Trade in Your Punishment Based Training Devices

Learning theory science is not wishy-washy on this point. Punishment is an ineffective way to reach learning goals. While punishment can distinguish the appearance of specific unwanted behaviors, it does not change the emotional state of the dog. It often makes the emotional state worse, more stressed. Punishment also has been known to create other worse behaviors as a side-effect of displaced stress.
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Dog Abuse disguised as Dog Training in the Park

Do you know that feeling of being so mad that you can hear the blood thumping past your ear, that you see red and that all care about how you are about to be perceived goes out the window?

I hope you don’t, but sadly I do. Only once in my life and it was over something that so many people see as trivial – the use of abuse and punishment in the name of training of dogs.

Several months ago, I was at  Maxey Park in Woodbridge with my family. Across the park there was what was clearly a “dog training” session was going on. Two couples with their poor puppies were being instructed to drag their dog back and forth, back and forth, in a terrible attempt at teaching them to walk nicely on a leash. They were dragging, cranking and pulling on these poor puppies. I was upset, but distracted by my family enough that I was able to keep my thoughts to myself.

Moments later I hear yelping – what is clearly a dog in pain and distress. I look over and the “trainer” has the dog by the neck and is holding him off the ground. This poor puppy is screaming and scared. The owners are just standing there watching. I fume, but before I can decide to do something it’s over. I am angry and can’t believe what I just saw, but again my family distracts me.

Suddenly there is screaming, yelping and this struggle again. My vision goes red, my heart pounds and I can’t hear anything over the blood rushing past my ears. I march over. It’s not a short march. It was a long march. I had lots of time to decide that it wasn’t my business. The “trainer” also had lots of time to decide to put the dog down. Neither of us did either.

I can’t remember my exact words, but I asked the “trainer” what she was doing to that puppy, told her that was abuse not training and that she needed to stop. She tried to tell me that when she grabbed the dog’s collar it bit her and so she needed to correct it. She tried to tell me that she did positive training – which I knew was a lie based on her jerking puppies around on a leash exercise. I told her there was nothing about what she was doing that was positive and that she had provoked the puppy by stressing it. I then turned my attention to the puppy’s owners and told them that they needed to find a better trainer and that this aggressive handling was going to ruin their dog.

The above alone was out of character for me, but you have to imagine how bad the treatment of this dog was for me to march over and yell at strangers. The above story alone would have left me mulling over it for months. How could owners let their dogs be treated like that? How long had this gone on for? Did they go back the next week?

However the most amazing part of this story is what happened after.

The trainer left and the owners were sitting in their car. I went over to give them a name of a trainer that I knew in the city and offer my email to help them (as surely they will need help after the damage this “trainer” has done). I imagined they’d have come to their senses and realized what had happened was wrong. I imagined they would thank me for intervening, because they had been too shocked to do so.

To my surprise the mom was more upset that I had raised my voice in front of her kids (kids? I hadn’t even seen them when my eyes were red and my heart was pounding, they must have been playing on the playground). I apologized, but told her that I could not sit by and watch while the dog was being abused. They were also concerned with whether or not we had taped the incident, because they didn’t want to end up on YouTube. I assured them that I had not and left. Slightly flabbergasted by what were their concerns. They didn’t seem concerned about their dog in the slightest.

Months later, I wish that I could have another moment with that mom. I am still shocked that her concern was that her kids had seen an angry adult. What is more concerning is her kids witnessing someone abusing their dog, handling them roughly and their parents standing around watching. What she should be worried about is how this “trainer” is modeling behavior for her kids of rough treatment of animals. She should be worried about the safety of her kids around a dog being trained using harsh punishments and being strung up by the neck. She should have been concerned that her dog had been pushed to biting and now was going to go home with her kids who would likely mimic the trainer’s force with the dog. She should be shocked that her kids witnessed that type of abuse of their family pet.

Months later, I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry that your kids saw me lose my cool. In fact, I’m glad your kids saw it. I’m glad that I made it clear that treating an animal like that was not okay. I’m glad that I stood up for their dog, when their parents weren’t.

I hope you found a new trainer and I hope your kids learn that there are some situations where you have to stand up for what you believe in.

I hope your puppy is okay and he can trust you now to protect him from people who don’t have his best interests at heart. I looked into his eyes. He’s a good puppy. He was scared and hurt, but he can learn to trust again with right trainer.

If you are reading this and you’ve paid for dog training classes that involve punishment, prong collars, choke collars and rough handling of your beloved dog, get out now. Yes, you will likely not get your money back, but you also won’t get your money back after your dog is already ruined and you have to spend thousands more on trying to teach them to trust you again.

Written by Ayella Grossman Bsc.

Debunking Clicker Myths: Again

Maybe other trainers have said this before, but it can be said again. Yesterday at the store, we had a customer who was asking about training, but when she saw it was clicker training gave me a look and said “Oh, no, I don’t want that.” Just from the look on her face, I felt sort of like I was trying to sell her snake skin ointment – some hocus pocus, voodoo magic in a box that was going to hypnotize her puppy. She left before I could ask her to explain her dislike for that particular method when it was doubtful that she’d ever tried it. This blog is my attempt at convincing her without even knowing why she reacted so negatively.

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