If you have a dog reactive dog and have worked with me, there’s a good chance you’ve come across Clive.
Using stuffed stooge dogs isn’t a new thing and there is a good reason why they can be more ethical and beneficial than using real dogs.
I use Clive because I can be fully in control of him and I’m not worried about him becoming anxious or stressed. Studies on dogs used as stooges on a regular basis showed that their heart rates increased, therefore indicating they started to find the experience stressful.
Trainer and owner can relax. Working on your timing, control and handling long lines takes practice. It’s much easier to start with a trigger that everyone can relax around and simply focus on the training. This way it will become more natural to you both in a real life situation.
Safety. About 8 years ago I made a terrible mistake during a training session. I wasn’t experienced enough in aggression cases and I hadn’t done a full assessment of the dog prior to bringing in a stooge. The owner dropped the long line and this resulted in my poor dog having to be prized from the dogs mouth. Something I’ve never forgiven myself for. Of course done right this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. It was entirely my fault. But the use of Clive eliminates this risk altogether while I get a feel of the dog and owner.
I never let dogs meet Clive. Clive is purely for distance training, studies done on dogs meeting stuffed dogs showed that their response to the dogs were not accurate at predicting true behaviours. Dogs that acted aggressively towards the stuffed dogs, didn’t always act like this toward real dogs and vice versa. They can also encourage undesirable behaviours towards dogs.
Of course this was a study done with a small amount of dogs in a shelter so we need to take stress into consideration. But it‘s certainly understandable when we think of the communication that goes on between dogs from a distance. Plus the response most dogs have to a stuffed toy.
Not to mention that the one thing I can’t do with Clive, is make him offer normal social responses. He’s always going to be a bit stiff and threatening.
Of course in some situations, using real dogs becomes unavoidable and as we progress with training, eventually using a familiar stooge will be beneficial. Not to mention some dogs that simply need a confidence builder or reassurance, then a real stooge can really help without any negative effects.
It’s definitely something I learnt to use the hard way. We all make mistakes over our training journey, the best we can do is learn from them and do better next time. And Clive has been a wonderful addition to my training bag.