Do No Harm – Choose a Safe Dog Trainer

Protect your dog from unsafe training like that of Petco’s dog training safety

Do No Harm – Be your dog’s advocate. Try to make an improvement, but at least don’t make it worse. Do you know what methods you are using to train your dog? Does your trainer even know what methods they are using?

Before you even start to do anything with your dog, take the approach that you have to be your own dog’s advocate. What makes sense to you and what are you willing to do to your dog. REALLY ASK YOURSELF THE QUESTION: “Am I going to let them do that to my dog?”

Well the unthinkable happened recently and has been making a lot of waves on the Internet. A dog died after an incident in its training class.  Shame on you Petco.  Accidents will happen, but on purposes really are inexcusable. Hiding it from the client and the public is unconscionable. Seriously, it’s bad enough that the trainer used outdated methods, but Petco appears to have glossed over what happened, and as of yet don’t seem to be making any effort to revise their training.

I really think a lot of owners and trainers alike don’t really know what methods they are using to train their dog. The Petco official statement says: “All of Petco’s … dog trainers are taught a positive training technique ….. Our dog training classes …. are focused on rewarding good behavior and redirecting unwanted behaviors. As a company, we do not train with or endorse force techniques.” However in reality they teach with methods that include corrections and other forms of direct punishment.  The focus is certainly not about teaching proper behavior with reward based techniques.

At our school, proper training methods are at the top of our list. We do not use punishment based training techniques targeted at the bad behavior. And we clearly feel that corrective collars, harsh commands and even spray bottles do not fall into the category of positive based training methods. All of our staff assist in training and work with the dog’s behavior to some extent so they learn observation skills, to watch body language and to read the dogs. We do our best to help our staff and clients tune into the dogs “state of being” both physically and emotionally.

Unfortunately, the real problem is that all methods work to some extent. On top of that, the most widely publicized training techniques are perhaps the worst. We see on television dramatic changes in minutes. Someone that I know who works closely with one of the popular TV trainers told me productions typically shoot over 56 hours of film for a single episode. Too many trainers only know how to “correct” dogs for exhibiting symptoms. Anecdotally owners think you can fix behavior overnight.

I don’t want to blame the owners because there is too much misinformation in the public eye, but you do have to be your dogs advocate. That surely didn’t happen when the trainer at Petco purportedly killed Sophia Belle, that adorable English Bulldog. The dog was being punished for barking. I’m sorry to point out that bad pet professionals and bad information have grossly misinformed the public.

I had an appointment the other day with a client who had been to two other “all positive” trainers, and also had the advice of the vet and the staff at the dog’s day care. The owner was “eager for knowledge” and started telling me about the former training experiences with several trainers. She said they were both all-positive trainers, yet she came equipped with a corrective harness, a spray bottle and opened with the question: “Will you please let me know if you want me to command him or correct him when he fusses?”

So before you go train your dog, or even before you choose your veterinarian, kennel or groomer, do your due diligence. Decide what your requirements are for your dog and then make sure they will be fulfilled. It is imperative to understand and watch what your pet provider does, when you are with them and especially what they do when they take care of your dog without you. Go behind the scenes, show up at odd times and observe when they aren’t expecting you. Make sure you have made a wise decision before you make the decision, because often you can’t fix it afterwards.

At “I Said Sit!” we are so sad for Sophia Belle and her owners. We hope that incident was a rare one, but unfortunately my experience says it wasn’t. Our thoughts go out to dog lovers and owners everywhere.

A lot has been said about the Petco incident, but the official response from Petco is here: http://www.petcoscoop.com/2013/05/sophia-belle/

The CBS coverage can be found here: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/tag/sophia-belle/

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