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“We Need to Get Rid of Him”
For me, this phrase is a call to arms
A rescued dog proves the adage that one man

This evening, I received an urgent phone message from a woman whose name sounded familiar. She mentioned her young dog and it all came back to me. She had called this past summer to ask if I taught a puppy class. I did not, but told her I was available for in-home lessons to get him started off on the right paw.

I discussed my positive training philosophy and how I encourage dogs to think and learn instead of being forced to do what they're told. She said she'd talk about it with her husband and let me know. I did’t hear back from her until today, seven months later. In her words, “We need to get rid of him. He bites.”

What happened during the intervening months? I immediately returned her call and shared contact info for a local rescue that specializes in that breed. I also offered to forward his photo and information to my students, friends and family via email. I suggested she post flyers at her vet.

Not once did she thank me. She also made it clear that taking a photo and downloading it on the computer would be a pain. Throughout our conversation, she would say, “Well, we paid $1,200 for him,” and "He's actually quite a precious dog” and “We didn't do anything wrong.” Oh, really? I truly hate to be rude, but I cut her off at every turn. I didn’t want to hear her excuses. What’s worse is that when I inquired as to whether the breeder would take him back--any responsible breeder would --she replied, “No, can you believe it? And they won’t give us back half our money, either!” That’s what worried her? The money?  

Finally, I had to ask, “When you contacted me about training over the summer, why didn’t you follow through?”  She informed me that they found a local puppy class and were satisfied with it until something bad happened. He had had the audacity to get up from a down-stay. She told me that the instructor threw the puppy to the ground with such force that he cried out and “you could hear a pin drop in the room.” All of the other students just stared. I asked where they took him and as she told me the name of the training school, my heart sank.

Two years ago, one of my clients came to me because of how her dog was treated at that same place. The instructor’s response to dogs who were “stubborn” or “dominant” was to throw them to the ground in what is known as an alpha roll advocated by old-fashioned aversive trainers a la Cesar Milan.

When her dog “refused” to stay in the heel position, this trainer threw her to the ground. After the dog “acted up” a second time, the trainer angrily grabbed the dog, said “I’ll teach you how to listen!” took her outside the room and my client heard her dog cry. She said she would never forgive herself for taking her dog there and trusting this person. After attempting to help her with the dog, my husband and I decided to adopt her, knowing that the damage caused could be undone, but it would require a commitment of time, energy and know how that this poor woman did not have.

So no wonder this dog bites. He doesn’t trust people and I can’t say I blame him. Perhaps if she had worked with me instead, things would be different. At least I can try to help him now by finding a home for him with someone who is far more dog savvy.  Someone who can teach him that people can be kind, thoughtful and patient. I hope that person is out there.

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Julia Kamysz Lane, owner of Spot On K9 Sports and contributing editor at The Bark, is the author of multiple New Orleans travel guides, including Frommer’s New Orleans Day by Day (3rd Edition). Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.

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Submitted by Teresa | December 30 2009 |

OMG...that made my heart hurt. I don't dislike Cesar but he sure is having a horrible effect on dog training. CM marketing is even in my vet's office now! Ugh I hate to see this kind of training on the increase. :-(

Submitted by Anonymous | December 31 2009 |

Blaming all poor dog trainers on Cesar Millan seems like a poor excuse to me. There were terrible trainers before him, and will be terrible trainers after him. Differing training methods have always been present, and it seems to me that not every animal will respond to the same method as well as others. While some people find shock collars offensive, there are some dogs that would be considered "too aggressive" without them. If you don't agree with his methodology, fine. But prescribing the world to adhere to what you believe is the right way to do things? It doesn't seem very tolerant for outliers.

Submitted by Jeanette | December 31 2009 |

Glad you could post that anonymously instead of having a backbone. I don't think Julia was blaming poor dog training on Cesar Milan, but it doesn't help that the National Geographic channel has made this guy a worldwide celebrity using the harsh training methods he does. People tend to repeat what they see when a celebrity does it. There are THOUSANDS of trainers out there who have as much, if not more success in using positive reinforcement over methods as archaic as what Cesar uses, but since that doesn't make good TV, you won't see them. Victoria Stilwell's show "It's Me or the Dog" is not as successful as Cesar's because people think she's boring...but you know what? Although I don't agree with all of her training methods, she is 1000% better than Cesar.

I'm not an expert trainer, but I have seen things go TERRIBLY wrong when people try to use Cesar's methods. One person I know ended up getting bit after alpha rolling their dog and 100 stitches later, they saw the light and now do only positive reinforcement after a lot of persuasion to not give up on the dog. They never knew about alpha rolling, until they saw Cesar's show.

Submitted by Julia Kamysz Lane | December 31 2009 |

Hi Anonymous, I agree with you that there is not a cookie cutter approach to dog training. If you reread my post, I did not blame this trainer's harsh physical corrections on Cesar Milan specifically. I simply used his name as a touchstone because everyone knows who he is and that he uses and promotes aversive training techniques. Harsh physical corrections were used on this puppy at this particular training school and resulted in a dog who trusts no one and bites. He is the second young dog trained there that was brought to my attention by their owners. In these two cases, I believe that positive training at the start would've prevented these puppies from becoming fear biters in the first place. To be clear, I am not prescribing intolerance; I am promoting education of trainers and their clients. I don't think using a shock collar on this trainer would help with her aggression. But learning about alternative training techniques just might.

Submitted by Anonymous | December 31 2009 |

It's too bad. I hate when I hear about people that got puppies and failed to socialize them to dogs and people properly. Little dogs seem to be extremely vulnerable to this. Unfortunately, a dog who bites has little chance of getting adopted.

Try not to put Cesar Milan in the category of this trainer. He would advocate against harsh corrections for puppies, first of all. Secondly, he wouldn't alpha roll a dog who didn't obey and obedience command. From what I've seen, he only lies a dog down if they have loss all their senses and are in an extremely dangerous situation. I'd grab my dog and lie him down if he attacked and bit another dog or person too. Of course, he's too good to do that.

Submitted by Julia Kamysz Lane | December 31 2009 |

Hi Anonymous II,

You're right, improper socialization can lead to fear aggression and defensive biting. From what I have been told by the owners, he was socialized with other dogs and people from an early age. This leads me to believe that it was the harsh physical corrections that taught him to mistrust, fear, and eventually, bite humans.

Your confidence in your dog's behavior is commendable and demonstrates mutual trust. I think sometimes owners inadvertently create insecure and fearful dogs by regularly describing them as "bad" or "crazy" or publicly doubting their ability to be "good." I often encourage my students to believe in their dog and make a concerted effort to focus on the good things that they do to foster trust and confidence in each other.

Submitted by Maura | December 31 2009 |

I agree that every dog needs its different way of training. My best friend thinks CM is the greatest trainer alive and she has used his methods on her pug with great results. She tried to help me with my chihuahua mix when I got him 2 years ago and this is NOT the dog to use those methods on! He is very stubborn and it made him more aggressive. So every dog needs some different attention. My newest dog I'm doing very positive re-enforcement training and it's working BRILLIANTLY!
I'm sad to hear there are places out there that teach those harsh methods:( It's even sadder to hear how easily stupid people give up on their so called beloved pets:(

Submitted by Jennifer | December 31 2009 |

I don't often submit responses to online articles, but every now and then an article makes my gut wrench and I find myself compelled to write. First, I must say that while I am not a dog owner, I am a regular volunteer at a local Humane Society and often assist with classes in the training center. I am also an educator and licensed teacher who has worked in classrooms. My visceral and immediate response to this article and the various blog postings have led me to say this....we as a society have done away with corporal punishment in the classroom because it was cruel and abusive. The same theory should hold true in canine classrooms. A mammal is a mammal and learning is learning - regardless of the species. Any educator who knows anything about learning theory (whether it be human or canine) knows that punishing the student for not following directions does not produce a positive outcome. The student can shut down mentally and emotionally, become agressive, etc. One of the challenges of teaching is to find what each student needs for optimal learning. Is that always an easy thing to do? No. But is that best practice, as well as the most humane and ethical thing to do? Yes. I strongly urge all dog owners to do their homework before enrolling their canine companion in a class. You are your dog's advocate - and it is okay to interview the instructor before taking a class, as well as ask questions during the class. Remember - the instructor works for you, and your dog! When in doubt, ask yourself if you would want a teacher to belittle and abuse your child. If the answer is "No" - then please think twice about what kind of teacher you want for your dog.

Submitted by Cheryl | December 31 2009 |

It's too bad for this dog that it's hard to adopt out biters. I hope they are able to find a family that will be able to work with it. I think socialization is probably the issue, not training method.

We all seem to agree that this particular trainer was too harsh with the puppy. A lot trainers who use what you call "aversion" or "correction" techniques would not agree with this at all. I know some that would even say that any corrections on a puppy are risky since puppies can be fearful.

I think there's a gray area in training. I use a prong during walks to keep my dog from pulling me down, and I use an e-collar when he's playing. There's no way a piece of cheese is going to make him stop chasing a squirrel or a dog he likes. I use mixed methods and it works for him. He's very confident, obedient, and has good doggy communication skills. I believe that I am doing what is the best for my dog. I feel I'm preventing him from becoming aggressive by leading and protecting him.

I also know of dogs who are aggressive despite positive only training. I wish positive training worked 100%. What works for a dolphin in a closed tank with nowhere to go and nothing to do, is not always appropriate for a dog who has some freedom and a human owner who is not always patient enough for the positive techniques... .

Cesar doesn't always uses "aversion" methods. For extremely, fearful dogs he builds their trust using positive methods. He only gets extremely physical when there's a dangerous situation like a fight. His dogs seem happy with him despite this. In the case of the extreme cases his has, I think the ends do justify the means.

Submitted by Tiffani | January 3 2010 |

I have a dog who is a biter. She will bite anyone that is not a member of our family. We adopted her when she was a year old. She had been abused during her first year of life and was a very scared little nine pound pup. Through time and love we earned her trust and she is a loving sweet dog with our family. She also is great with other animals. We have another dog and three cats and she is always friendly with other dogs that she comes in contact with. Our vet (whom she has never bitten, thank God!) said that she probably will not change and we should just take precautions with her. So, when repair people come, the dogs go in the bedroom, when my daughter has a party, the dogs go to Grammy's. (BTW, she loves her Grammy, Pappy, and Uncle too.) And at the groomer's, I stay right by her side the whole time. I would never in a million years "get rid" of her just because she bites!

Submitted by Jackie | January 4 2010 |

We adopted a dog, Jax, she came from a very bad place. At 4 months old she had barely any contact with people. She didn't even know what grass was. She had to fight for her food with 15 other puppies and she lived in filth. I was told she would never trust anyone and would always be afraid of everything.
It was hard and it took a long time, but most of her fears are gone. She is nine years old now and if you have food, she will drool on you until she gets it. I read a lot of books, asked a lot of advice and had a lot of trial and error in her training. I didn't take her to any classes because no around us would deal with an aggressive, fearful dog. I am not a dog trainer, but I will say most everything I did was common sense. I just took her for millions of walks. I would selectively find people who would cooperate with me on the walks to try to rehabilitate her. I always took treats so strangers would give them to her. Now, when she passes by someone, she pokes her nose on them looking for a snack.
Her vet even says he can't believe she's the same dog. He hasn't had to muzzle her for a few years now.
I will say her training is ongoing, especially, when it comes to trusting new people. I make sure when she gets to meet someone new, it's a positive event for her.
So, the one thing I would like to say about people like the one in the above article, dogs are not things. They only know what YOU teach them. They are like sponges. If given the chance, they will soak up everything YOU teach them, good and bad. People like her don't deserve dogs. They are just like children and require some work. In the end, dogs are well worth the time and effort.

Submitted by Sarahkate | January 8 2010 |

I really, really wish that people were not so squeamish about "outing" dog abusers by fully identifying them - I don't frankly care if they call themselves professional "trainers" - that doesn't mean they are professional in the best connotation but simply that they are taking people's hard earned money in exchange for venting their bad tempers and general hostility on an innocent and trusting animal. There is a fearless blogger of the equestrian scene on the internet, now very popular, who with verifiable true information outs abusive trainers and idiotic horse breeders - and both are legion. I really wish there was a similar blog about abusive dog trainers and breeders (puppy mills being a separate and widely written issue). While I realize everyone needs to be concerned about getting sued, truth really is a defense and in my opinion formed over five decades of pet guardianship, there needs to be some way of warning people away from abusive "trainers." STARTING IMHO with Cesar Milan!!! I can't count the times I have heard people say "but Cesar did that and it worked" and maybe it did while the camera rolled or maybe the results were "photoshopped." People think that because Milan has a TV show that he must be "right" and someone seeking help with their dog often just doesn't know what is okay and what isn't and not everyone is willing to "do the homework." My first dog in the 1950's was a Kerry Blue Terrier my mom took to obedience classes which taught the Saunders method complete with choke chain and striking the dog. It is a testament to his excellent temperament - terrierness notwithstanding - that he didn't turn into a vicious fear-biter and went on with "private training" (that would have been with then 10-year-old ME) to eventually reach his CDX.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 8 2010 |

I have seen first hand what using intimidation and fear can do to a dog. My husband and I adopted a 2 year-old bloodhound from our local shelter about 5 months ago. Tod had been both physically and psychologically abused by his previous owner. We didn't know how bad it was until a week after we adopted him. Tod began to bark and jump aggressively around any one who resembled or reminded him of his previous owners. There was no way that we could have used fear, aggression or control to help our pup learn more acceptable behavior. We learned to listen to him and became more aware of signals he gave us when he was scared. We talked to him calmly to assure him that he was safe. We also learned that our older rescue dog, Roxy, was helping Tod as well. Tod would observe Roxy's behavior in meeting new people and if she could trust them, Tod could trust them. Training is much more about building a bond of trust and understanding, rather than an act of control.

Submitted by Dog Daycare Worker | January 10 2010 |

So sad, and something we've seen all too often with our more rambunctious daycare dogs.

We had one sweet pup -- a big guy, probably a lab/mastiff mix -- who was doing OK with his training. not great, but certainly not a threat. He did have some bite issues but was mostly just hyperactive, and since he was only about 6 months old, it was completely fixable.

The saddest part was, his "mom" was a 19-year old freshman in college whose parents were fabulously wealthy and decided to put her up in a luxury downtown condo near her university. Of course, she also wanted a dog, and picked her boy out at a rescue. Six months later, she was asking if any of us (the employees) could take him off her hands. None of us had the space, and now he's probably still at the shelter.

We also had another woman who recently put her 6 -year old dog down for behavioral issues, which was a total mystery to us -- we spent more time with him than she did, and we never had any problems.

I wish people would realize that dogs are not disposable.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 8 2010 |

I wish someone could help me. We inherited a ShiTzu from our son and daughter in law when they had their first baby. The baby had health problems, so Maggie came to live with us. We always did love her and so did our kids. Maggie went to 2 different "schools" but
the barking and the biting never stopped. She can't be around the baby and we are going to babysit for him when our daughter in law goes back to work (in 2 months) Maggie is afraid of everything and will turn on you in a second and bite you. She is also very loving and calm when it is just my husband and I.She sleeps with us and follows me around everywhere. She likes my husband but loves me. My son and husband say that she has to go. We can't find a home for her where she will be loved like we do and nobody wants a dog that bites. I am stressed out everyday thinking about her fate. Is there some solution that won't break my heart? The pet adoption won't take her because she bites. She is only 5.

Submitted by Julie Clayton-West | January 26 2010 |

A depressing story to read but all to common it would seem. Thankfully Julia has stepped in to rescue this wee boy. I find it puzzling that someone could be so gutless as to allow a trainer (or anyone) say to their dog "I'll teach you how to listen", take her outside the room and then she hears her dog cry out. What? For goodness sake she should have kicked the woman up the backside and left with her dog immediately. Julie, New Zealand

Submitted by Linda C | January 27 2010 |

Although I understand the phrase "lifetime commitment", I'm happy for any dog when someone, who lacks compassion and judgement, decides to give up the dog. Imagine living 24/7 with someone doesn't care about you, who has total control over your life and you can't dial 911? Not a good place to be, seems to me!

Instead of stressing "life-long dog ownership" I wish we would stress "a good home where the dog's physical and emotional needs are met, a quality home where the pet is loved and appreciated."

For years a lovely male Golden was chained to a dog box beside a business and visible to the patrons of that business. We received regular calls alerting us of his plight: no water, bleeding tail, no shade in summer, no bedding in winter. One neighbor reportedly offered $3,000 for the dog, in the hopes of rescuing him. He was denied. Finally, one Thanksgiving Day our phone rang. The owner wanted to give up his dog as he had decided to sell his home.

He apoligized as I arrived to SAVE this dog from a wasted existance. "I know I'm supposed to keep the dog for his entire life, but I can't." The AKC, in it's campaign "A Dog is for Life" forgot to mention that quality of life matters too.

I'm happy for any dog when someone who lacks compassion and judgement decides to give up the dog. I just wish that kind and caring folks would stop breeding, so that there would be an available home IMMEDIATELY when that call comes.

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