alpha role.
posted by Netzapper at 7:36 PM on May 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


Are people who Ferberize their babies abusive? Maybe, maybe not, but I'm pretty sure 99.9% of them are not Ferberizing because they are withholding, passive-aggressive shrews. NILIF is a very common training technique, and, like any technique, can be taken too far by those who are overly zealous or misinformed. Setting aside the question of whether she is properly implementing NILIF, I think it's dangerous to judge someone too much based on their dog training or child raising technique. When you are thrust into the role of parent or dog owner, you're just looking for answers. It's easy to lose your way. You try things, some of them work out, some you adapt to suit you, some you abandon. (Again, I'm not commenting on the validity of NILIF in particular.) Maybe she is a withholding, passive-aggressive shrew, but using NILIF isn't necessarily evidence of that.
posted by HotToddy at 7:52 PM on May 14, 2010


Thanks to those who gave constructive feedback. Nattie is definitely coming from the same place as I am. Not sure where I stand on NILIF--but you have to remember there's a sentient animal on the other end of any training method.

It's also helpful to hear that dogs can be overbearingly affectionate, and that to live with them effectively you have to set bounderies. (I've always been a dog uncle--so just think it's cute when my brother's 100 pound English Sheep Dog lays on top of me and won't let me get out of bed.)

It's also notable, and sad, how even in a post like this that I think was fairly reasonable (I'm looking to learn about how dog training differs from living with a cat, I'm acknowleding my inability to be objective), people can be jerks.
posted by Jon44 at 8:28 PM on May 14, 2010


It's a dog training thing. It helps to keep the dog from, among other things, constantly sticking its nose into people's hands to demand petting.
posted by zippy at 8:29 PM on May 14, 2010


"I think it's dangerous to judge someone too much based on their dog training or child raising technique"

Agreed (mostly)--perhaps I should have been clearer (and not used the overheated description "borderline psychotic)--my dislike of this woman is based on more substantive grounds of how she treats my friend (and her rudeness to me).

I'm more trying to calibrate my reaction to perceived cruelty to animals (e.g., I also get disgusted by those collars that shock dogs when they bark, but topic for another post). In this particular case, knowing that the woman has a mean streak, even if NILIF is legit and effective, it still makes sense that a person like her would be drawn to a method that involves complete, unilateral control. And it's still a bit off-puttimg to witness what appears to be unkindness / lack of empathy.
posted by Jon44 at 9:02 PM on May 14, 2010


I'm sorry I don't think it is all dangerous to judge people on their training or rearing techniques. I think someone who shouts at their dogs or their children is showing a great deal about their personalities, as is someone who beats either. Someone who is cold to animals they chose, or to their children is also showing something.

This is not talking about the NLIF program, I don't know enough about it, but it is about how some may put that course into action, or behavior they might use the course to justify.

Saying to a dog, "You only get petted when I decide," might be a public power display for the audience, it might be words of self justification, but it is definitely bad training technique, and I doubt it is part of the program. I think dogs should be trained and well trained; such dogs really are much happier than the unsocialize too-often-disciplined dogs that are more common. I agree with the idea that owners must be alpha with in the pack their dogs feel they belong to, that isn't the problem at all.

But you become alpha by communicating to the dog in ways he understands, not in long full sentences. What the women discussed by the OP wanted to do was stop her dog from demanding attention. Fine. "Down", is a good command to get that result. "To your bed", works too. ("Go", is tricky and this dog was probably to young to have learned that one.) If the puppy doesn't know the command yet, he is physically shown (push into position), and their is nothing wrong giving a reward for obedience. Alpha dogs do do that, not with words or physical contact maybe, but dogs communicate with posture, and humans can communicate with them with expressions. (My golden could answer math problems that had been given to me on cards (and not read aloud - in case you think he really could divide), but I gave him no hand signals on when to stop barking.)

People who want to have dogs so they can be drill sergeants are telling you something about themselves. Some may be quiet successful as trainers, some dogs need to be trained to that pitch, guard dogs, guide dogs, but even with those the dog needs to be allowed to get it right and be told when he does.

(I hope this wasn't too much of a derail. I know it was well into tl'dr territory.)
posted by Some1 at 9:55 PM on May 14, 2010


In this particular case, knowing that the woman has a mean streak, even if NILIF is legit and effective, it still makes sense that a person like her would be drawn to a method that involves complete, unilateral control.

It isn't complete, unilateral control. There's a great deal of communication going on if you're doing it right. It's just that the dog learns that boundaries exist and does not cross them until given permission. Once the dog has learned the boundaries, permission can be given freely. The goal is for the dog to learn to ask permission--usually by exhibiting the behavior just until the point that it would cross the boundary.

And it's still a bit off-puttimg to witness what appears to be unkindness / lack of empathy.

It is not unkindess or lack of empathy (necessarily; she may well be a bitch). You need to look at the bigger picture.

Let me give you an example: my dog is a hunting dog, bred to range out in front of the hunter and investigate the bushes for birds. As a result, unlike all the German shepherds in my obedience class, he has roughly zero desire to heel. So, if he's on a leash, he's pulling the whole time--"Lemme go check that out for you, boss!". This is annoying, but if that were the only result, I'd just suck it up. The bigger problem is that he pulls out into traffic.

So what's the solution? Shorter leash? Still pulls, only now he pulls me into traffic too. Front-lead harness? Works great for lessening the strength of pulling, but leaves his armpits a bloody mess after a few days (since he never stops pulling, it chafes). Choke collar? Strangles himself at end of leash.

You know what works? The thing I always thought was too cruel: the pinch collar. He pulls three or four times per walk, for about a quarter of a second, and experiences a fairly unpleasant pinch on his neck. Then he stops. No threat of traffic death, no bloody armpits, and no rasping horrible cough for hours.

Same deal with his remote shock collar. He was refusing to return when I called at the dog park (despite knowing the command perfectly well). It got so bad I was spending an hour chasing him down each time. None of the "humane" suggestions worked, since he's perfectly happy to stand around for hours ignoring me and chasing leaves. Bought a shock collar... maybe two days of using that three or four times, and now his recall is rock solid and I basically never have to use the thing. I don't think I need to illustrate to you how "c'mere" can save my dog's or something else's life.

My point to all this is that we expect dogs to behave properly in far more environments that we expect of cats. I expect to be able to walk down the street with my dog and not have him kill himself, me, the neighbor's cat, or the neighbor's kid. He certainly doesn't understand all that, so it's up to me to help him navigate the human world.

In order for me to provide that help to him, he has to listen. And here's the vital part: he has to listen all the time, since the time he's seeing red chasing that squirrel across the highway is exactly when you need him to recognize your voice as the Voice of God. In order for a dog to listen to you when he's flushed a squirrel, he also has to listen to you when you tell him not to jump in your lap.
posted by Netzapper at 10:02 PM on May 14, 2010 [13 favorites]


If she did this to her baby/child, then yeah, valid reason to dislike. But it's a dog. I like dogs more than I like 99% of people, but it's an animal that can be trained. It is better for the dog's wellbeing to have consistency from puppyhood, then to let the dog do whatever it wants and then have to deal with it later, confusing it.

You just want a reason not to like her. If you don't like her, that's your deal, but don't let your gut dislike affect your friend. Unless she is doing something clearly wrong to your friend or the dog, it's not your business, so keep your feelings to yourself.
posted by ishotjr at 10:49 PM on May 14, 2010


It's going to be a lot easier to teach the dog "ask first" when it's just nuzzling the owner than when it's moved on to getting enormously worked up that there are guests and jumping up on them to lick their faces.

Just like with little kids, if the boundaries are clear about the little things that's a good foundation for having less problems with the big important things.
posted by emilyw at 1:43 AM on May 15, 2010


she pulled away and said "no, I'm going to give you affection when I want" and then she sort of explained that this was part of the puppy's training (to show she's the boss, etc.)

She is trying to train her puppy not to be shoving his nose into her any time he wants. She then spoke aloud, possibly to remind herself why she isn't just giving in, and explaining to you what she is trying to do.

You are allowed to not like this woman, but the way I read this, she's trying to train her dog, with a valid training method. I know I've been with very slobbery labs which need to be told 'no'. If she hit, kicked, or was otherwise cruel to the dog, then yes, that's awful. But just denying affection and explaining what she was doing doesn't seem awful to me at all.
posted by defcom1 at 3:57 AM on May 15, 2010


as a professional dog trainer,
netzapper is 100% right, i'm not gonna bother re-iterating a bunch of stuff that's already been well stated. everyone in this thread throwing around words like "sadistic" "power trip" "cruel" etc.. has no idea what they are talking about, especially the one ranting about how 'laughable' it is to be the Alpha animal. THEY'RE DOGS, they are incapable of communicating or relating on a human level. you HAVE to communicate with them on THEIR level which means exibiting the traits of the alpha. a dog that knows it's place in the pack is a happy dog. a dog that is unsure of it's place will be confused, anxious, and or poorly behaved. a dog that thinks IT is the alpha of your pack will be a world of trouble.
posted by swbarrett at 7:13 AM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've always been a dog uncle--so just think it's cute when my brother's 100 pound English Sheep Dog lays on top of me and won't let me get out of bed.

It's nice that you find this cute, but this is not a good behavior for a dog. This would not be cute if your brother has houseguests who don't care for dogs so much, who might weigh considerably less than a 100 pound dog, who might have a back injury or healing stitches. If your brother wants to take the dog out of the house he will find that the world is full of people who don't want a 100 pound dog jumping on them, even if they like dogs.

Just because you think it's cute does not mean all dogs should be socialized that way.
posted by yohko at 3:33 PM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


My friend rescued a golden retriever who was a MESS--constantly demanding attention, aggressive towards other people and dogs, a nervous wreck and (what most thought) hopeless. A trainer told my friend to never give attention when demanded by the dog. My friend is the sweetest human being in the world and hated denying this previously- mistreated dog affection. But she followed the trainer's advice religiously because she was simply out of options.

Fast forward four years and now this prior MESS of a dog --due to, among other things, being denied attention on demand--has been certified as a therapy dog by the Delta Society and visits schools, shelters and nursing homes weekly.

Needless to say, the denial of affection on demand led this once hopeless dog to be a happier, non-aggressive, calm ZEN dog.

Find another reason to hate your friend's wife if you must, but this really isn't the hill you want to do battle on.
posted by murrey at 11:49 AM on May 16, 2010


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