For many years I’ve encountered clients who have had a horrible experience with dog trainers who used methods that they did not agree with. My clients were often told this was the only way to fix whatever behavioral problem they were dealing with. Many went through with the lessons only to discover that long term the problem was not fixed or even worse the dog became worse and in some cases had to be euthanized (See a cautionary letter). I have always sympathized with these clients but I can honestly say that I never truly understood their emotions until I had my own experience. In my case it was not my dog it was my daughter.
As a dog trainer who has utilized positive methods for over 13 years you would think that my thinking on this would transfer to other areas of my life. But unfortunately it did not. My 2 year old daughter started taking classes at the local YMCA when she was about a year old. We had an amazing teacher who made the water fun and we sang songs and everyone laughed.
We took some time off for the winter and returned this Summer. We were placed in a class with a different instructor. This instructor told us that swim class was not supposed to be fun and that if our children did not learn how to float they could fall in a pool and die. We were told to ignore our children’s cries for help and to keep throwing them into the water and make them float. We were told not to comfort them and not to show sympathy for their cries. Yes, I should have known better, my experience as a dog trainer should have transferred but it did not until 4 classes later when my daughter threw up.
I pulled her immediately from the lesson and I went home and did research on swimming methods for infants. This is something I encourage all of my clients to do, research dog training methods. Well I found that this method like the barbaric methods used in the past for dog training is outdated and harmful. I found article after article on this issue. I immediately pulled my daughter from the program, cancelled my membership and contacted the CEO. I explained in a letter how this type of learning is detrimental to infants and I provided links and quotes from the articles I had read. I did not even receive a phone call from him.
Today I was finishing up my last month of membership by allowing my daughter to explore the water in a fun way and I caught the tail end of her old class and saw the babies crying and it tore at my heart. One little boy was saying “please mommy don’t I don’t want to” she dunked him anyway and I had tears in my eyes. The YMCA and the instructors who teach this method (not all of the instructors teach this way) will not admit they might be wrong. They will not do the research and admit their might be another way. If dog training had remained what it was in the past and had not progressed as we learned more about dog behavior and how dogs respond imagine where we might be today.
Every living creature deserves respect human and animal. Now I know how it feels inside to follow someone who has used a scare tactic to convince you that cruelty is okay. There are still some dog trainers out there today who will tell you if you don’t do this your dog will do this and this is the only way. I repeat as I do over and over again to my clients if it does not feel right for you and your dog do not do it, question it, do your research. Believe me I now know deep down the pain my clients have felt when their dogs have been hung by choke chains, kicked in the muzzle and much more. I can only hope that this blog will help someone in a similar situation or to help a trainer or instructor admit that they may have been wrong and look into teaching things a different way. Maybe for a moment they will hear Gandhi saying “Be the Change You Want to See in the World.”