Many of you are likely aware of the divide in the dog training industry. There are two camps: one who is considered ‘treat trainers’ and focus on rewarding wanted behaviours, and others who follow more of the ‘pack theory’ and use of physical force with dogs to correct unwanted behaviour. I was planning to write a series of articles that cover all of this in more detail and we have many seminars in the works. However, a recent email I received changed the steps I was going to take. I am still going to work on my previous plan, but I felt like this email was a sign that I needed to do more. First off, I have part of the email below for you to read (parts have been changed so there are no names included).

“We took our dog to a training class when he was about six months old. He was a crazy puppy and alot to handle. We got him at almost 7 weeks old, which they said would cause us some trouble because he was not with his mom long enough. Anyways the first class was over and we were getting ready to leave I was taking off his collar and he was chewing on my hands, the trainer came over and said this was very bad and tried to correct him, he started to go a little crazy then the trainer came over with gloves on and started to push his lips into his teeth while holding him to the ground. Now our dog was really freaking out this went on for an hour before he fully “submitted” by this time he was completely shaking which they said was a good thing. We were told he was never to put his teeth on us and everytime he did we were to put his lips into his teeth. We only had to do that a couple times he never did after that. However now he is terrified of stangers. He will not let anyone pet him he just pees everywhere. His fearfulness is getting worse as well as his nipping with other people. I hope you can help as we love our dog very very much and it breaks my heart.”

We receive countless emails and phone calls from dog owners with similar stories. They are all extremely upsetting for us, but this one really bothered me. I like trying to find ways to take my anger and turn into something positive. However, this one just made me feel at a loss at first. This is happening all over and especially in our city. This is not an inexperienced or new trainer. These people are well known and there are many in the city who take this approach. We have always kept these situations internal and are just happy that the owners eventually found their way to us. This is just no longer acceptable. While it is great to have a good reputation for helping dogs like this one, it is becoming increasingly frustrating at the growing number of dogs I am seeing that are coming to us with severe behaviour problems that can be directly related to the previous training they have received.

I have been dealing with this frustration for years. Wanting to stay professional, I have taken numerous steps to try to protect our dogs from this treatment. I opened dogma. I educate and certify myself and team. I started the apprenticeship program to get more educated trainers out in the city. I require the graduates of the program sign a code of ethics to ensure they are only using modern, science based training methods. I start free puppy classes to try to get people off on the right start and avoid heavy punishment at a critical age. I continue to expand our education programs to better educate the public on dog behaviour and communication so that they can better understand how their dogs are responding to this type of training. And yet, I still receive emails like this constantly.

So, in thinking about this, I realize that most of us positive trainers are a fairly well-mannered group and I have always appreciated that. But, I sit and reflect on the trainers that do not take a reward based approach and how quick they are to publicize some inaccurate and harsh criticisms against our training. Why are we so quiet? Do you as the public feel like you have the right to know about this? Do you want to know about this?

Then I think about how some dog owners are so quick to go to this training and are so quick to defend. We are often made to be the bad guys. We are jealous. We are using gimmicks. And I just can’t help but sit back and wonder why we even are in this place to begin with? Do people honestly think this is ok? Is it because we just trust people who call themselves the experts? I don’t want to get into a big argument, but do want some dialogue. I strongly believe that it will be the dog owning public that really force the change that needs to happen in the industry.

I have always tried to be proactive. I want us to lead by example. I am not sure if I am just being impatient with the change that is taking place, or maybe I am just tired. But, we need to stop this from happening. This is not about business and competition. There are an amazing numbers of qualified and wonderful trainers in this city. We are all working towards the same goal and want to see each other be successful. This is not just about differing opinions. This is hurting our dogs – these dogs don’t just need training; they are emotionally damaged. I don’t want to see these trainers just end what they are doing. I want to see them change. I know that ultimately they care about dogs, otherwise they would not be working with them. They have maybe not been given the same opportunity to get started within the industry learning from the right people. We all need to grow. We all love dogs. We get them as companions and they do so much for us.

I would appreciate some feedback. How do you feel about this? What do you think needs to change? I will continue to write on more of the specifics on this topic.

I will end with one of my favourite quotes.

“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”

– Author Unknown