Dog Owners Should Stand Up For Their Rights

brown dog with leashDog trainers are a notoriously passionate bunch, and I will not deny that I am among them. However what is going on in the dog training industry extends beyond personal passion for the subject and crosses over into what pet owners should expect when they pay for a service. What they should expect is solid advice and guidance based on the best information available to us regarding how animals learn and how dogs behave.

Though many pet owners may be unaware that dog training is founded on the very solid sciences of animal behavior and learning, this does not mean that dog trainers can be excused for being unaware of it, or choosing to disregard it. A doctor who based their surgical knowledge on a text from the 1800’s or even the 1950’s could expect to be sued for malpractice. A psychiatrist who declared that a person’s behavior was caused by evil spirits in their heads and a hole needs to be drilled to let them out should meet the same fate. But in the world of dog training the selling of nonsense is considered the norm!

“A while ago she started barking at him when he came into an area where i was. This has gotten worse and worse. Not sure if she is being protective of me, or possessive of me. There is a fearful tone to it too. The (insert the name of almost any franchise dog training business or pet shop) trainer, said i should reprimand her for doing this, and that it also signifies that my dog perceives me as weak. I try really hard to behave like a strong leader. But I feel like I am very ineffective at dealing with this barking.”

Here is someone trying to do everything right. They adopt a dog in the hopes of providing her with a better life. They realize they need help and contact a professional, spend their hard-earned cash, and are handed rubbish. Given this dog’s history, she was rescued from a puppy mill, we can assume that the dog was not provided with the early socialization to people and novelty when she needed to have it happen in order to feel safe around a variety of people and in different environments. The impact of this on a dog’s development and behavior is well-documented and any trainer should be aware of it. Even the owner has identified the dog as being “fearful.” What does the “trainer” recommend? Outdated and readily disputed advice about pack leadership and a declaration that would imply an ability to read a dog’s mind and know what she perceives!

In this digital age, when we have access to scientific works ranging from Galileo to neuroscience there is absolutely no excuse for it. None. Zilch. Zero. Don’t even bother trying to defend the ignorance or arrogance of a trainer who doesn’t take advantage of it. This is not about my opinion regarding how to train dogs. We are so far beyond that when it comes to animal training that to try to argue it is akin to asserting that how planets orbit each other is simply one’s opinion on the topic.

There are hacks and shysters in every industry. But if someone is in the business of teaching people how to drive a car and confuse the gas pedal with the brake, they need to be stopped. They pose a risk not only to the driver but to anyone who happens to be on the road with them. And they sure as heck need to stop being paid to do it.


21 comments so far

  1. kaseyskritterkeepers on

    Well written! As a dog trainer, I have many tools in my kit but each dog is an individual. There is no magic command that “fixes” everything. I’ve come in after trainers who have done worse for the dog and scared the bejeebers out them causing them to pull into their shell more.

  2. fearfuldogs on

    Thanks for your comment! It is true that all dogs are individual but we know that behavior works the same way for all of them. We can be thankful for the lawfulness of behavior 🙂

  3. Natasha on

    You betcha! Well put!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Natasha. Let’s raise the bar for our dogs! They deserve better.

  4. Vince on

    It is pathetic but I think MY doctor is barely out of the leech stage. The really sad news here is now Ellie considers herself, a formerly “fearful” dog, my own personal Svengali. She is truly red headed Gemini BC. She can hear a mouse pee on a cotton ball from 3 miles but not me from 5 feet. She’s really something. We need to do our own work as well. Set reasonable expectations; be willing to drop an idea that’s not working and think about why. Right now Ellie is hypnotizing me to go play frisbee. From whence she came it’s all good. Thanks Deb

    • fearfuldogs on

      I’d say that when a dog no longer needs to be concerned about where we are, we don’t have to worry about being less interesting than peeing mice. Our job is done. 🙂

      • Vince on

        You’re right there. COMIN when she’s called is another story. Reminds me of the old joke about the blind horse. Ellie was terrified but now lyin in the grass belly up for a good run makes all the work seem insignificant. She did the work anyway. I just stayed tuned to her station. She is willful, disobedient but she sure can stop a calf with a look.

      • Larry Cohen on


  5. rangerskat on

    Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes! Sure there are differences in temperament and learning style between dogs just as there are between people but the fundamentals are the same across the board. Behavior that works will be repeated behavior that doesn’t will be discarded being an excellent example. A dog that gets attention for jumping on you will continue to jump on you a dog that gets attention for having all four paws on the floor will keep all four paws on the floor. People are often surprised when their rambunctious puppy who jumps on everyone all the time does not jump on me. It’s simple, I’m clear and consistent and puppy figures out really quickly that if they want attention from me they need to keep all paws on the ground. It has nothing to do with me being a stronger leader so the puppy doesn’t try to be dominant over me it has everything to do with communicating clearly and consistently what puppy needs to do to get me to pay attention to him/her. I only work with trainers that understand that. I owe it to my dogs to find us trainers that base their advice and exercises on science not myth.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Yes, the beauty of using good training mechanics is that it makes us look like magicians 😉

  6. Larry Cohen on

    Normally I love your blog, but your last couple of entries have seemed bitter (though I totally agree with you.)

    • Larry Cohen on

      Sorry, can I withdraw that?

    • fearfuldogs on

      I was probably venting. It happens. Hard to stay upbeat in this industry sometimes.

  7. yourpositivedog on

    Great article! Thank you for sharing this

  8. Jenny H on

    There though is only one problem here, and that is that the dog owners who see the Quack Dog Trainers, tend to be as ignorant as the Trainer, but view him/her as authority.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It is a challenge. Most pet owners who do contact a trainer are trying to do right by their dogs.

    • sisterswithpaws on

      I suppose, at first, before getting to better understand or know a trainer, the approach he or she will be using, most will give the benefit of the doubt to a trainer or see a trainer as an authority figure with the world of dog training, since it is usually a specialized field. On the other hand, ignorance is, basically lacking knowledge, so, since a person chose to hire a trainer it is usually because they are seen as a person with more dog training knowledge than the dog owner had or else the dog/pet owners wouldn’t be needing a dog trainer to begin with. Of course, you also make a very valid point about some who should question a various trainer’s method but does not, ever….in fact, no questioning is even needed if an obvious issue is observed. Pay for the services rendered, if applicable, and simply state that trainer’s services are no longer needed. End of story. For those who have trouble being direct, limit your reason for going elsewhere to something like, , “I feel confident trying some methods my relative/co worker/neighbor has been sharing with me.” Don’t further engage in conversation, be polite, and everyone go separate ways.

  9. Keri on

    I wish I had found this blog before hiring my current trainer! She is well intentioned but the dog we are dealing with is fearful….I guess I’ve always know this but have somewhat ignored it. This being said I’ve paid the money and am committed to working with this trainer for 2 months, She recognizes my dogs fears and won’t push him past thresh hold and he is doing fairly well with it… ignoring other dogs from a separate. area of the dog park while playing frisbee. He will still aggress on one of my other dogs if another dog passes by and the other dogs react,even if they just give a look or whine about the other dog he attacks them. For this she suggested an e collar which I am adamantly opposed to so she is not pushing it merely suggested it. She is a well respected trainer and I do agree with some of her methods just not the ones that involve aversion training. I am looking forward to reading your book and hope that with care and patience I can help my dog become less fearful. Thanks

    • fearfuldogs on

      I hope things have improved with your dog. Fearful dogs require a higher level of skill and education than most trainers have, unfortunately.

  10. sisterswithpaws on

    A huge, “Right on!!” for this article. These days and, usually on the internet, it takes confident or thick skin to write the truth because many come out of the woodwork to focus on leaving a snotty or hateful reply that totally misses the point, or they flat out did not read the whole article…..or maybe a person is offended because deep down inside he or she knows he or she happened to be the same kind of person referred to, using inappropriate, outdated, or cruel methods but cares more about feeling right about everything rather than accepting the truth that he or she should expand their knowledge or are flat out wrong.

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