Saturday, October 9, 2010

Even if it's spelled cute like caboose, it's still abuse

There are all different ways you can train your dog, just like there are all different ways you can bring up your children - and no one can dictate how you do it - it's completely up to you. But there are some actions that you can do - and say that you're doing it "for the good of the dog" - for for the "good of the child" - and you are actually breaking the law. And that is when you are abusing the dog or the child. That is when you are crossing a line that society has determined is no longer just aversive, but is actually hurtful, will have lasting painful effects, and causes injuries.

It is unfortunate for nascent dog owners that there are some dog trainers out there that there are dog trainers who actually use dog training techniques that are abusive, and tell dog owners that they're not abusive - or that they're doing it for "the good of the dog" - or that dogs don't know any better - and there are some dog trainers that enjoy abusing dogs even. I'm not saying that any dog trainers I'm going to talk about enjoy abusing dogs - but they are out there.

This is a very serious topic, and it's got to be dealt with that way - and it's become even more serious this week for a couple of reasons which I'll be telling you shortly.

The first one is a local reason. "Petworks Veterinary Hospital and Resort" over in Dartmouth used to use Rob Van Tassel to run their "Puppy and Obedience Classes". Rob is a super duper positive trainer who uses clicker and positive methods to train his dogs and has super-star dogs of his own that are masters at agility and are dogs that are absolutely lovely. But he's become too busy with his own business to run the classes there - so they have recently hired a new person - who is also employed with a company called "Unleashed Potential" - which is a company out of PEI - which very proudly has videos on their website that promote the use of "electronic collars" - or what you'd also call "shock collars" - and they make no apologies for that. They say they "are a results based dog training service. Their Goal is to produce Happy, Confident, Obedient dogs on or off leash in any environment as well as Happy, Confident, Satisfied owners."

That is certainly the goal of any dog trainer - but it's certainly not the goal to do it at any cost. On the main page of the Unleashed Potential's website - the first 3 video's are positive demonstrations of their use of shock collars - "e collar demonstration with an out of control dog", "6 year old girl trains a rottweiller", and "e-collar? You be the judge"

I say this because the time has come to start talking about dog trainers that offer training that trains with bells and whistles that may have repurcussions for your relationship down the road between you and your dog - and there are dog trainers out there that will offer you training that helps to foster and build a loving relationship between you and your dog that will never make any problems you may be having that brought you to obedience training with your dog - worse.

There's another trainer right now - Brad Pattison - who's decided to sue a bunch of trainers across Canada - because they've been critical of the way he treats dogs and their owners on his tv show - he's suing them for millions of dollars and it's mostly based on the below video - there's an American trainer, Drayton Michaels who I love, love, love - he made a video called "the pit bull hoax" that is awesome that I have - and he's also got a blog at Dog Star Daily - and he wrote a post about Brad Pattison where he says -

"I absolutely abhor people who hurt dogs, period; and if anyone has a problem with my attitude too bad. After all is this not the same attitude these guys use with dogs and owners, so why not toss it back at them? The polite approach has gotten us nowhere. It is time to call these types of methods out and hold the people who use and promote them accountable.

One of the problems with legit dog trainers and legit dog behavior people is they are not tough enough on abuse trainers. Get with it people, these guys get away with it because enough people who know better look the other way and say “oh it is not that bad” or “ Oh wll what can I do”. It’s bad and here is why.

People are attempting these “methods” and they are creating more problems such as aggression, fear and anxiety in dogs. These types of shows create junior versions of the TV trainers, and it’s not a good thing. This force based methodology then gets used by owners as a way of interacting with the dog on a daily basis. This leads to quite a bit of squelching behaviors with harsh verbal’s, varying degrees of physical abuse from both hands and equipment. Not much teaching or training as it were, and well a rather adversarial relationship. Building bonds not binds should be a guiding principal, especially on these shows. They play like it is, but in reality there’s a whole lots of negative associations and fears getting instilled in dogs.

Learned helplessness is not being calm and submissive. Smacking a dog in the face until it submits is not being alpha; it’s being abusive. This has been proven time and again by many scientific findings with verifiable data. But like in the court of law where credible science in relation to dog behavior gets ignored so it seems it gets left out in TV network board rooms and among some people who are self proclaimed “experts”.

So along comes Brad Pattison. A guy with what seems to be zero legit education in dog behavior or training. A guy who it appears is making it up as he goes along by cherry picking ideas and approaches. It makes his views on dogs and training quite contradictory. His beliefs and actions seem miles apart."

That is some awesome writing there. Drayton Michaels is telling it like it is. And it's about time.

I wrote a post back in January about local dog trainers - and the fact that there are some that are very good, and some that are not "very good" - and I am worried that the "not very good" trainers are starting to get a leg up with the beginning of classes at Petworks. I hope that not too many people get taken in by the double speak and then believe that this is the only way they're supposed to train their dogs.

There are a lot of great trainers locally - and they're easy to pick out - they are the ones that don't use sentences like "we train with the use of praise and correction", and "Techniques used must include a balance of both correction and praise", and "we are a results based dog training service"

I much prefer lines like "bringing an unrivalled passion for the canine spirit", "motivational, force free, and amazingly effective!", "Ultra Gentle Methods", "Teaching for Understanding" - those are the types of lines I'd be looking for at a dog trainers website, personally. I hope you'd be, too.

I have my normal hyperlinks to everything - out of this post, on purpose.


  1. Thank you for this, Joan.
    What bothers me a whole lot is the euphemisms punitive trainers use: like a tap on the shoulder, distance communication device, natural correction the dog's mother gives, relaxed when the dog has clearly just capitulated, trust and respect instead of fear, and so on.
    At least, old school punitive trainers were honest - I remember my first trainer explaining how to hang a dog on a choker for the sole purpose that he'll be happy to obey to avoid to be strung up again. There are people who still do that today - on TV - but describe it much nicer sounding words.
    Regarding the video clip, I can't comprehend why any owner would let someone do that to her dog? Would she allow her child's kindergarden teacher to behave that way? Has she ever learned anything new? How did the instructor treat her? But you are correct, there are still people who treat children that way as well.
    I wonder how we expect to eradicate bullying, if that's the stuff kids see adults do.

  2. Never heard of this guy Joan. He has a nasty temper doesn't he ? I wouldn't put up with someone treating my dog like that.

  3. That this Vet clinic would allow for training to be done by an 'outfit' that condones the use of shock collars speaks volumes - and also addresses a fundamental problem in the Veterinary practise ... that they are clinicians and not trained enough in dog behaviour, training with POSITIVE methods, nutrition etc.
    As to Brad - he is a pyschobabble expert and he is a hack and abusive.
    @Silvia ... good comments.

  4. My letter to the NSVMA, CVMA & Petworks (long post oppsie)
    "Dear Petworks,

    As a founding member of ARPO - Advocates for Responsible Pet Ownership we believe all dogs should receive positive based training to make them better canine citizens ...and to assist in the canine human/ bond. That your Veterinary Clinic would hire a firm Unleashed Potential that uses and promotes the use of e collars/ shock collars and /or prong collars is a grave concern.

    Unleashed Potential:
    On the main page of the Unleashed Potential's website - the first 2 video's are demonstrations of their use of shock collars - "e collar demonstration with an out of control dog", & "6 year old girl trains a rottweiler".

    The CVMA is very clear on thier stance on the use of these adversive devices:

    " The use of shock collars is associated with short-term and long-term negative consequences including fear and anxiety (3)."

    As well the NS SPCA postion statement: which is under the heading Animal Training clearly states "No training technique should frighten, inflict pain, be abusive or have the potential to cause injury. Additionally, the Society does not support the use of shock collars for containment or training as there are other viable, safe and proven training and containment options available."

    I can only hope that this is a misunderstanding on the part of Petworks and that you will revisit the hiring of a company that chooses to train with these methodologies that are punitive at best and at worst can cause long term consequences for the behaviour of the dog and the family that wants a balanced pet to share their home.

    ARPO cannot support Petworks training facility until assurances are given that NO e collars/ shock collars will be used or be suggested for use. We hope that Petworks will adhere to a standard that is 100% based on positive training vs adversive training.

    I respectfully request a response to this letter and hope that in the near future ARPO can facilitate dialogue on this issue for the betterment of our canine companions.


    Janet W. Chernin
    ARPO - Advocates for Responsible Pet Ownership
    Canine Casbah Dog Day Care

  5. I wrote to Petworks and received this reply ... it appears that they are not in support of adversive training:
    "Thank you for your input and your vigilance in this area. We agree that the use of adverse stimuli ( shock collars, prong collars, etc) are not desirable methods of dog training and that in the absence of positive reinforcement o...perant type conditioning are particularly repugnant and undesirable. We do not employ or endorse any such methods in our puppy socialization and obedience training. Petworks employs Dsquared Dog Training for our puppy classes and all materials and class content have been approved by Petworks and continues to be based on positive reinforcement operant conditioning methods. We have always based our training and all interactions with pets throughout our organization on positive reinforcement protocols. This will always be our approach. We would never allow any adverse methods to be used at our facility anymore than we would tolerate physical abuse or rough handling of pets or people in our facilities. Our policy manual clearly states this is grounds for immediate dismissal.

    It is my understanding the trainer from Dsquared Dog Training has received some training from Unleashed Potential in positive reinforcement techniques including marker training, clicker training, positive handling, etc. That is the extent of the relationship and not more. I note that the information on our website regarding the trainer and Unleashed Potential is inaccurate and will be changed. Derrick Davis represents his own company , Dsquared Dog Training, at our facility. As you know, likely from your own experience and training, trainers receive training themselves from many different sources. Hopefully they take the best of those techniques and employ them successfully and humanely in a positive fashion with our pets. I believe Derrick is doing exactly this and is in line with our philosophy of positive reinforcement techniques. This is not negotiable here at Petworks.

    I do appreciate your concern and your input. This is a worthy area and our own CVMA has seen fit to provide an opinion/position statement on this issue. We concur with that position.

    On a final note I would say that it is obvious that you are passionate about your cause. While I applaud your passion and agree with your cause I would suggest the tone of your letter is somewhat adversarial and probably not conducive to an open dialogue with the all the stakeholders which in the long run will likely be more successful in changing attitudes. In the meantime I wish you every success in advocating for the pets in our society. We will continue to do the same.


    Dr Rick Swinemar DVM BSc

  6. I was told by a customer up there that saw this trainer said he was all decked out in 'unleashed potiental' gear - I have a feeling this Dsquared company only came about to distance petworks from UP's public endorsement of shock collars. I would still be very concerned about this trainers methods given this linkage.

  7. Based on some of the comments I have read on this blog, I fell you may think of me as an abusive dog owner since my dog wears an e-collar. Though before you pass sentence on me as an owner, please read the following.

    When I got her, she was a four month old starving puppy with a broken leg in the Arctic. Her leg slowly healed and she became one of the strongest, best feed dogs in her northern community. This made her a target to the other dogs and while on walks, she was repeatedly attacked by half starved and half crazy canines. By the time we finally left and came south, she was a dominant, headstrong, fighter that didn’t trust most dogs.

    Hoping to help her socialize and learn how to be a Southern dog, I started taking her to the local dog park. At first she played well with the other dogs but within a month, she was again attacked a few times in the same week. She then decided that it was safer to get them before they got her. The dog park was no longer a safe place for her. After having saved her as a puppy, the last thing I wanted to do was have to put her down.

    So my search began for a trainer. I didn’t want to have to muzzle her for the rest of her life. I didn’t want her on a choke chain while on walks. I didn’t want her to think all dogs were out to her. I also wanted her to be able to play with other dogs and enjoy herself. I worked very hard with her over the last year. Our training sessions are fun and she loves it when I say “are you ready to work”. Thanks to the help and advice from my dedicated trainers, I have learned how to teach her to trust me when we are in new situations. Now when we meet new dogs, she looks to me guidance. We have both received numerous compliments on what a good dog she is including people who think e-collar are cruel. She has however been discriminated against. Despite passing her beginner agility course without trouble, she has not been able to continue because of the negative opinions towards e-collars.

    You have your right to your opinion on this matter; I would never try to tell you otherwise or attempt to take it from you. I’ll even admit that as I was looking into different training techniques the e-collar made me nervous. Instead of believing websites, I talked to actual users of this training tool. I talked with a large number of owners and discussed different training techniques with them. I spent time with dogs wearing e-collars as well as those following other training methods. Once I made a decision, I made it a point to truly understand how and when to use the collar. She is a very happy animal that will gladly come say hello to everyone she meets. The e-collar may not be for every owner and every dog but then again clicker training is not for every dog as well.

    My dog is by no means a perfect dog. I would never claim any dog to be perfect. What matters to me is that she has learnt to trust, not just me, but other dogs as well. At times, she does meet some she does not care for and simply lets them know to leave her allow as she comes to me. She happens to follow my mother’s advice to me as a little girl when I didn’t like someone – “be polite and walk away”

    Again, you are entitled to disagree with me, but I wish to remind you that a car in the hands of the wrong person can be a very cruel and very dangerous, as can a little bit of knowledge.

  8. Lindsay2:47 PM

    If you're so against negative reinforcement then you better stop driving your car - that seatbelt signal dinging is negative reinforcement that stops as soon as you plug in your seatbelt and saves your life. If you think e-collars are so abusive because the static pulse contracts the muscle in a localized area then you better call all the local physiotherapy places in your area and tell them they are abusing people and they've lost a customer - please tell me what they say. Any tool can be abused, even your magic clicker, it is shameful for you to feel your opinion is needed in attacking people and their own beliefs on how their dogs should be trained. A healthy dose of positive and negative reinforcement keeps us from killing ourselves - don't believe me? Don't plug your seatbelt in next time and risk the biscuit.

    1. Ha ha Lindsay. You stole my response. I think some people don't understand or can't adjust their decisions once they've made them. They hear the word "shock" and think finger in an electrical socket type of shock. Maybe they read 1 news article 5-10yrs ago when a e-collar or stimulation collar (or whatever you want to give it as a name) had 2 settings - Off and electrocute! Put one to your neck sometime and try it on various levels of settings. They don't hurt on low levels at all and people who use them on high levels are just stupid. As you said, you can abuse any tool, but e-collars are amazing and provide both the owner and dog a safer more enjoyable environment when used correctly. I know too many people who went through a training program with their dog, but still can't let them off leash because they aren't trained at all; well besides basics like sit, laydown and "here" when not distracted.

  9. Lindsay, you are truly an idiot.