The viral “A Dog’s Purpose” video: should we be calling this abuse?


So many people are absolutely losing their minds over this video of a German Shepherd being put into a pool during filming of “A Dog’s Purpose.” I just don’t have this same visceral reaction to it quite frankly. Maybe I’m in the minority, but every single piece of viral news or clickbait makes me super critical and asking questions. Too few people in this day and age of instantaneous information question what they see and read. The video itself is not bothering me but the knee jerk emotional reaction I’ve witnessed by so many IS. Several people have messaged me about this asking my opinion. I’m not sure that the opinion of this keyboard cowgirl matters but here it is.

First of all, if this dog was actually in danger or the person who has released this was truly concerned for the dog’s welfare, why are they just now sharing it? Why not at the time it was happening? Why not report this alleged abuse to the authorities? PETA has sure latched right onto it which immediately makes me suspicious—attaching the name PETA to anything just discredits it for me. PETA is urging people to boycott the film, and I’m saddened to see many fellow dog owners and trainers sharing this PETA sentiment. PETA is opposed to merely owning a dog so they are opposed to everything we are about. The fact no one reported this when it happened makes me seriously question the validity of their concern for the dog. This video is being shared not to improve the dog’s situation but to make someone look bad. The clips shown are only a portion of the real story, I’m sure. It’s essentially impossible to make an actual judgement of the situation with only what whoever has released this wants you to see.

My opinion on the clipped snapshot we are given: it is bad training. The dog should have been better prepared and acclimated for the situation. Perhaps another drivier animal should have been used. However, we are only given a snippet of what’s going on here. Dogs ARE animals and maybe, for whatever reason, he wasn’t feeling like doing it that day when he normally would. To be quite honest, I have seen dogs far more stressed out at dock jumping events. I’m not talking about the regulars or real competitors, but speaking more to events where the public can come try it and they bring their pets who hardly even leave the house and expect them to be Michael Jordans. I’ve witnessed super obese pet dogs that live on the couch being forced up the steps to the dock exhibiting way more stress than this particular dog. I’ve seen people dragging dogs on the ramp into the water, practically choking them, trying to force dogs into water who have never even swam before. People who think that their dog splashing in a kiddy pool in the back yard somehow translates into fearlessly leaping into a pool of clear water. Are these people abusive? Probably not. Complete and total morons that I want to bitch slap, yes, but abusive, no.

And this may sound harsh, but what is wrong with some stress and discomfort? Why is there this disillusioned idea that dogs should exist in a perfect world of sunshine and rainbows? It goes to the same notion that all dogs should be friends with all other dogs all the time. (These are typically the same people who refer themselves as pet parents to their fur babies. I just threw up in my mouth.)  I find it fascinating that the people who tend to have these ideas are the people who anthropomorphize dogs, but they do so very selectively. They want to humanize dogs only when it comes to the things that make us happy but not when it comes to the reality. No humans love every single other human: why should we expect the same of our dogs? Nor do we live lives without any discomfort or stress….again, why should our dogs? We all have to sometimes do things we don’t want to, or not get what we want; this goes for dogs too.

I don’t think the dog’s welfare was ever in any danger. Even if he did slip under water the pool was surrounded by people to jump in and pull him from the water. Is it tantamount to abuse? No. Is it super shitty training and handling? Absolutely. But anyone calling this abuse is doing the entire world of dog training a disservice. If that’s abuse, then what about prong collars or e collars? What about restraining a bird dog on a check cord? Let’s not even get into what happens to birds in bird dog training. Look closely at my picture above of Sue on point: he’s in training to be steady on birds, and has an e collar on his belly. Abuse to some who don’t understand it, appropriate use of a training tool to others who do understand. (And for my friends who don’t know how this is used: I tested the stimulation level on my own wrist before putting it on Sue and it was such that I couldn’t feel it. At all.)

My point is, this is opening a very bad door to a very slippery slope if people want to jump on the train that is making a snap judgement and labeling it abuse. Dog people need to take a breath, step back, and look at this logistically rather than emotionally reacting and contributing to the forces that would classify much so much dog training as “abuse.”

Some might label dressing your boy dog in drag as “abuse”

4 thoughts on “The viral “A Dog’s Purpose” video: should we be calling this abuse?

  1. Extremely well put! Great article! I am a professional pet groomer and have been for 18 or so years. I love, love what I do but I see peoples ignorance and bias almost on a daily basis.
    Many kinds of dogs and cats require grooming, do they all like it? Of course they don’t! Even some that do love it don’t always feel like having it done but it is a necessity. So we do our best to get them through the process as quickly and comfortably as possible.
    We have owners that while dropping off their pets imply hurtful things just because their pet is nervous or may appear to be unhappy. They have days where they just don’t wanna just like humans but that doesn’t mean there’s anything shady happening!
    Now a days it just seems like a vast amount of people overanalyze things. I agree on bad training, prepping and conditioning the pup. Also, media can (and is all the time) manipulated and abused to sway naive people into seeing what they want seen.
    My hats off to you for your insight and level headed analysis.


  2. Very nicely put!! I find people would just rather share what is put in front of them than do their research to even know if there is one iota of truth to what they have seen, read or shared.

    This kind of mindless following of people is exactly what Peta and all those other organizations (that leave such a bad taste in my mouth) are hoping for so they can tear us apart and take our right to not only own animals but breed them responsibly away from us.

    You are so spot on!


  3. I assume pinch collars, e-collars, force fetch, heeling sticks and a kick or two (when fights occur) would be considered by all to be closer to abusive. The difference is the view, by those who are good dog owners but share PETA’s view, that it was unnecessary to force that dog into the water. If the dog was on a sinking boat and being forced into the water the very same people would consider that handler a saint for the patience he was showing.

    The point you repeatedly make regarding poor handling is hard to argue against, but I’ve seen worse handling in the ring, test and training. Choke/pinch/prong collars being used and the dogs still dragging the hapless handler at the full length of the leash, except at tests where those devices aren’t alowed I have seen that at every event I’ve witnessed. E-collar corrections for dogs that clearly don’t know what they are being told to do, most wind up returning to handler at a trot confused and never knowing what they ‘did wrong’. And there are many similar examples that I view as equally unnecessary. Why not have a dog in a harness if you’re just going to let him choke himself with the training collar? Why not just recall your dog when he does something you don’t like when that’s the result for shocking him for commands he doesn’t know? We see worse handling all the time and don’t get up in arms like they did over this video.

    Regarding the timing of the release of the video… my guess would be that it was in theaters, which means all the money that was going to be spent on releasing that movie had been spent. Now if you can convince people to boycott the movie at that point, you have potentially caused the biggest losses. So yes, it looks like sympathy for the dog was not at the heart of the matter and the attack was simply to kill profits for the film. As far as mindless followers, they exist on every side of every argument. Try to argue otherwise and you likely fall into that category.


  4. To the lady who wrote this article. I am a retired police canine trainer and I write articles for the United States Police Canine Association publication. I would like to quote something I you wrote but I can not seem to locate your name for credit. Please respond to if you wish.
    Thank you,
    Don Sterling


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s