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.