The Failing Industry of Dog Training: I’m Sorry Willie

sunnywtoyA friend recently shared an article with me in which this blog gets a mention. They say that any PR is good PR but all this article does is make me sad, and to be lumped in with other “quick fixes” for what is a tragic issue, makes me even sadder. The conclusion the author comes to that some dogs just can’t be helped is instead for a me a story about the dog training industry failing another dog and their struggling owner. I am not sad for myself.

The dog training industry is unregulated so anyone can label themselves a trainer or as what apparently happened in the author’s case, a behaviorist. In practically any other profession anyone who charges for a service and not only fails to deliver that service, but makes the problem worse would be liable to be sued, disbarred, lose their license, be Yelped out of existence, or we’d at least expect to get our money back. But not hack dog trainers. Nope. They just move on to screw up or under serve another dog.

I know the feeling of being a pet owner trying to live with a dog who is too terrified to move, and being given many of the same recommendations as the author. There is no guarantee that anyone can “fix” Willie or any other dog and he’s lucky to be with someone who is willing to accommodate him. The problem is not, as I see it, that we think that everything can be made whole, especially something that might have never been whole to begin with, it’s the fundamental inadequacy of the support and guidance the author (and others like us) received from the industry built to help her and her dog.


23 comments so far

  1. mugwumpchronicles on

    I know an OCD, agoraphobic woman. The world overwhelms her. If I sit quietly with her in her home, without guile, I also get to know her quit wit, read her wonderful poetry and talk about the world to a depth way beyond empty memes.
    She’s a person, not a dog, but I think you can see my point.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Unfortunately for our dogs they often aren’t given the choice as to how much of the world they have to suffer. Nice of you to spend time with someone on their terms.

  2. BFF on

    I adopted an extremely fearful timid female, 3yrs old at the time 2 1/2 yrs ago. Although I doubt she’ll ever be “normal” she is a wonderful companion. She doesn’t do tricks, has her own unconventional way of playing and her signals are very subtle but thats OK. Lots of walks and baby steps in confidence building and 6 months later she finally started using her nose. At 1 year her 1st bark, that even surprised her. She doesn’t trust many people but there are people she trusts. She’s perfect. I wish everyone the best that choose to work with these special dogs.

  3. Vince on

    Ellie sure votes “aye” to that even rough after 8 years she still is unpredictable but charming. One of these days Alice…. I read an ad in our local paper from a “trainer groomer” which I guess means she keeps shaving the dog until she confirms. She guarantees that in 1 day my dog will come to her when called. Ha I said. How much? Ellie doesn’t always come to me when called. I believe this is the basic dog trainer. Ellie and I were very lucky, thanks to Debbie, and time, time, time.
    Trainers should be licensed. I don’t know what yelp is but if it has anything to do with aversion therapy I say strap it on; not the dog. We want CONversion not aversion therapy. I believe a fearful dog will always be a little so even though the conversion works there will always be an occasional reversion. Still, on occasion, have to pick Ellie up to put her in the truck. Guess she is still training me. Any progressive behavioral training, dogs or people, takes a huge investment but you don’t want your kids to be in love with the shrink, ahem, behavioral therapist. No mistake Ellie is now officially a pill; but not every day well not all day every day. Don’t expect every trainer to be able to deliver the mail and the ones that do are truly rare. Blah blah. Thanks Debbie.

    • fearfuldogs on

      🙂 Yelp is one of those online places where people can go and complain about local bad restaurants and other businesses. It doesn’t take much to break some of these dogs, especially if they come to us already with cracks. We know that Ellie could have turned out to be a very different dog had she been handled with less patience and compassion.

  4. Stormy on

    Unfortunately, the problem lies not only with lack of education but with rescues pulling these dogs. Do i believe they all deserve a chance YES. But a rescue pulling a dog with KNOWN aggression issues that don’t support them and fully rehabilitate them is AN ENORMOUS problem. Why? because as soon as that poor dog was pulled they posted it on FB and got everyone’s sympathy “the dog that no one wanted”. Most rescues aren’t equipt to handle or lack education to fully support that animal AND THE FOSTER. Why in this case did the Foster not trust the rescue to make the right decisions???? Because many are only pulling to save a life and as long as their alive that the problem is fixed right??? WRONG

    Usually there the same rescues that boast about high adoption rates… if anyone took the time to learn about them and check them out they’d find out that there the same ones that bring HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS of don’t from the South and adopt them out within day’s un-microchiped and no one checking up NO SPAY / NEUTER Why??????????? In their words they will tell you they don’t have time to follow up on every animal.

    When a dog is pulled from the South as a puppy and not spayed or neutered how many puppies does that animal have in the future? That’s NOT rescue… OR, who rescues the dog again in a few months because they lacked the concern to place the puppy appropriately and only care about the so many lives their saving and patting themselves on the back. It’s a HUGE PROBLEM right now in NYC. Where do they get there fosters and adopters? A local Foster site that partners rescues with fosters however the rescues that they support are some of the worst and no reputable educated rescue will go within inches of them. How did they get so big? MARKETING MARKETING MARKETING. It’s like a gross over populated conveyor belt of dogs rescued and then getting dumped back into the system for reputable rescues to spend their time and resources on. YUP!

    A reputable rescue will stand by their dog, they will follow up and make sure it’s spayed / neutered and micro-chipped. And, if is has aggression issues they will give it a chance to be rehabbed and place it in a home that’s mutually beneficial.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Dog “rescue” is also an unregulated industry with no standard operating procedures. Many end up with dogs who were not prepared to be pets and go to trainers who aren’t prepared to train them. It is a problem.

  5. Karen Wylie on

    Reading the story of Willie made me cry. I am so awfully sorry that our industry is an unregulated one, and I so strongly wish that our education and licensing were more tangible. I am so sorry, Mr. Baker, that you and your family have been so let down by all the well-meaning but essentially useless advice that you have been given by so many people. I admire what you are doing for Willie, and … well, I just pressed the backspace key, because I didn’t want to add to the piles of yet more useless advice you’ve had. Please know that there are good behaviorists (veterinarians), and behavior consultants out there. You will be in my thoughts.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It does reflect badly on those of us who have put the time, energy and money into getting an education in animal learning and behavior.

  6. pawsforpraise on

    The Pet Professional Accreditation Board is making a concerted effort to elevate the competency level of trainers with its new independent, psychometrically sound testing program that also requires an ethical component. But, as yet, there is no requirement for trainers to even have education, much less pass any exam to see whether they understand even the basics of learning theory. Some professions require a degree or minimum standard of supervised experience. My psych degree gave me a great foundation for this work – maybe that should be where we start.
    Anne Springer, B.A., PCT-A, CTDI
    Paws for Praise
    Danvers, MA

    • fearfuldogs on

      We are moving forward! Thanks for all your efforts in making that happen.

  7. Nancy Freedman-Smith on

    Damn. I want to do bad things to “behaviorist” who told her to take him for a walk.

    • fearfuldogs on

      When I watch “trainers” trying to force dogs on leash I want to ask, “what part of ‘no thank you’ don’t you understand?”

  8. Becka on


  9. easternpanther on

    I am blessed that I found an amazing trainer to work with my rescue pit bull and me. I wish we’d found her before another dog, a very sad story that ended in a lot of biting, a lot of pain, and the death of a dog. My fault, not the dog’s. How can I help promote an amazing trainer?

  10. 2 Punk Dogs on

    One of the best things I learned from your blog was that there isn’t a magic fix that would immediately help fearful dogs. I knew this, but so many people made comments that a certain TV trainer would be able to turn them around in no time. I watched episode after episode, only to find that he considered the few shy dogs he worked with to be “worst case scenarios” and wasn’t really able to help them.
    This week my husband was so excited that Maggie came up to him wagging her tail to be petted – it only took 7 years! Yesterday she walked up to my mom & sat in front of her, waiting for a piece of chicken. Duke came out from under the kitchen table to see what Maggie was getting, Mom said that it took 2 pieces of chicken for Maggie to come over and only 1 for Duke. Not bad for a dog who wouldn’t even eat in front of people when we first got him!
    Progress is slow, but amazing when we look back to where they started from. 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      Changing a brain can take years and there’s no way anyone could “make” Maggie approach your husband happily for petting. I am very happy for your husband. It’s not easy to live with a dog who is afraid of you.

  11. Kristen Sukalac on

    Willie’s story is sad, but at least he has found people who are willing to keep and love him, even damaged. I wish, for him and them, that they could find their way through this jungle and believe that he could at least be more comfortable even if he can’t be “fixed”. But I understand their frustration and cynicism. We went through a very dark period when we didn’t think things could ever get better for our fear-aggressive Cane Corso and it was even starting to weigh on our human relationship. I hope that Willie and his family find some rays of light.

  12. Janine on

    I adopted a dog who turned out to be fear aggressive. We went to a highly recommended “behaviorist” for help – her first plan for working on my dog’s aggression made him worse. Later, she made some bad choices that ended up with my dog going after another dog. Thankfully, no one was hurt. But this trainer blamed my dog and refused to acknowledge that we’d even been working with her. Thanks to her, we had to start over with an even stronger aggression problem.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Ugh. The dog training industry is unregulated. I’m so sorry to hear about what happened to your dog.

  13. Geraldine Peters on

    Thank you all for your story’s about working with a fearful dog, Im trying to help a 8month old dog who is afraid of the world around him, no aggression he just can’t move forward, he just sets with his head hanging low. My hope in time is that he will enjoy life a little at a time, GP

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s good of you to want to help this pup. I hope you can find a trainer to support you who uses positive reinforcement and a vet or vet behaviorist to help you consider medications that might help improve his quality of life.

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