Dr. Sylvia Rimm — child psychologist, best-selling author and director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Ohio — has built a career on her common-sense advice to families. One of her hallmarks is: Use your words. She routinely advises parents to encourage their children to "use their words" to communicate their desires to the world. Use your words — seems simple enough.

When I think about it, my job is not much different. I routinely advise dog owners to use their words — or tone of voice — to communicate their desires to their dog. The use of a rolled-up newspaper or any other version of corporal punishment has never once occurred to me as being a good or necessary method of behavioral modification. I'm sure Dr. Rimm would agree.

Somehow, though, the rolled-up newspaper became the old tried and true, firmly entrenched in the minds of some dog owners as a productive way to make a point — despite all evidence to the contrary.

Just the other day, I fielded a call from a woman who has spent the last five years living with three 5-pound yappers. She said, "These dogs are always barking. It doesn't bug me, but it drives my husband crazy."

"So what do you do about it?" I asked her.

"I roll up a newspaper and bonk 'em on the head with it."

"Why would you do that?" I said. "That's cruel."

"No, it's not. My neighbors do it. We're not cruel people. If it works, it works."

"But you just told me it isn't working."

"Maybe I'm not doing it hard enough."

As I said, firmly entrenched.

Then came the call from the woman with the Doberman pinscher. She also employs the rolled-up newspaper technique, but with consequences far worse than yapping: She hits her dog with a newspaper in an attempt to discipline him and he bites her in the face in an attempt to discipline her. She hits him; he bites her; she hits him, he bites her, and so on and so forth. Eventually, her husband joins in and gets "disciplined," too.

When I asked this woman why she would essentially attack her dog and not expect him to defend himself, she said, "My other dog didn't do that." All that says to me is that she and her husband are guilty of abusing at least two dogs. That's right: They're abusing their dog; he's defending himself.

Then there was the man who came up with his own personal method of dealing with his pup's separation anxiety — more humane than the newspaper bit, yet no more effective.

He told me that his dog sleeps alone in a room in their house, but he cries all night long, every night. In response to his dog's cries, the man goes into the dog's room, puts his hands over the dog's eyes and says, "Stay."

"But he still won't stop crying," he told me, exasperated.

"What does 'stay' have to do with it?" I asked, totally bewildered. "Why don't you bring him into the room with you and let him sleep on the floor next to you?"

"I don't want him to keep me awake."

"You are awake!"

Boy, oh, boy. ...

I explained: "He's telling you he needs to be with you for now, but as he grows more comfortable and develops some self-confidence, he'll eventually be OK alone." And that's true. And it's also true that hands over the eyes and "stay" will never accomplish anything because I don't even know how to interpret that. Imagine how confused this guy's dog must be!

Uneducated dog owners with untrained dogs — watch out, world!

Einstein once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It's OK to not know how to do something — how to get your dog to stop barking, for example. It's not OK to hit him on the head over and over because he doesn't know what you want when you never took the time to teach him. That is, and this is according to Einstein, insane — not to mention inhumane, which is according to me.

Our dogs are special members of our family, but they are dogs. And just like it isn't always easy to communicate with a child, it isn't always easy to communicate with a dog. But there are ways — positive, effective ways. And if your ways aren't working, you have to find a better way.

Remember: Don't get rid of the dog, get rid of the problem!


Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Send your questions to dearuncle.gazetteunclematty.com or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. © Creators Syndicate Inc.