In my first post, I touched on the subject of ethics. This topic is especially important to me because of the adorable dog in the photo at the bottom of this post. When I was in 5th grade, my parents finally relented to the constant pressure from my sisters and I to get a puppy. We went to our local shelter, and picked out a fuzzy white puppy with a black eye patch and freckles.
Never having had a dog, my parents didn't give any thought to breed background or temperament. Our best guess as to Casey's genetic heritage was border collie/pointer mix, but ultimately who really knows. Regardless, she was an incredibly high energy dog who needed tons of exercise and mental stimulation. She also needed to be trained to live successfully in our home.
Casey had a lot of typical puppy behaviors - jumping, chewing, nipping, barking. She was also an escape artist, and ran away frequently. She always came back, but our neighbors didn't love her visits. At their wits end, my parents hired a local trainer who was highly recommended. We thought we were finally going to solve the problems that kept Casey from being a fully integrated member of our family.
The trainer came to our home, and immediately took a prong collar from his bag. He put it on Casey, showed us how to "correct" her, and left. There may have been some more assessment and instruction, but that is all I recall from his visit. I remember thinking the prong collar looked scary, and I hated that he made my dog scream using it. He told us that unless she cried, we weren't doing it right. Even as a child, I knew that using pain and fear to 'train' our dog wasn't okay.
The prong collar, which was supposed to be our saving grace, only seemed to make things worse. Casey ran away more frequently and one day she pulled my sister down the porch steps, knocking out one of her baby teeth. My parents came to the heartbreaking decision to find a new home for Casey.
They found her a family with a fenced in back yard, who had experience with high energy dogs. They loved Casey, and were able to integrate her into their lives rather quickly. At the time, I was completely devastated that I had lost my furry friend. Now, I am thankful to my parents for giving Casey a better life.
If the 'trainer' we had worked with had known about and educated our family on how dogs learn, and training without adversives, Casey might have been able to stay in our home. I would like to think that with the proper tools, we would have rallied around her as a family and made it work.
What Casey really needed was directed exercise, mental stimulation, management of her environment and positive science based training. Now, an adult and professional dog trainer, it is my mission to help families like mine understand the needs of their unique dog. It is my goal to keep dogs out of shelters and in loving homes.
More than 80% of the dogs in shelters, both pure bred and mixed breed alike, end up there due to problem behaviors that could have been eliminated with proper training and management. I want to thank my parents for trying. I want to thank them for finding Casey a home, instead of bringing her back to the shelter. I want to honor her memory by practicing my trade with a code of ethics that would have kept Casey in our home, and that will keep dogs like Casey in their homes now.
If you're interested in leaning more about ethical dog training, I invite you to check out the Pet Professional Guild. It's the only force free professional dog training organization that currently exists, and I am a proud member.
Emily Lewis is a professional dog trainer and veterinary technician. She lives in Vermont with her three rescue dogs, tuxedo cat, corn snake, crested geckos and Russian tortoise.