Updated: Apr 3, 2020
Written Dec 4, 2019
By Erika Lessa, dip. CBST CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA
I saw a video of a man who calls himself a dog trainer (I can not be that generous as to assign him that title). He walked up from behind an unsuspecting dog seated next to his owner and slammed the dog on the head with a rolled-up white towel. He didn’t just hit the dog. He wound up and put his weight behind it.
What happened next was difficult to watch and I knew in that moment it had to be addressed. The dog, shocked and petrified, lowered to the floor. The people in the room? They laughed, as did this man calling himself a trainer. What that tells me is that there are humans handling dogs that think this is “no big deal.” This is a very big deal.
This is assault.
There are so many ways to write this article, so many paths to take to try and educate, convince, and impact the behavior of people with the privilege of handling dogs but don’t see it as such. There are facts - scientifically proven facts - about dogs, the way they learn, their purpose, capacity for emotion, and their dependence on humans for survival. They actually love us. Yup, it has been studied and proven that dogs have the capacity for love, which means a capacity for trust and relationship.
Have you ever been assaulted or abused? How would you feel if someone yanked you around, shocked you, or hit you every time you struggled with feeling unsafe? What would the acute or chronic fall out be for you? Now, take away your ability to talk about it or change it. What’s left? What would that do to you over time? Would it make you suspicious? Afraid? Traumatized? Would you be able to move forward and love or trust without hesitation?
Attacking dogs as a response to any of their behaviors - be it aggression, barking, hiding, guarding - is the equivalent of beating a child for an emotional struggle.
There is research that has been done for decades on the overall impact of using brutality, dominance, force, and fear in training animals. It results in the animal developing more intense reactions to the original situation and/or creates new maladaptive behaviors to function as escape from the training scenario itself. In plain English, the dog will do whatever it needs to do to get the hell out of Dodge. If you are using these tactics on your own dog, you become part of that distasteful, aversive package and this takes chunks out of your relationship.
“But my dog was barking and lunging at other dogs and now he isn’t. Why is that bad?” Please see above. Your dog is behaving to avoid a consequence that they find dangerous. It is no longer safe to express their fear. Because they have been punished for warning you about their distress, your dog will either escalate to a new more dangerous behavior or, due to the ease at which fear generalizes, begin to exhibit other behaviors that you may not connect to the training. I hope the picture is becoming clearer.
Back to the case at hand. This person operates a training facility in Providence. He charges 3 to 5 times more than local Behavior Consultants who have hundreds if not thousands of on-going education hours, are credentialed, and some degreed. He is not charging the money for training. He is charging it to assume the right to torture your dog. He will say the right words, convince you to be dominant, blame you for being permissive, make you feel responsible for any problem behavior, and then he will hurt your dog. To add depravity to the equation, I would argue that he really enjoys the work.
The IACP, an organization the premises the use of choke, prong, shock collars, and other punitive methods, has dismissed this trainer from their professional organization. Here is their statement:
"First: midway through this year, a video was put out on social media in regard to an IACP member’s behavior towards dogs. The Board conducted a review of that complaint, as well as other videos available online. Upon review, the Board did find that this member ... was in violation of the Code of Conduct and he was removed from membership in accordance with our ByLaws.”
They did not remove him for using punishment. Their Code of Conduct allows for that. They removed him because his conduct exceeded their tolerance. It was not that he used these methods but how he used them. He is an especially brutal practitioner. He is an assault to all that is ethical.
This mishandling of dogs, a species designed and bred for domestication meaning they are dependent on us for their very survival, is unconscionable. Trust the science when I relay the universal fact that if a dog is behaving in a way that threatens their relationship with people or other dogs, something is very wrong. That something should not be made worse by accelerating their fear and behavioral instability. It should be taken seriously and handled with the compassion, empathy, and protection required by the social contract we have entered into.
It is time to stand next to our dogs, or better yet, take a knee. See this from their perspective. Let's all lead our dogs into a world that is safe and free from harm in the name of training.
Note: I am purposefully not including the video. It does not deserve to be shared. We need to focus all our energy on changing the culture that allowed it in the first place.