PLEASE NOTE: Because I am using screen captures of a website that is not my own, and also because even having this stuff on here skeeves me out, this post will stay up for 24-48 hours and be made private.
Because this was so striking to me, I wanted to show the Internets what I am seeing in the Assess-A-Pet behavior “identifications” and why they disturb me so much.
It is VERY VERY obvious to me that Sue Sternberg is afraid of dogs. Specifically, big or muscular dogs. I am not sure if she’s actually afraid of the dog per se or if she’s got a sort of PTSD after the many and inevitable failures that the testing has produced (because it’s absolutely ridiculous and impossible to say that a dog will not bite in any adoptive home) and all she sees is the possibilities for this dog to rip someone’s face off. Either way, the body posture and the wording of the descriptions is incredibly evocative.
Thanks to my handy-dandy screen grab, you can see what I don’t think she even knows herself (these are all Sue Sternberg in the pictures).
In this illustration we learn that “whale eye,” which every normal behaviorist in the world knows is a sign of uncertainty and tension, is in fact the dog CONTINUING TO LOOK AT YOU EVEN WHEN HE’S TURNING HIS HEAD AWAY. Wow, this dog REALLY wants to eat her, doesn’t he (or she)?
It makes no difference to her that the white in this dog’s eye is on the completely wrong side of the eye for him to be looking at her, which I guess means he wants to eat the camera person.
OK, first, the tapetum is what make a dog’s eyes glow in certain angles of light. It’s across the whole back of the eye, so unless the dog’s eye is completely closed you can see it if you’re at the right angle. But it’s a scary word and it sure sounds scientific-y and reliable, doesn’t it?
Such a rich subtext in this one. See how many words you can find – the dog is “denying access” (which is very different from “avoiding touch” or “is unsure how to react” or “attempts to initiate play,” any of which could be substituted if you’re talking about a dog grabbing a leash).
The shelter dog is immediately identified as NOT a pet dog. That is a clear signal, so pay attention. Shelter dogs can be destroyed without guilt because they are not pet dogs.
There’s a whole cluster of fear words, not just fear words but interpretive fear words, in the next line. See how the dog, who is a SHELTER dog and has just denied access to himself, is now climbing up the leash toward the tester’s innocent hands? Of course it’s “unsafe,” because the leash is “the only point of control” over this dangerous animal.
Looking at the hand position and leash tension in all these photos, it’s super clear that she does really believe that the leash is the only thing saving her.
At this point she seems to send the red and white dog off to be put down (I guarantee you that pretty dog up there was dead within hours of the photos being taken – look how many poor behaviors he or she illustrates), and (the next day? She’s changed clothes, so either it’s the next day or the red and white dog touched her with his anus too many times and she got “disgusted”) brings in a little fawn pit or pit mix.
Poor little boy pit is scared to death, but his actions are being interpreted as a possessive mating attempt, especially since they’re combined with (gasp!) whale eye!
I could go through the whole site, and could take screen grabs of her book as well, and illustrate this fifty or sixty or a hundred times, but it’s all the same. Every single behavior that is not incredibly soft, submissive, and (this is key) performed by a small, non-working breed, is labeled something to be scared of and a reason to be put down.
She really has devised and written (and teaches in person) a series of tests that you can use to fail any dog you choose. She even does this herself, according to testimony from her workers – if a dog doesn’t object to having its mouth grabbed and pulled open, and she thinks the dog is dangerous, she will repeat the mouth grab as many times as it takes for the dog to object. (I just tried this with Clue, by the way, who has been trained to show her bite since she was barely weeks old – the magic number for her is six times before she starts to whine in confusion and when I let her go she buried her head in my leg. Aggressive! Denying access to herself!)
As you may be able to tell by now, I find this method, this effort, and this woman not only profoundly disturbing but the fate of dogs being put through this unsympathetic and paranoid testing just heartbreaking.