Dog Faming – Picture It!

My friend Eileen did a terrific blog post on Dog Faming — an alternative to the current trend of “Dog Shaming.”

What? You haven’t heard of dog shaming? Neither had I. Sadly, now I have. There are multiple “dog shaming” websites and Facebook pages devoted to people posting pics of their dogs doing (or having done) things the people Are Not At All Happy About, with a sign saying what misbehavior the dog has engaged in.

I understand that these pictures and comments are supposed to be funny (and every once in a while, I do find one genuinely funny), and I also don’t believe the dog knows their picture is on the internet. I’m glad that one of the most popular sites (over 100,000 “Likes” on its Facebook page!) now has an “Adoptable Friday” feature which shows a “shamed” rescue dog available for adoption every week. I’m certain the vast majority of people who post on these sites love their dogs.

Nevertheless, there’s a dark side to all this: This trend supports ideas about dogs and dog behavior that are inaccurate and that can cause a lot of misunderstanding and misery for those on both ends of the leash. When I read these sites, I feel sad — and frustrated.

One problem is that I see many dogs displaying unhappy body language, which leads me to believe that the person taking the picture has already made it clear to their dog that they are mad. The dogs are displaying appeasement signals. In other words, they know their person is upset and this is stressful to the dog, so the dog uses these signals to say, “Please calm down. Can’t we just get along?”

Unfortunately, people tend to misunderstand this dog body language. Here is a quote I lifted from one of the dog shaming Facebook pages that sums up the problem:

The funniest thing about some of these dogs is that they know they did wrong and their lil ears are back because they KNOW they messed up. I just love dogs so much.

Comments about dogs “looking guilty” or “acting guilty” are a common theme on these sites. In actuality, scientific studies show that dogs “look guilty” to humans whether or not they have actually done anything “wrong.”

A lot of the pictures show dogs who look blissfully unaware that their owners are “shaming” them. They are asleep or lounging around looking relaxed. The pictures that make me sad or concerned are like the two below. The white dog on the left (Miniature Poodle?) looks scared and miserable. The Husky on the right looks like it’s super pissed off and is about to attack if given any provocation.

A small, white, curly-haired dog (probably miniature poodle) hunched back, tuck-tailed, head down, ears down, eyes down. Sign says, "Days without rolling in poop: 0"A husky whose ears are pinned back, mouth/muzzle muscles pinched, eyes like slits.

Whatever happened before or during the taking of these pictures is probably pretty miserable for both human and canine.

Another problem is the number of posts of dogs who do something frequently — in many cases, apparently (like the poodle on the left) every day — and I have to ask myself, “Why are the owners continuing to support this behavior in their dog?” If they know the dog rolls in poop, destroys the sofa, eats socks, etc., why are they giving the dog unsupervised access to poop, sofas, and socks? In some photos, there are even dog crates in the background, and I have to wonder if those crates are ever USED?

I think the fact that people are posting these pictures about “dogs who need to be shamed” points to some of the answer. If you think the dog knows what they did was “wrong,” you might think that telling them off and/or shaming them is an effective way to change their behavior. So, management (use of crates or X-pens or tie-downs to prevent access to the poop or couch or socks) and training (teaching the dog to chew on a Kong or play with a toy or get a treat instead of the undesirable behavior), don’t enter into it. And the problem behavior continues.

Finally, the more you focus on mistakes (or accidents or “bad behavior”), the more you tend to encourage that kind of behavior. Here’s a rather amusing post on this phenomenon.

The flip side is also true: One of the most wonderful aspects of positive-reinforcement training (clicker training) is that by focusing on what your dog is doing right, you both tend to feel good because you are both “winning” over and over again. Both dog and human are generally very happy during and after a clicker session. In fact, if you find yourself becoming tense or angry, all the trainers I know advocate quitting the session ASAP and doing something else instead. Nobody learns (or teaches) well if they are stressed out.

So, one dog trainer started a Dog Faming contest on her Facebook page.

Still time to FAME your dog in November! Post a staged pic or your dogs w/ a sign telling us something you love/admire/are thankful for about them. It’s a photo op and a training op all rolled into one! Best pic wins a prize! Please share, and consider ‘liking’ Caninestein Dog Training’s page while you’re there.
More training/photo challenges coming soon! Let’s go ‘viral’ with positive messages about our dogs!

So, over the course of the last few days, Barnum and I have had some fun with my new camera, the signs I made, and of course, a bunch of treats. Something very interesting happened during the course of these photo shoots which I’ll tell you about at the end of this post. Meanwhile. . . . Let the show begin!

Bouviers require a lot of grooming while also not being the most touchy-feelly dogs, so I’ve put a lot of effort into Barnum being cooperative with grooming….

I couldn’t find a good place to put the sign, so I taped it to his collar.

Inside and out….

Close-up of Barnum's face with a blue plastic tooth brush with white bristles approaching his mouth. In the background, a sign taped to the wall says, "Holds still for tooth brushing."

I wanted to show the brush ON his actual teeth, but I’d need a third hand to lift his lips.

Certain themes did arise…

Pulling the bathroom door shut..

Nudging the bedroom door shut.

Fortunately, Barnum doesn’t seem bothered by the repetitive nature of some tasks.

Barnum in a narrow hallway pulling shut the bedroom door. Sign says (again),  "Helps conserve electricity by shutting doors. (Many doors.)"

Aaaaand this door, too….


Action shot of blurry Barnum nudging shut a heavy door to the outside. Sign again says, "Helps conserve electricity by shutting doors. (Many doors.)"

The whole house is made of doors.

Okay, but there is stuff to do besides closing doors. Well, except that this is technically still a door, I suppose. . . .

Barnum stands next to open refrigerator looking away from it. Sign says, "Opens the fridge... (without sampling the contents)."

It’s open. Now what?

He’s also good with retrieving skills, like this….

“Moo yoo wahn gees now?”

And this….

Barnum stands holding a wool slipper in his mouth. The sign on the bed next to him says, "Brings my slippers (instead of chewing them)."

He retrieves my slippers more often than anything else.

And this….

That’s a piece of hot dog and a piece of raw beef on the fork.

He had to hold this still for quite a while so I could get a picture where the sign wasn’t blurry from swinging around:

Barnum sits on a narrow black coffee table holding a red pen in his mouth that has a sign suspended from it that says, "Will Hup, Sit, Hold, and Stay -- combined!"

Tadah! I’m a trick dog, too!

What I noticed was this: After every photo session, I was so damn happy. I felt such warm, tender, joyous feelings toward Barnum. He was all waggy and bouncy, and I was all smiley and delighted. I’d invite him up on the bed and moosh on him and give him treats. It really did affect me to focus on all these things he does that make my life easier or that make it easier for me to care for him. Even the “trick” of sitting on the table holding the sign, while not a useful behavior in itself, showed me how solid some of the component behaviors are, which ARE useful and important. There’s nothing groovier than loving a Bouvier!

Go check out Eileen’s dog faming post and the other dog faming posts at Caninestein on Facebook and give them some “Likes” and comment love!

If you have a dog faming post to share, please provide links in the comments!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (famous without the signs), and Barnum, SD

P.S. Wasn’t this post enLIGHTening?

Side view of Barnum standing on his hind legs with his forepaws resting on the wall, his nose pressed to the wall between them. (The light switch is blocked from view by his paws.) Sign in the foreground says, "Is very enLIGHTening."

Barnum nudges the light switch with his nose.

13 Responses to “Dog Faming – Picture It!”

  1. 1 Jesse the K December 1, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Excellent point about the foolishness and cruelty in dog shaming. You have put together a delightful slide show of why any dog can be famous, and why your SD deserves a name in lights around the roof! (It would make a great kids book for iPad.)

  2. 2 eileenanddogs December 1, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    This is just the most wonderful compilation of a happy dog doing useful behaviors! Thanks for kick starting the new meme. Folks, she’s right. Just the act of setting up and taking these pictures will make you feel great about your dog and the relationship between the two of you.

  3. 3 brilliantmindbrokenbody December 4, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    I keep meaning to ask you how you get Barnum to accept that toothbrush. I use one of the more common single-headed ones, and to the outside of his teeth. He is…semi-cooperative. He wants to gulp down the toothpaste and possibly chew on the brush, so the fiancé holds his head while I brush. I don’t even know where to begin to get him to let me do the inner surfaces of his teeth!

  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler December 5, 2012 at 12:12 am

    This was a long process. I had to decide that while we were training it, I would accept that his teeth would not actually be getting clean (that it was training), and trust that this foundation would make it easier later.

    I also strongly recommend 3- or 4-headed brush (unless there’s some reason your vet says they’re a bad idea) as it’s much easier to get all 3 sides of the tooth that way.

    This is a behavior in Sue Ailsby’s new Training Levels: Steps to Success books (, which you can get as ebooks or paper. Basically, you start with marking (Yes!) and treating moving hand to mouth, touching lips, teeth, tongue, etc. C/T (not actual click, but shorthand for verbal marker and treat) any time dog holds mouth still for that. if he starts licking, chewing, moving head, go back to kindergarten where he was successful and build up second by second. once you can repeatedly rub a finger along teeth and gumline with dog holding still, then you start over w/brush. NO toothpaste. Just wet brush and start over as if you had not done with finger — toward muzzle, toward lips, toward teeth, etc, till you can brush up and down canine tooth outside w/no movement. You are YESSING the stillness.

    That’s why you have to YES early, before he even wants to start licking (before you actually touch him), and why you start w/out toothpaste, bec naturally that smells yummy and the dog wants to lick.

    Don’t use any cues, just let him figure out that stillness gets rewarded.

    Makes sense?

  5. 5 brilliantmindbrokenbody December 5, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Totally. This just sounds like a project that will take a lot of time.

    I only use the single head toothbrush on the outside (like, the side closer to his lips) of his teeth because that is what my service dog school taught. When I first saw the brushes you use with your dog, I thought, “How would I even do that? Major wrestling match every time?”

    I think when my back is behaving better, I will start working on making tooth-brushing less work. I just don’t have the patience right now, pain is making me short tempered.

  6. 6 Sharon Wachsler December 5, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    There are days I’m in too much pain to brush Barnum’s teeth (or my own!).

    Does he already know chin targeting? Does he have a very fast and eager chin target? If so, I would just try to do a short session when it’s convenient of him chin targeting some location where it’s easy and convenient for you (in the future) to brush his teeth. A lot of how I do it w/Barnum is have him sit on the “grooming table” (a coffee table) I keep in the bathroom, and I brush his teeth when I happen to be on the toilet. And I start with a few chin targets of my hand and then brush his teeth with the other hand (or remove the targeting hand once the brushing starts).

    So, the easiest way to start might be just to YES and treat for chin targeting in the location that you think you might want to use in the future. Then just have the toothbrush near you for chin targeting. then have the toothbrush on your lap or sticking out of your pocket. Then in your hand. So, the toothbrush becomes a non-issue. You just happen to have the toothbrush around when he’s getting treats for chin targeting. Then slowly over time, you start moving it toward his face.

    It might work best to get a new one that looks different (different color, and maybe get the 3-headed kind) for the new training, and use the current one for ongoing brushing now; that way Hudson won’t associate the new one with the unpleasant feelings he has abt tooth brushing now.

  7. 7 brilliantmindbrokenbody December 6, 2012 at 5:06 am

    My teeth are depressingly under brushed lately with the back mess.

    A chin target will be new for us; we have a good nose target, but not the chin.

    Oh, we have the opposite problem with tooth brushing from what you understood. Hudson likes it. He likes it a LOT. If I have the toothbrush and just sit there with it, he starts throwing out behaviors in the hopes that he can lick and hopefully chew on it. Very proper come and front sit! Nose target on hand! Harder nose target on hand! Gimmie paw! Nose again! Confused weight shifting! It is pretty clear to me that the school trained tooth brushing to about the same extent they did all grooming: to the point of tolerance rather than eager cooperation. He doesn’t try to fight me for the most part, but there is always some difficulty with the tasks he finds least pleasant because he just kind of…passively resists. For example, if I am trimming his butt or groin fur, he consistently tries to sit.

    All the same, I think a new toothbrush with no associations will make training the new behavior I want easier. The bit I can’t wrap my head around is how to convince him to hang out with his mouth open while I work on his teeth. Right now, we are having to hold his mouth closed because he tries to nom the toothbrush.

    Oh, and on a non-dog note, I have the makings of a surprise for you! Did you know that one can acquire organic merino wool if one knows where to look for it? (Organic alpaca too, for that matter, but unfortunately what I have of that is fiber rather than yarn, so I’d have to be able to spin again to do anything with that, which may be some time with my back crap)

  8. 8 Cait December 12, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    I sent one in of Jack but it hasn’t gotten posted, possibly because he’s looking UTTERLY pleased with himself 😀 (“I shredded my sister’s new toy before she got to play with it”) – I just thought it was a cute picture. 🙂

  9. 10 Sharon Wachsler December 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    Hi Stephanie.
    Thanks for the heads up on the new faming contest. I have to take a look. Rather, I’ve visited the page and now forgotten what it is, so I’ll look for photographic evidence the next time I’m there. 🙂

  10. 11 Sharon Wachsler December 17, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Yeah, it’s not all bad. I know there are people posting who are doing it for the laffs. Now I’m curious what toy got shredded? (I’m considering various toy options for Barnum’s birthday.)

  11. 12 Sharon Wachsler December 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Hmm. Maybe I’ll try to do a video at some point of showing how to train for calm, holding still for tooth brushing. way i did it wld work for both love it and hate it dogs. came up with protocol based on the concepts i learned from sue ailsby’s level books/teachings.

    Tk you for surprise, but pls don’t go to any trouble. Betsy, Barnum and i all have birthdays this month, and my dad bought us some organic merino/possum wool things from new zealand which i love and are toasty warm, lightweight, and non-itchy. (NZ possums are diff than N. America possums.)

  1. 1 Dog Faming | eileenanddogs Trackback on November 30, 2012 at 9:59 pm
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