The other day I ran into a woman I know at the dog park. She’s got an adorable little mixed breed dog who, along with a few other dogs belonging to local residents, was recently enrolled in a group training class. I asked how the class was going, and got an earful. The woman was very upset, and rightfully so.
Apparently, the trainer was very rough in her methods, not only with the dogs, but with people. If someone seemed to be “coddling” their dog, the trainer would tell them in no uncertain terms, in front of the entire class, to get with the program because it’s “just an animal” and that they “need to be the boss.” Sigh. You would think that in this day and age this type of thinking would be obsolete. Regardless of the training methods and philosophy that were standard many years ago, enough scientific evidence about animals and emotion, and enough research on how dogs think and learn has come to the forefront that it is beyond ridiculous for anyone, let alone a trainer, to still think this way.
The problem with this type of mindset is that rough handling methods naturally follow. After all, if it’s “just an animal” that implies such a low level of intelligence and emotional wisdom that surely we must use forceful methods for these lowly beings to understand what it is we want from them.
The woman related an incident that involved the trainer “correcting” a dog-reactive dog. It had made her cringe when watching it, and made me cringe just hearing about it. Suffice it to say that if a dog is very reactive toward other dogs, the answer is to do private lessons instead until the dog can be around other dogs—not to use extreme physical force to subdue the dog in class. This type of “leadership” is the solution employed by a trainer who doesn’t know any better. Unfortunately, the ones suffering are the dogs and their owners.
The woman also related that her friends who were taking their dogs through the class along with her actually liked the training and thought the trainer was fine. There is definitely something about an authority figure that causes people to fall in line and accept their wisdom, especially if that person radiates confidence. In a training class, if the instructor can make a dog comply instantly by using harsh physical force, many owners are so impressed that they hardly consider what that type of handling is doing to their dog, both short and long term.
I’ve always found a correlation between trainers who treat dogs harshly and the harsh treatment of their students. It makes sense. It is my fervent wish that enough owners will stand up to these trainers and say, “I’m not going to do that to my dog, and I’m not going to let you do that to me or my dog, either” that eventually, the trainer will have to reconsider their methodology and mindset.