Saturday, 25 May 2013

Leader of the Pack -Brigadier - episode review (for those not wanting to watch it!)

OMG ... buckle yourselves in and don the flame proof security wear provided...

Brigadier is another stray from Italy. He is scared of people, and when I say scared, this guy is SHIT scared, hes terrified. In the first shots, he is cowering in his kennel, staff have to force him out, he hits the deck when on the lead and if picked up he snarls and air snaps.

This is a dog who does NOT trust people, he does NOT want to be made to go anywhere and he does NOT want physical contact.

His rigid body language, head turned away, lip curls, ears scraped back and whale eyes all say 'I do not like this, don't do it', but its important to note here, Brigadier is also careful NOT to make contact with people. His bites are not 'near misses', these are air snaps and snarls never intended to do physical harm.

Once at Cesars centre, Brigadier shows he is really scared and doesn't want to get out of the crate in the back of the car. Cesar gets into the rear passenger seat area so that B has no choice but to get out, to get away from him.

They take B to a shaded area where they sit on a wall and B has no choice but to be near Cesar, held on a short slip leash. Cesar talks some waffle about controlling the dogs mouth so he can't bite, and then picks him up and puts him on the wall. B at this point is pretty rigid and totally tense.

Cesar now explains very accurately, that Brigadier is very fearful and tense, and that the leash will also mean he feels trapped which will heighten his fear. He then goes on to say more about dealing with B's mouth and gets a dog brush out, and tries to brush B.

This is ok for a few strokes on B's body, but once he gets to his head its very clear B is very unhappy about it.

Next he takes Brigadier to meet his pack - we see a shot of  B stood outside the pen that Cesar's pack are running in. B is tense, corners of his mouth pulled back into that rigid fearful 'smile' type pant, ears back - Cesar declares him relaxed as the pack all bark at him through the fence, and so brushes him again, using B's shut down state to allow this to happen.

He is then pushed into the pack who all crowd around him

In with the pack, B is really shut down and fearful, CM says he is being respectful and submissive and that the pack is teaching him to respect them - in fact the situation is simply that B would have to be a monumentally stupid animal to start anything aggressive or confrontational or even defensive, in such a situation.

The next stage is that Cesar takes B through to a large outdoor pool, with the pack still around him.

At this point, we see B at the edge of the pool, in the water, with one front paw raised up, ears back, face tight and eyes pretty worried.
The voice over now tells us " Cesar deliberately confronts Brigadiers fears to build trust" and the caption onscreen tells us:

"Cesars Tips: To desensitize a fearful animal distract them with an activity and then present the object that he is afraid of."

Cesar does just this, whilst B is terrified of the pool and the other dogs around him, Cesar subjects him yet again to being brushed around his head and ears as well as down his back, and also to being physically handled and lifted. Cesar mentions that distracting a dog like this is called redirection.

Cesar tells us before we meet the potential adopters, that he is doing evaluation and rehabilitition at the same time: evaluate, rehabilitate, evaluate, rehabilitate...  It is clear he believes he has rehabilitated Brigadier over being touched with the brush...

Now we meet the three potential families.

They are, Janne and Sofie, mother and daughter living in Italy with their three dogs; Massimo and Ursula, an Italian and German couple with two salukis, living in Italy, and Karin and Renato, a New Yorker and an Italian, living in Italy.

The first challenge:

Janne and Sofie go in to meet Brigadier in his pen, they take their three dogs in with them. B is interested in the dogs but wary of the humans, notably more so when Cesar is near (uncomfortably flicking his eyes at him and then away).
Cesar tells them not to try to touch him, he says 'no touch, no talk, no eye contact' - as far as this goes, its fine and a good idea but its not going to do anything to get Brigadier to actively like them.

He seems interested in their dogs but is doing a lot of intense sniffing of the ground, and at one point B is between the people who are squatting on the ground and one of their own dogs comes over which causes some growling (Cesar says its B but I don't think it was, I t hink their dog started to growl and B reacted) - B reacts with a quick grr and snap which makes the people jump but theres no real issue between the dogs. We later see B lying down with another of this families dogs lying next to him.

Next, Massimo and Ursula come to meet B, with their Salukis. The male Saluki is not fond of strangers and they admit, will snap if strangers attempt to touch him so Cesar decides they know what they are doing with a nervous dog.

They send the nervous male into the pen with B first, and he takes one look and asks very plainly to come out again, so Massimo goes in with him and walks around with his own dog and then B following.
Then they send in the Saluki bitch and here we see Brigadier really light up, he loves this lady (well he is entire ,and so is she judging by his chattering teeth and ridiculous expression). They leap about like idiots because she wants to play but doesn't actually want him near her lady-parts, and hes just acting the fool. No real progress is made with human contact here though!

Finally Renato and Karin come in, now they have no dogs to help them so Cesar has Karin walk around not giving B eye contact (which she fails at a bit and she looks nervous).

Her approach worries B so he moves away and when Cesar approaches with a lead, B immediately becomes  much more anxious and moves away again.

Next we see Karin crouched down next to B who is sitting and staring into space, she nervously attempts to get the lead over his head and the tension increases until, fairly predictably, he snaps at the leash, now just making contact with it.

Next Renato puts the leash on, he does it a little quicker so we just see B giving him a stiff posture and very flicky, worried eyes. They walk him away and he is wide mouthed, panting and again giving very quick sideways looks at the person on the end of the leash then looking away. Very stressed.

Cesar kicks Janne and Sofie out at this stage.

Final challenges:

B is in the back of a car, and first Massimo and Ursula come over, with their dogs and the boot is opened. B is loose in the large bootspace and CM states that they have to address his mouth and that this will defeat Brigadiers fear.
With B now trapped in the corner of the boot and trying to hide, really stiff, Cesar starts poking and trying to brush his head. B moves his head away and then snaps and snarls at the brush.

Cesar carries on forcing the issue, telling B to 'shh' as he carries on brushing and B carries on snapping and snarling.

This whole section is horrific. The screen caption comes up:

"Cesars Tip: Exposing a dog repeatedly to the object he fears can teach him there is no threat."

B stops snapping and turns his head away into the corner, still growling but avoiding eye contact. Cesar states that 'he is more scared than aggressive' and also says 'he is reacting to the energy, not so  much the brush".

He continues to force Brigadier to tolerate the brush and then we cut to B lying down facing out of the car, very very stiff and still. He passes the leash over to Massimo and then we see just how tense B is as he jumps and flinches suddenly as the tension on the slip leash changes slightly.

Massimo tries to brush Brigadiers head and he turns his head away again, Cesar uses the leash to force his head back round and B is so stiff and tense that predictably, he snaps and snarls again. Massimo is told to keep brushing B's head and mouth, B keeps snapping and snarling, and finally he intentionally makes contact with the brush, knocking it out of Massimos hand.

Lets just recap here for a second - this dog initially was very careful and very reluctant to make contact. Now he is making contact - the fact that it is with a brush is not relevant here - if they had been using hands, he would now be damaging skin, the reason Cesar is using the brush IS to protect peoples hands but still allow them to push this dog further and further into aggressive action. Cesar does not actually point this out though and because B is biting the brush, he makes it look safer than it really is.

At this point, Cesar takes the brush and starts to brush B's head, pulling hard on the leash and TSSSTing him, intentionally pulling him closer and closer to the people. Cesar makes a point of saying he is pulling B closer to him to demonstrate that he is not scared of him.

Then Ursula has a little go and quickly Cesar decides B is relaxed - he isn't at all, he is shut down.

Then Cesar says they must reward this good behaviour by taking him out of the car for a walk with their salukis, which probably is a reward of sorts as B does like the Saluki bitch.

Next, Karin and Renato perform the SAME BLOODY TEST...

Brigadier is again subjected to being trapped in the boot of the car, even before the people approach you can see he is cowering in the back, taking himself as far away as possible and he is visibly shaking now.

There is a closer shot as Karin climbs into the car, showing B shaking and stiff, making slight faces showing his teeth. Cesar insists she brushes his face and when he snarls and tries to snap she is told to put the brush IN his mouth. She often holds his head in position by using the end of the brush as a prod.

The same battle as before ensues, with the dog being taunted prodded and stroked with the brush whilst he growls, snarls and bites the brush. There is now no attempt to avoid contact, he just bites the shit out of that brush.

At the end of this session, B is panting and cowering in the back of the car which you can see in the shot as Cesar leads the people away, laughing and congratulating them on how well they did. No walk for B this time.. apparently he doesn't need rewarding this time?

Karin and Renato win the dog - the three weeks later shot shows that he is still not hugely keen on being brushed and they have addressed this with massage. They don't say so, but in the clip they use food treats to get him to accept being brushed and at this point he does look happier.

I think this episode was potentially one of the worst, with viewers constantly being advised by Cesar, by the narrative and by the on screen clips, to confront fearful dogs, to expose them repeatedly to things they fear. This is NEVER how desensitization should be attempted, the only way this approach would 'work' was if the dog suppressed his fear, which leads to an animal that is much less predictable, and much much more dangerous.

Brigadier looked hugely stressed all the way through and the final challenge had in my opinion absolutely NOTHING to do with curing his problem, and everything to do with forcing the people to see what Brigadier could be like, and whether they'd be scared of it.

The final challenge was SO risky, it was absolutely the wrong way to address a fear problem and could very easily have resulted in someone being badly bitten. HAD his new owners continued down that route I do not doubt they would have been bitten, and its pretty evident that they did not do this but chose to use food rewards and massage instead. Lucky for them!

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