View Full Version : Karlin's soapbox on training

13th May 2006, 08:58 PM
I'm going to issue my standard Dog Whisperer warning here as I am increasingly alarmed at how much positive press this man has received. This is of course my opinion but I feel very strongly that his approaches to training should have no place in training a cavalier (I also realise training methods often bitterly divide dog people but I am very concerned about some of the more physical methods he advocates which IMHO are potentially harsh and even potentially risky to use with cavaliers. Also his whole language of managing a dog to me is shocking -- like the old 1960s training methods where choke chains were standard even for small breeds).

A lot of trainers have major problems with the Dog Whisperer's approach. These kinds of dominance theories are considered not just quite outdated approaches to training by many internationally-respected certification programmes these days but can actually be detrimental and even dangerous when applied without a full knowledge of dog behaviour -- most especially with an aggressive dog, and even more so when the causes for the aggression are not understood. So please, please do NOT try to be more dominant as this behaviour could be related to fear, anxiety or frustration ALL of which can be exacerbated by traditional dominance approaches INCLUDING the Dog Whisperer's.

The fact that his training schools apparently use choke chains (as cited in a current lawsuit against him) is a real warning signal as well that this type of approach has absolutely nothing to do with the Horse Whisperer, Monty Robert's famous positive motivation-based approaches to training (which then became the basis of the book and then the film the Horse Whisperer). I am not sure how or why the Dog Whisperer is able to use a 'brand' so closely related to one person -- Monty Roberts -- whose entire training philosophy towards animals is at odds with physical corrections and using special gear to subdue a dog or the notion of pitting wills against an animal as advocated in his dominance/submission approach noted previously.

I encourage people to read widely in training philosophies and not be overly impressed by the ability of some to seemingly enact training miracles on television. It is far easier to get a response from an animal by making it fearful of consequences of 'wrong' behaviour rather than motivated towards successful choices of 'right' behaviour, but this seriously alters your relationship with that animal in what I think is a very sad way. Especially our gentle cavaliers -- I think this diminishes confidence rather than enhances it. Also some people --including most pro trainers -- are simply very good at getting responses from ANY animal. You wouldn't necessarily want to use their approach unless it fits your philosophy and level of ability and knowledge. For example I know my boys behave better whenever Tara and Lisa are in my house. :lol:

I can testify to seeing miraculous changes in very aggressive dogs using an entirely motivational approach in only two days, in a weekend seminar by Dee Ganley (who is wonderful but sadly will never be likely to have that glossy TV glamour personality that brings TV fame) -- see www.deesdogs.com for her approach. BTW she is internationally known for success with aggressive dogs including in demanding environments such as police and customs. So this isn't some 'namby-pamby' bleeding heart method of training, but a SUCCESSFUL method of training and rehabilitating dogs from the most demanding environments. She does not use typical old-style dominance/submission theories or encourage anyone to think in these ways. I also watched a jaw-dropping video of dee working an entire row of kennels in an animal shelter full of anxious, barking, jumping, sometimes furious dogs. Starting at one end, you watch her in sequence get every single dog to sit quietly and wait for its kennel door to be opened so she can enter quietly, a task that took her an average of 3 minutes per dog. Really amazing, but so simple to motivate them in a positive way! I tried this on my two to get them to wait for me to go through a door first and it too took all of two-three minutes -- no body blocking, jerking backwards, leash corrections required. It was fun! And they know to wait now very poltiely.

I prefer to stick with trainers and theories that get responses by inspiring rather than intimidating or confronting dogs.

Now I will get off my soapbox. :)

PS Judy, Jan Fennell has had two or three TV series in the UK. :)

Karlin, thanks for the soapbox, perspective and info. I created a new thread to respond to what you said, it's such a big topic.

On the Dog Whisperer TV show, they don't show actual abuse of a dog (of course), just persistent blocking of behaviors, for example, a dog pulling on the leash is countered by the "pack leader" pulling up on the leash/collar (i think--if i'm remembering right) and it doesn't appear brutal.

BUT, i cringe at the idea of doing that, especially with a cavalier or small dog. I use a harness on Zack, not a collar, especially because of the risk of SM, if he does have any tendency toward it, trauma to the neck and base of skull would seem to create a risk of worsening it or hastening its development.

A guy at the dog park has trained his own dog (yellow lab) mainly based on Cesar Millan's methods, and he showed me how to get Zack to heel, he said it takes at most less than a minute. He took his nylon leash and made it into a noose or slipknot, and put it on Zack, and i was cringing because i'm just freaked by him having a collar on at all, or stress put on his neck, and the guy pulled up on the collar to make zack sit down, and zack fought it for a few seconds, and the guy said that was good for him to fight it, and then Zack sat down, in less than 10 seconds. The guy then started walking around with zack on the leash and zack was heelilng nicely, just like that, he followed the guy round and round. but i still can't get over a feeling of dread that his neck or skull was damaged, however slightly. It happened so fast, i didn't voice my objection. He was a very nice man who adores his dog (he has given his dog a website! the dog is some kind of frisbee champion. he has a webcam on the dog so that he can check on him when he's at the office during the day. He clearly loves his dog, and his cat, very much).

I am worried because Lisa has enrolled Belle in an obedience class and the trainer had all of them buy pinch collars (prong collars). They're choke chains with prongs on them, and Lisa said they are supposed to be safer than regular choke chains because the prongs prevent the dog from fighting the pressure, so there aren't any trachea injuries. But because of the risk to Cavaliers of SM, I don't like to see training that uses pressure on the neck. I expressed this to Lisa. That's all i can do. Are there any articles on dangers of using collars on small dogs?

Thanks for the link on Dee Ganley. I will buy one of her training manuals. I wonder how much it would cost for her to produce a DVD of a seminar, or private training lesson clips, to demonstrate what she's doing in action. There seems to be a huge market for these things.

The more diverse dog training approaches I come across, the more i see that there is overlap with all of them, and there are certain core things that are shared. It's like child raising. I think what Cesar Millan has going for him that he shares with other prominant trainers is an air of self confidence with the dogs, i don't think it's the dominance methods so much as the putting out of a strong quiet relaxed persona, clear simple communication without analysis, just dealing directly with behavior in a straightforward way. Not so easy to do for everyone, not always something i'm good at. And the other thing that these different approaches seem to share is good knowledge of dog nature, the way dogs think and what motivates them, etc. These are both traits that actual dog pack leaders have, or that mother dogs have in relation to their pups. Things aren't complicated. Communication is direct and immediate, there's no emotional baggage.

The dogs on TV, and Zack heeling in the park, did not appear fearful in their submission. They appeared relaxed and content. Like dogs hanging out with their pack i suppose. But as you say, because Cavaliers are gentle and also because they are small and delicate, i can't imagine using any kind of rough training, even if it works and even if it doesn't seem to work through fear. And if there are positive friendly methods that work at least as well in attaining dog cooperativeness, then it seems a no brainer that this would be the superior way to go for the sake of a loving relationship.

Jan Fennell also seems to emphasize dominance. I've barely scratched the surface of her book (The Practical Dog Listener), but this morning i read that she advises against letting dogs control their toy box.
I used to control Zack's toy bin. i'd get the toys out for him. then he began figuring out how to knock it over so he could get inside it and pull his toys out himself, and i thought "Should i discourage that so that i will have control over whether he can get toys or not, or should i let him experience the feeling of efficacy of mastering new skills?" and i opted for the latter--i wanted to empower him. But Jan encourages dominance, apparently for the same reasons Cesar does, but she goes for it by different methods, apparently, more positive and gentler? I have barely looked into either of these so i can't really say. i had to laugh when i saw her bit about the toy box control. LOL, i guess i really blew that one.

I was just looking at a book on amazon.com called The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell. that seems to be a positive approach. Any opinion on that approach? It's very helpful to hear criticisms of approaches, very informative.

the first dog training book i got, on recommendation from someone on one of the cavalier email lists, is Puppy Preschool by John Ross. It was very helpful to me in the beginning, by giving me a very effective and gentle way of correcting and redirecting zack that took no training at all, it worked the first time: the word/sound "Naahh." I dont' know why it works, Ross said it's because it's the sound the mother dog makes. Whatever, it sure has worked.

It seems another training controversy is the use of food treats. There seems to be some strong division over this.

by the way, about the Horse Whisperer, the author of the book, Nichoas Evans, has another book which deals with wolves and peoples' relationships to them, it's called The Loop (whcih is a kind of trap which is very inhumane) i loved that book and can recommend it as a good fiction read.

13th May 2006, 09:21 PM
One other thing, Jan Fennell said you should not play tug-o-war with a dog, with their toys, like a rope toy or whatever. :oops: i've done that a lot. i think she said it gives the dog the wrong message about what kind of relationship you have with the dog--it works against you being a leader. i guess that's another one that i really blew. :?

also, i'm wondering if people have any opinions on "mouthing," when a dog playfully bites your hand. When i got my first dog, when i was 9, she was two months old and she playfully bit on our hands, and my dad let her do that (he was my only role model for relating to dogs) and if she did it too hard, he would say "Too hard, too hard," and she'd do it more carefully. So i've always played with dogs like that, they seem to enjoy it so much, and that makes it fun. So i liked playing wiht Belle and Zack that way. then, i read Puppy Preschool and John Ross said you have to teach them never to engage in "mouthing" ( i didn't know that's what it was called). He advocated being really strict on that, because he says it's the dog asserting its own dominance over whoever it's biting. So, i started telling Zack not to "mouth," and he learned not to do it quickly. But i noticed this left me feeling sad. I had my own impulse to do it, to me it was a nice bonding activity, a way of enjoying something playful together. So, after a while, especially because Zack had been sick for a month, i started inviting him to do it again. And i was really happy doing it with him, but newly ambivalent. Then, Lisa, my daughter, was over for a visit, and Zack was actually hurting her with his mouthing, not on purpose but he left a mark on her arm when he was trying to grab a toy she was holding with his mouth, and so, this caused me to have stronger mixed feelings and confusion, and i've gotten so i don't invite him to do it anymore, and if he starts it up, i just don't get involved and he stops quickly. I've also worked on using "too hard, too hard," but i guess some people are more sensitive than others and what's not too hard for me can be too hard for someone else.

i think there is a part of me, going back to childhood, that is a puppy, and i just want to play like a peer with zack sometimes, get down on the floor and roll around, and rough house a little. I certainly did that with my previous dogs and don't remember mouthing/biting ever being an issue socially, ever. I'm sure it wasn't.

14th May 2006, 01:26 AM
I'd heard or read the tug-of-war thing too. But Pixie likes it sometimes. A trainer I talked to (at Petsmart, of all places) told me it's fine to play. When you want to stop, have the dog sit, then "leave it," pick it up and hand it off to the dog.

As far as different methods of training go, I think there's useful information to be gotten from them all....you just have to pick out what's best for your dog and your household. I think Cesar has good advice for people as far as how they think of and act towards their pet, getting them to understand a dog's mentality and need for a pack leader. I think his dog theory is very sound. His application, not so great.

Cathy T
14th May 2006, 01:44 AM
This is such a hot bottom topic and I think always will be.

I play tug of war but not aggressively. They both know to let go of the toy when I end the game and I don't make noises to get them all riled up.

I love Cesar's methods but don't follow them completely. Namely...I don't use a collar I use a harness.

I take over Jake's space in a show of "claiming" the space.

I want my dogs to love and "respect" me. The respect part is key. A lot like I feel with kids. You don't want to be their best friends without them respecting you. I want the love but I always want them to listen to me and have some boundaries and limitations.

I would NEVER do anything that made my dogs fearful of me. A stern look, stepping into their space, time out is never done to make them fear me. I want them to do what I am requesting because I am requesting it not because I'll beat them senseless if they don't.

14th May 2006, 02:06 PM
:lol: I am still on my soapbox here on Milan I'm afraid! I unequivocally find Cesar Milan's training methods disturbing. People obviously are free to choose the methods they like, but should be aware that he is the topic of much debate and concern amongst many qualified trainers especially those working with training theories of the past 25 years rather than those based on the 50s and 60s approaches of Milan. I still find it astonishing that he is able to use the Dog Whisperer name as it implies a totally different ethos than that of positive, motivational training. :(

As one example, I would never, ever, ever use a slip lead on a cavalier and jerk it up to make the dog fight, then give up and sit due to the discomfort of the angle at which the slip lead is holding its neck. This is SHOCKING as a training method in this day and age much less with a gentle breed. This is the kind of technique most old-style trainers would use with an aggressive dog. :( And it would still be IMHO wrong. :(

Teaching a dog to sit OR ANY COMMAND should be a happy, joyful experience, not one of anxiety and enforcing dominion over space and an 'do this or else' approach.

This is how you very easily get a dog to sit.

1) hve a tidbit in your hand.

2) with your dog before you, hold out the treat so that the dog can scent it and bring it right above his head, low and near his head. As you bring the treat over the dog's head it will be lloking straight up at it in anticipation, continue to slowly move your hand and treat OVER the dog's head as if passing just beyond the head and (no doubt craning!) head and mouth. Most dogs are at this point going to automatically sit as that's the most comfortable position for them to be in.

3) The second their butt hits the ground, praise cheerfully and give the treat right then. No command yet.

4) repeat this 4 or 5 times. The dog should quickly catch on that the treat comes when its butt hits the ground.

5) Now start to introduce the 'sit' cue. As SOON as the butt hits the ground say 'sit! and praise and treat.

6) repeat several times.

7) now try the command alone and treat as soon as the dog sits. You should be able tyto have your dog sitting happily weithin 10 minutes. Should get daily reinforcement of course as does all training of any type, if at all possible. As with humans, if you're a dog, using what you've learned is how you keep your skills sharp.

Never seen it fail. :)

Yesterday Leo learned the 'touch' command in his class in all of 5 minutes. So easy, and you could actually see the moment at which he made the connection that if he went and touched a little plastic cone on the ground with his nose, he got a treat. At that point I could put the cone 10 feet away and he'd trot right over to touch it with tail wagging like mad.

That is what training should be about -- not sharply pulling up a dog, stepping into its space and pushing it out of the way. The only time I'd block a dog's space is if it is trying to invade my own -- eg trying to get at something I am eating -- and it is easy to trun away to make access so difficult that the dog just gives up. That is different from forsing it away from somewhere that it already is. I'd much rather persuade it in a cheerful way, that moving somewhere else that I'd like it is a rewarding decision -- literally and figuratively.

If you have ever watched the obedience trials where collies (it is usually collies) walk nearly glued to the sides of their owners, watching them intently for cues, you can be sure that level of responsiveness and interaction was never achieved by punishing, even with body blocks or quick leash jerks, the unwanted behaviour. That kind of intense relationship is born out of motivational training that makes that dog willing to do whatever the trainer wants because it is intent on making the right *decision* not avoiding the wrong behaviour. Very big difference.

Again this all comes down to a philosophy of relationship that I think can be compared to how one would treat a child. You can bully or dominate a child into the correct behaviour through punishment and always scolding for doing things wrong. But this is withering to a child's self confidence if it views the world as a series of wrong behaviours and mistakes to be avoided rather than of learning and growing more adept and able. How much more rewarding the relationship when a child instead makes decisions based on having been shown in a fun and stimulating way, what is RIGHT.

A dog spends a lifetime of hearing 'NO" more than any other single word. How much better to gve it a range of options of things it can do rather than being told its behaviour is wrong. For example rather than scolding for what you don't want, redirect the unwanted behaviour into something you do want. That is the basis of motivational training. The unwanted behaviour soon becomes the option that gets no reward. So the dog makes the choice not to pursue what is unwanted itself.

Cathy with all due respect one thing I would consider in Jake's current situation is whether some of the dominance based training of Milan is not contributing to fear aggression in Jake and actually provoking the response against you. Most motivational based trainers can cite many examples of how this happens and why dominance based training can be a very detrimental and even dangerous way of managing a dog, bringing out problems that weren't there initially. Many motivational based trainers move to positive methods after first hand experience of what happens to dogs when they trained using other methods. To me it is simply extraordinary that Milan's approach in recognising that unwanted behaviour is often anxiety and fear based is to then dominate the dog!! :yikes If some of this behaviour has emerged since using Milan's methods generally, and you cannot find a medical cause, I'd sure drop all use of Milan's approach and try moving to something that is motivationally based to at least see if the situation alters. I know you've found backing off a bit has brought some success with him but just keep it in mind as there's still a question of why he began to find things he feels he needs to defend by something as aggressive as snapping when he hasn't done this before. It's not the kind of thing that would have been in his character to start in the first place, from all you have written in the past. In other words you've found a solution to the immediate behaviour issue for now, but not an understanding of why this is happening in the first place, what the actual trigger is and why he has chosen a very out of breed and personal character way of interacting with you.

14th May 2006, 03:21 PM
Judy please get Belle out of the prong collar class immediately as a matter of urgency if you can. Not only should they not be used on any dog in most trainer's opinions -- especially NOT AS A FIRST OPTION and a matter of course for basic training!!! -- but these could be dangerous for a cavalier because of SM. And a prong collar should simply never be used on a small breed!! They are used by very experienced trainers who sometimes advocate this approach, on strong, potentially dangerous dogs like dobermanns, but not small sensitive-neck breeds like a cavalier. Tha fact that a trainer is starting with a prong collar is a statement that the approach will be to scare and hurt the dog into the correct response. I would run a mile from anyone with this approach.

Visit a petshop that sells these, and ask your daughter to try putting a prong collar around her own neck then you do a leash snap and jerk and see how she responds to that. I am serious, it is a good way of seeing what your dog will feel. I feel such methods would utterly destroy a cavalier's happy and willing nature. They are so eager to learn, why frighten and punish these gentle dogs into learning?

14th May 2006, 03:47 PM
I can't believe a trainer is promoting this type of collar, how barbaric!! Especially for a first level, general class, although in any class or training they should not be used. Any reputable trainer would tell you this is very old-school thinking and a thing of the past, and that positive reinforcement/training is now more widely used and much more successful.
Yikes, reading Judy's post made me sick to my stomach to think of people STILL using these barbaric measures. Our trainer doesn't even like to use the word "dominant".

Cathy T
14th May 2006, 05:13 PM
Karlin - no offense taken! You've read my postings about Jake for a couple of years now so I value your opinion. His behavior is sooo out of character. We'll see what happens over the next couple of days.

14th May 2006, 05:44 PM
....His behavior is sooo out of character. We'll see what happens over the next couple of days.

i couldn't help wondering if it was related to pent up anxiety and resentments about Shelby always getting his bully sticks. :|

14th May 2006, 05:52 PM
thanks for those replies about the prong collar training. Can anyone refer me to any more articles or posts supporting the belief that collars as opposed to harnesses are risky for an SM prone dog, and that choke/prong collar training may be harmful in any way? When i talked to Lisa about this, she said she had read about SM and concluded that "if a dog is going to get it, they're going to get it, and if they're not going to get it, they're not going to get it," and she said she thinks this is one of those cases of me having an overly exaggerated concern about some health related thing, which she has experienced with me, as my kid. She says I've made her irrationally afraid of things like pollution and environmental toxins. But she is pretty well informed about these things, interested in them, and open to learning. She researches things and thinks about things and is not rigid. I'd like to share more information about this with her so it's not just coming from me, the sometimes overanxious overprotective and paranoid mom, who is just learning about dog things. I'd like to get some documentation from experienced knowledgeable soruces, especially opinions or advice from neurologists related to collars and neck trauma increasing the risk of symptomatic SM. Lisa has expressed worry about Belle having SM when Belle scratches or rubs her head on the floor, she is definitely not complacent about it. I have started searching the web for information i can pass along to her.

14th May 2006, 06:40 PM
Karlin, are you familiar with the Sporn harness? It goes underneath the dog's "armpits" and the tightens when the dog pulls forward. Our Byron was a terrible leash-puller and responded immediately when I put him in this harness. It doesn't seem to me in any way painful or dangerous, but you have so much experience with Cavaliers, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

14th May 2006, 08:07 PM
Whick sporn collar is that? I just looked it up on the web to see what it is, and they have a sporn training halter and a sporn mesh halter. And there's also an 'original sporn halter.'


That's a pretty cavalier in their ad.

I got the kind that clips to the front of the halter.


I was using a regular halter that seems, from how he acts, comfortable for him, it's fleece lined, it clips on the back.


When i walk him with that harness, he loves to pull, i feel like i'm water skiing, he pulls me so strongly, it makes it easier to walk up hills. He really seems to enjoy it. But i suspect it might not be that great for his musculoskeletal system.

The one that clips on the front eliminated all pulling, but i am unsure about whether that kind might cause some problems because it pulls them off center, if they do pull. It totally works. When i use that halter, he leaves the leash slack, he doesn't pull. It doesn't appear to cause him any pain or discomfort, but, according to the company, it just pulls them off balance a little if they pull forward on it, which they don't like, and there's fun in pulling on it. but i have wondered if it might be not good for the spine because there might be subtle pressure to one side as they're walking.

I'm interested in the sporn halter--that mesh one looks really comfortable.

pseub--i wrote you a PM yesterday. You had said something about a play date :) so i was contacting you about that. I forgot to give you my email address so i'll write you another PM with that info. [/url]

14th May 2006, 08:49 PM
Judy, the one I use is the one in your first link, the "Original". It's worked very well for Byron!

15th May 2006, 04:20 AM
i talked to Lisa about the prong collar today. She said they never snap on the collar or pull on it or yank on it or choke Belle with it. She said that when they take her for a walk, she wears it and she no longer pulls on the leash because if she pulls on the leash, the collar causes the discomfort and Belle chooses not to pull because of that. That's a relief, that they aren't snapping it. however they've only had one training class, last sunday. there was no class today because of mothers day. the second session is next sunday. I'm afraid the trainer will have them yanking on the chain. I talked to her about SM and i think she understands better now how collars can potentially worsen the condition. I'm still working on this, trying to find info i can send her. I'm thinking of calling the trainer and telling them about SM, faxing them some material, and letting them know that the neck should not have pressure or pulling on it.

15th May 2006, 12:04 PM
Hi Judy,

Firstly I am distressed and shocked at the thought of a trainer insisting on the use of prong collars in their class - especially for a cavalier.

While SM is an obvious consideration with Cavaliers. I would take a step back and consider your argument against using the prong collar with Lisa. She needs to STOP attending this class immediately. But her reasons should not be based on whether her dog has SM. It is true that prong collars can actually cause less trachea damage than a normal choke chain. Because of the pinch effect on the skin the dog does not pull hard enough to inflict the same internal damage that a choke does. However, less pain/more pain... I see no difference - it's still pain, which has NO PLACE in training any animal. If pulling on the lead is a problem for her, tell her to buy a book by Turid Rugass called "My Dog Pulls: What do I do?". You can buy it on www.Dogwise.com. It is a superb little book, short, easy to follow and with great pictures and the method works. We have a very popular "Heelwork" (We prefer to call it Loose Lead walking) course based on the book. With great results I might add!

The following describes possible results of using a prong collar (or any positive punishment training methods)
* Fear of Owner, other dogs, anything the dog is near when they experience pain.
* Lack of confidence outside
* May start to hide before walk time
* Submissive urination (resulting from fear)
* Aggression towards, other dogs, people, owner
* Depression
* Injury

Ask Lisa to place the prong collar around her arm and pull it.... or better still, if it fits, as her to put it around her own neck and see what she thinks.

I have no time for trainers who cite "dominance" and "pack leader" in their training instruction. These words have no place in modern day scientifically proven training methods. For people who are interested I would recommend a book called "Dominance: Fact or Fiction" by Barry Eaton. This is another short book that presents the facts and will give plenty of food for thought. It is vital to teach a dog their own Self Control. We must present a choice to our dogs, and put them in a position where the right choice is far more appealing. By allowing a dog to make their own choices they learn and build confidence. Remember back to when you were is school, if you took the time to look up a word in the dictionary yourself, you remembered it!

Certainly Dee Ganley's seminar was superb and insightful into how to manage a dogs behaviour without any damaging coercion either physical OR psychological! The demo dogs that we used were all either dog to dog or dog to human aggressive or both. Some were very severe and all improved over the course of the 2 days. We are hoping to have her back in October, so keep an eye out on the website.

Remember our dogs are emotional, sentient creatures, so always remember that when training.

15th May 2006, 01:43 PM
Judy, the existing stats on SM at this time show that very likely at LEAST 50% of cavaliers actually have syrinxes (SM, the fluid pockets in the spine)) with close to 90% having the malformation that can cause SM to progress. No study to date has yet disputed these figures ad they have been generally consistent, percentage-wise. In other words most of us already have dogs that either have the condition or are possible candidates to develop SM whether or not the dog ever becomes symptomatic.

Lisa needs to look at www.sm.cavaliertalk.com. She has some misunderstandings about this condition and its rareness I think and this should make the real situation more understandable -- and all cavalier owners need to understand this condition as it almost certainly affects nearly all of us -- and unless people MRI their cavaliers, they cannot know for certain that they are not exacerbating an existing condition (one reason too that no one should be breeding these dogs nonchalantly and without full understanding of this huge problem in the breed). There are definitely steps that can be taken to minimise distress (including distress or dscomfort we may not even notice in our dogs) and very possibly, progression. Some are simple physical steps like not using certain collars for training or walking; others are medical interventions such as using frusemide, which definitely seems to slow progression and relieve symptoms in symptomatic cavaliers. Several of us on this board with symptomatic cavaliers have seen results with both methods.

Several neurologists have come forward to say that in most cases harnesses should be used on cavaliers generally as it is very possible that repeated pressure in the neck area will exacerbate and even influence the progression of SM. These are specialists in the area and they don't make uninformed recommendations. One of those who made this recommendation is the key researcher of one of the studies just concluded in North Carolina, whose results will be presented at the start of June at the annual international vet conference in the US.



The only situation in which collars may be preferable for walks and training is if an already affected dog finds the pressure points of a harness even more uncomfortable than a collar. Dr Clare Rusbridge, the neurologist and leading international researcher on SM, believes this is sometimes the case with some dogs. Most owners of SM dogs on the SM lists I am on have seen immediate relief for their symtpomatic dog on walks when they switch from a collar to a harness.

I am sure this is because about 99.9% of syrinxes form right at the area of the neck where a collar fits.

Let me show you what is there. Here is my own little Leo's MRI from a year ago. Unfortunately I am sure his syrinx has grown worse as he is now symptomatic and he wasn't a year ago. I have had to introduce additional painkillers to try and relieve the discomfort he clearly feels on the right side of his ear and his neck (again, the collar area). In this MRI I have circled the syrinx (on the right) which is exactly where his collar fits. I have also circled (on the left) the spot where you can see Leo's brain being forced out of his skull and into the opening into the spinal canal. This is a typical result of the malformation alone (which recall around 90 per cent of dogs have going by existing studies!!! The most coservative estimate is 50%) and doesn't necessarily come only with SM (syrinxes). This is also a reason NOT to put any extra pressure, especially from a prong or choke collar at this area -- it is exactly where a prong or choke or slip lead would tighten on a cavalier someone is doing a typical leash snap correction with. :(


Imagine a prong pinching down on Leo's head where his brain comes out into his foramen magnum -- it does not even bear thinking about! It is yet another reason why correction methods of training IMHO and in the opinion of ALL neurologists I have spoken to, simply have no place with cavaliers; they are far too likely to have hidden issues like this!! Dogs tolerate high levels of pain before showing it outwardly, as those of us with SM cavaliers know. Given that we owners have the knowledge of what is likely to be there, hidden, in our dog's neck area, the responsible choice is to then not inadvertantly require our cavaliers to endure distressing levels of pinching and jerking and pulling for training when it is so, so easy to train in a fun and effective way using postive methods. In addition there are neurologists specialising in this condition who definitely believe such activities could cause syrinxes to form or become even more extensive. Who would risk that with these wonderful dogs? And why?