Albert Einstein – We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

November 3, 2022

Today, let’s explore how certain dog trainers unintentionally cause problems for dogs and their owners, leading me to step in to prevent potential euthanasia. Additionally, these trainers often share misleading information that hampers my efforts. I’ll illustrate this with a personal account.


A Dog Trainer’s Challenge: C and N’s Story

This story features a dog named C, and his owner N. N adopted C from a foster-based rescue at five months old. After five years, keeping C became too risky, so N returned him to the rescue, as per their agreement. The rescue had a network of professionals and foster carers, providing various resources to help in such cases.

I was asked to assess C for the rescue. Here’s what N shared with me:


C’s Anxiety and N’s Struggles

C was an anxious puppy, taking over three weeks to settle in. He was more fearful of people and his surroundings but got along with other dogs. N tried several strategies with limited success:

  1. Placing C outside behind a glass door to see, hear, and smell visitors only heightened his reactivity, posing a risk of self-injury.
  2. Using a baby gate to create a barrier while keeping C closer to N led to increased reactivity and insufficient safety for visitors.
  3. Confined to a room where he could hear and smell but not see visitors, C’s anxiety worsened, causing damage to doors and furniture.
  4. Crate-training C offered him a safe space and limited his access to people for their protection.

It’s worth noting that N, a naturopath, used calming herbs to help C throughout this process.


C’s Declining Sociability

Over time, C’s dog’s sociability diminished, becoming too intense and engaging in conflicts with other dogs. He was also attacked twice and began reacting to other dogs. On difficult days, N avoided walking C during peak hours or redirected his reactivity. On rare good days, C could wait for dogs to pass before resuming their walk, though it wasn’t enjoyable either.


A Positive-Only Trainer’s Approach

N eventually sought help from a positive-only trainer (also known as fear-free, force-free, or rewards-based). The trainer believed that fear shouldn’t be addressed with fear-inducing methods or tools. They focused on desensitizing C to people, hoping to change his feelings towards them. This required keeping visitors at a safe distance, rewarding calm behaviour, and ignoring reactivity. Despite N’s persistence, this approach intensified C’s reactivity. Only a few people, including the trainer and their partner, could visit to help with desensitization and counter-conditioning.


A Baby and a Tough Decision

After four years, N had a baby girl, whom C tolerated but only on his terms. A year later, C bit one of the few visitors, prompting N to decide it was too dangerous to keep him. N contacted the rescue, bringing me in for a behavioural assessment.


Read the next post, titled “Simon Sinek – Beware of Assumptions: Even Well-Founded Research Can Mislead,” to discover the results of the behavioural assessment.

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