Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jesse James & Cinnabun: How Tough is Too Tough?

The recent dog news is all about Jesse James and his bully breed bitch Cinnabun.  

A video shows Jesse working with a bully breed bitch by letting her hang from a device known as a spring pole.

View that video.

To those of you unfamiliar with dog training, a spring pole is basically a rope with something for the dog to bite tied to it, attached to a weighted platform so the dog cannot pull it over.  The point of this exercise is somewhat lost on me.  People involved with bully breeds will like to tell you that this "conditions" their dogs, but I'm at a loss as to what they're being conditioned for.  In some states, a spring pole is considered dog fighting paraphernalia, and you can get in serious trouble for owning one.  It does test their "gameness," another word for how tenaciously they will go after quarry. 

Can they get hurt doing this?  Yes, I'm sure they can, especially when people are stupid about it and hang spring poles from insane heights or place them in unsafe spaces.  Neither of these is true in the video of Jesse James and Cinnabun.  

That being said, the dogs do like it.  They aren't being forced to do this.  There is nothing in the world that can make a dog hang there and not let go if it does not want to.  The enjoyment of spring poles isn't confined to the bully breeds, either.  My sainted Labrador would use trees as spring poles, and if left to his own devices around trees that were small enough, he would eventually yank them out of the ground or rip all limbs within jumping distance off the tree.  I will say, he never so much as loosened a tooth in this play.  Dogs chomp on bones without damage to their teeth, remember.

Is there a legitimate use for spring poles?  Some police dogs, as puppies, are tested for suitability to the job by a spring pole or a person standing in as a spring pole for the puppies.  Basically they get the puppies really wound up with a rope, let them bite, and then try to pick them up off the ground.  Any puppy that won't hang on with all four feet off the ground isn't going to make a police dog.  Please note, this is not a part of their training, and it is not something they are required to do all the time.  It's just a way to test the suitability of their temperament for police work as young as 8 or 9 weeks.

Here's the main source of controversy:  Is it inhumane?  

When used properly, I don't think so.  I never saw anything inhumane in my Labrador deciding for himself to hang with all four feet off of a tree branch, and I don't see anything inhumane in the use of spring poles, though I do question why people decide to do it.  If a bully breed is being legitimately used for boar hunting, that's one thing.  But how many people really do that with their dogs?  The only person I've ever seen use a bully breed for boar hunting was old videos of Steve Irwin and his dog Sui on Animal Planet.  If a person is using it for the sole purpose of the dog's enjoyment, from safe heights in a clear open space, I see nothing wrong.  As before stated, the dogs do love to do it, and from a behavioral standpoint, I think it is better for the dog to play tug-of-war with an inanimate object than it is to possibly let the dog learn that it is physically superior to people.  When people do it for no other reason than to demonstrate what a tough, dangerous dog they have, then I have concerns.  Those are the people who usually let their dog dangle from dangerous heights, or have them jumping and swinging wildly around from unstable, home-made spring poles in areas littered with dangerous debris that the dog could hurt itself on when letting go.  When it is being used as a training tool for dog fighting, then it is inhumane.

None of these is true of the video showing Jesse James letting Cinnabun use a spring pole.  The dog's tail is wagging, she is clearly enjoying herself.  The spring pole is well made, and the area is free and clear.  The dog is not hanging from a height in which she will hurt herself when she drops, it's just high enough that she can get her feet off the ground.

The notion that Cinnabun "ran away" recently because Jesse "makes" her use a spring pole is complete idiocy.  The more likely scenario is that Cinnabun wandered away because she's an unspayed female, and that's what dogs do when they aren't fixed.

This dog lover's take?  This is just another way to vilify Jesse James because he cheated on Sandra Bullock and whatever else of his private life people haven't recently agreed with.  It might also be that this display of strength and tenacity in a bully breed scares people.  This is a breed that has been utterly crucified by the press, much maligned and made into a terror that it isn't.  I can easily see how people could watch that video and envision a person in place of the spring pole, only see all the damage that this dog is capable of when watching a strong man shake her while she is dangling in the air and she still will not let go.

I see her heart.  I see a dog whose tenacity extends beyond her jaw musculature to her loyalty.  I see a dog who loves as hard as she hangs on to a rope.  No, indeed, she ain't lettin' go.  Not of anything she holds dear.

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