Good & Bad Dog Trainers

I come from the zoo world. We practice animal welfare excellence, provide enrichment, & use positive reinforcement. It is why I do what I do for and with Zeke. I take care of him as I would the animals at my job, and then some. Why do I run with him? He’s a sled dog-its what he was bred for. Just like we try to “mimic the wild” and have our zoo animals spend their time doing as many wild-like behaviors as possible, Zeke was bred to run and pull, so I feel the need to give him that inner, genetic? satisfaction. If I had a Lab, I would probably still run him, but there would be a lot more playing fetch.

I’m trying to explain how the zoo world has impacted myself as a pet “owner”. I had a dog and cat growing up. My parents also love animals and taught me to care for them properly, to love them and respect them. I did not know much about training though. THAT I learned at the zoo. I was extremely lucky to learn from several incredibly gifted animal trainers. My first basic lessons involved the farm animals. Then I learned station training with Thick-billed Parrots. I spent a lot of time learning marine mammal training. Always, always with positive reinforcement.

I have applied these lessons to Zeke. There were times, especially in the first few months, having never owned a 45lb 7 mo. old puppy that had zero manners before, that I sometimes tried a few more negative approaches that other dog owners (not zoo people!) suggested. I did spray Zeke with water a few times for barking & I yanked on his neck a lot before I found the EZ Walk Harness. Lessons learned- Zeke was only barking because he needed something. If I had had Zeke from a puppy I would have taught him to walk on a leash BEFORE he was a strong 45lb dog that had never been outside.

Most of the dog trainers I know are from the zoo world. Educators or zookeepers that do training on the side or as their new career. I forget sometimes that there are the OTHER type of dog trainer. Dog trainers that have learned from Cesar Milan or other like-minded trainers. Those that use force and prong collars and e-collars. I’m not a dog-specific trainer. I know people who have used these methods and they were happy they did. Maybe there is a place for it for a large, aggressive dog? I have never worked with one so I cannot say. All I know is I would always exhaust all of the positive ways of training first. I did fleetingly consider getting a prong collar the first few weeks I had Zeke; I just couldn’t do it. He was never an aggressive dog, just a happy, exuberant giant puppy. I could not use such a forcible way of training on a sweet dog. It probably took longer and I spent several evenings crying and my shoulder hurting. But, with the EZ walker, treats, and CONSISTENCY it worked and Zeke is a lot better.

I have been privy to watching a dog “trainer” at the dog park once. I can’t remember if I posted about it specifically, I have to check. He was with a woman fostering a dog-the shelter sent him to help train the dog so it would have manners before being adopted to its forever home. He sucked. I couldn’t believe the yanking, screaming, & over reaction on HIS part to how the dog was acting. The dog was supposedly slightly dog aggressive. He had her on a 20foot lead and if she so much as turned her head to look at another dog, he would yank and scream no at her. Way to teach the dog to hate and/or fear other dogs, dumbass. It was a mess.

Tonight Zeke and I went for a nice, quick run around the cemetery. As we were nearing home, I noticed a family by their door with their big, black dog. I know this family moved to the neighborhood in the last year, and I believe the dog is new- I first noticed him over the summer. He is definitely under 2 years old. The couple stood by the door and there was a lady “trainer” with the dog in hand. They came to my attention when I heard someone scream “DOWN!!!!” and heard a snap of a metal choke collar. That was the trainer. I saw the dog, forced into a lay down, shivering-he just glanced at Zeke on the opposite sidewalk and the trainer followed it with a “STAY!!!!” right in the dog’s face. She unhooked the leash. (Mistake number 3-you’re unhooking the leash near an 8 lane busy boulevard with another dog passing by, I understand you want to prove a point, but that’s just irresponsible.) Mistake number 1 & 2 were screaming at the dog and snapping the choke collar. The owners very nervously said, “oh there is another dog over there.” To which the trainer replied, “oh don’t worry he will stay RIGHT there.” Ugh

We passed by, were halfway down the block when she screamed yet again HEEL and slapped, what I hope was her thigh and not the dog. Someone forgot to tell her that dogs have excellent hearing she doesn’t need to yell. She also wasn’t using treats. And, when the dog complied-he had no choice, there was no Good dog! no praise or reward of any kind. It made me really sad. I wanted to go over there and tell those people, “This is my dog Zeke- I can run with him. He knows about a hundred tricks. He knows left and right! He listens to me the majority of the time and I don’t scream, I don’t force him, I don’t yank him-he does it because he wants to! He’s not scared of me, he wants to please me. We have a mutual respect relationship. Fire your trainer, she sucks, I’ll give you advice for free because I feel bad for you and your dog.”

I didn’t-I should have. But I also didn’t want to go over when the dog was off-leash and I didn’t trust him to STAY because of her shoddy training techniques. But, if our dogs ever happen to meet on a walk, I’ll gently bring up the training topic. I commend the owners for wanting to train their dog. THAT is a great thing. I just wish they had stumbled across or been recommended to a different kind of trainer. A young, dog like that could probably benefit from some more positive techniques. I’m so grateful to have learned training from such wonderful people. I didn’t even realize what a gift it was at the time. But, now, my dog Zeke can benefit from it. And all of the dogs and other pets I have after Zeke will benefit. I can advise other people, teach any future kids I have. Over time, hopefully all of us positive trainers will overcome the negative ones. And the dog world will be a very happy place! (;

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~ by manicivy on October 24, 2013.

15 Responses to “Good & Bad Dog Trainers”

  1. Aye, my breaking heart. I hope that black lab makes it out ok. 😦

  2. I am still amazed at how similar Zeke and Sam started out. I don’t understand why not everyone does positive reenforcement training. Sam is overjoyed when the clicker comes out.

  3. ” All I know is I would always exhaust all of the positive ways of training first.” This is the best thing anyone can do for their dog…

    unfortunately positive ways of training is not intuitive, especially with a dog that is behaving like a dog rather than behaving to what the human expects him to behave… and largely for the novice, they won’t know to question a trainer on his methods of training. Before I spent a lot of time reading up on training, I didn’t even know there were different methods of training besides whatever Cesar Milan was yakking about on TV!

    Love this article. I also feel bad for the dogs I see who get caned for wanting to approach Donna and who get their muzzle grabbed for growling, etc. It’s sometimes hard to get people to listen when they already are convinced and have an opinion of their own how they want to approach training or managing their dog. And of course, I am just a person with a dog, not a trainer, so I won’t even be able to help them or get them to listen very much!

    Have a good weekend!

  4. I am guilty of training Reggie to walk with a prong collar. I didn’t know any better. It worked, but I think it worked more because Reggie is naturally a quick learner and a calm personality. For the first couple years I sang the praises of the prong collar for teaching him how to walk properly on a leash- instead of ME learning how to properly walk him on a leash. The prong collar is long gone, and treats and clicks and positive reinforcement have taught him (and me) way more things. Great post, love the discussion! I hope that dog isn’t a sensitive type that will learn fear from that shoddy trainer. Make her go away!

    • We cared enough to learn from our mistakes, I hope that family will too. Doug’s family, when he was a boy, had a 180lb+ Rottweiler. The dog knocked his mom over once so they called a trainer who gave them a prong collar and taught them alpha rolls. They just didn’t realize there were other methods out there, I understand that. Doug is amazed at what Zeke has learned through positive reinforcement and consistency. As long as we keep spreading the word…

  5. Such a nice text. It’s heart breaking how many “dog trainers” have no idea what they are doing and they end up hurting dogs. It’s hard to walk away from those situations.

    • Thank you. I like how you put “dog trainers” in quotes…the bad ones don’t really count as trainers do they.

      • No they don’t. It is deeply upsetting that those people can earn money on causing dogs suffering. Just another week I heard that some Italian “trainer” said on TV that he doesn’t believe animals have emotions and he doesn’t care whether his dogs are happy or not. Can you imagine that?! Crazy. How uneducated you have to be to not know that all mammals have (at least) basic emotions just like us.

      • Hmm I thought I sent an reply to you but I guess it didn’t send after all.
        Yes those people are not really trainers. And it’s terrible that owners and “trainers” are out there hurting their dogs. We control most of dog’s lives so I think we are obliged to learn about their needs and their communication.

  6. Great post πŸ™‚
    I can relate to your view on caring for your dog as you would your zoo animals. I don’t/have never worked in a zoo, but do try to encourage the use of enrichment in pets, and think of things from the animals point of view, whether it’s a dog or a hamster and so on. I learnt a great deal about enrichment at uni, and really enjoyed it, it’s actually so much fun to design/create enrichment, which I think a lot of people don’t realise. I wrote my entire dissertation on Kongs as feeding enrichment in shelter dogs, which was a piece of research I carried out, that suggested that they are in fact beneficial and a useful tool in improving the environment for shelter dogs.
    As for positive training techniques, I find it hard to understand why people would do things any other way. I know some people just don’t know the positive techniques, and I get that, we all have to learn from somewhere, but some people are presented with these techniques but still ignore them.

    • Your dissertation sounds SO interesting! Kongs are a wonderful thing. Enrichment can be so fun for the person implementing it-I will admit it is part of the reason we feed Zeke a raw diet. Not only is it more enriching for him, but we get a kick out of watching him gnaw on rib bones for 45 mins. or get so excited to see a whole chicken in front of him. Hopefully more peoples’ viewpoints will change as more studies are done on animals having emotions & personalities. If you have an abstract of your Kong research or some graphs you wouldn’t mind sharing I would love to look at them out of curiosity.

      • I’ve just realised I didn’t reply to this (I haven’t been the best blogger lately!) I’ll rummage through my work and see what I can find πŸ™‚

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