'Not only is punishment risky, but it also fails to teach the dog an acceptable alternate behaviour. The dog does not learn what to do the next time he is in the same situation. He only learns to fear the situation.' Emma Parsons, Click to Calm p73

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Puppy Training Class: Enough is Enough.

I have had enough of the puppy training classes. Let's go through the reasons why:

1) On the way to the class, I mentioned my newfound theory about how Lola doesn't like to be touched when she's working because she's working (and teething). She sees contact as an annoying interrupter, unless she's wrestling with my hand; she's trying to figure out what I want, so why do I keep touching her? Jean, the trainer (one of the two main trainers) who gives me a lift, immediately said, "You have to be careful with that, she thinks she's top dog."
This is the puppy who came bounding back to me after I called her away from a squirrel, and the puppy who greets me when I'm gone with screams, a wiggly puppy bum and a hundred kisses. I just made a noncommital sound.

2) We had to do down-stays in class, which me and Lola have not done. We are working on sit-stays--we were never even told to expect to have to do down-stays. Nor are these part of the examination; the dog is required to stay in the position it is left in, irregardless of whether it is sat, laid down, stood up, etc. So we were working on our downs (L was stressed by the other dogs being 1m away; she wanted to play! but she was game enough to obey), and she was looking for treats when I told her she was a good girl. I went to give her a treat, and I was corrected from across the room--"No treats! Put your treats away!"
Lola, obviously, was extremely confused. She popped out of her downs, and after six or so reps she just stopped and began giving off calming signals: looking away from me, head lowering, yawning, sniffing the ground.
One of the two secondary trainers came over, and asked if I was having trouble. I couldn't say no, because she could see that Lola was losing her concentration swiftly. The woman took the lead from my hand, and began to lift it up swiftly over L's head to jerk her into a sit, after sharply saying, "SIT!"
I saw red. I was about a second away from slapping the woman. I grabbed the lead, crushing the woman's thumb under the heel of my hand, and brought it back down. It was all I could do to contain myself enough to shout at her, "do NOT do that." I spun a lie, saying that L had a sore neck, and that she was very sensitive about it; if I could have, I'd have left without lying, but I needed the lift back and so would have to wait for the end of the lesson.
She tried to coo to Lola to get her to come back to her, after L had shot well away from her to hide behind my legs. I eventually had to step forward--stiff, tense, veering on the edge of physical violence--in order to make L shuffle forward the slightest amount behind me. The woman picked her up and inspected her neck (ignoring Lola's frantic struggles to get away: L seemed to know both the woman's intent and my role in keeping her safe), and then allowed me to continue.

3) One of the other handlers, with Lennox the Bedlington Terrier, was also having difficulty keeping him down. (She later told me she hadn't worked beyond a three-second sit-stay.) Jean went over to them, grabbed Lennox by the throat, and forced him onto his side: not forced him into his standard 'down', but a basic alpha roll. And yet it did not end; she relaxed her hand, he obviously thought he was free to get up, she shrieked AH, AH! in his face and smacked her hand back onto his throat to hold him down. She kept him there, going through the procedure several times, until he eventually gave up trying to get up.

4) At the end of the lesson, we let the dogs off. Lola had fun barking at the others (she wanted to play, but didn't quite know how to play with the big dogs). Jean's Italian Spinone started chasing her, and the Alsatian belonging to the crappy trainer woman immediately followed. L began screaming, her real terrified screech, and fled once around the room before bolting toward me. I instinctively reached down and put my hand just between my calves, not stroking her but just supporting her, and Jean and the other main trainer shouted, "do not stroke her! You'll make her more scared! You're telling her it's right to be scared!"
Uh, no. If my dog is afraid, she has the right to remove herself from the situation and be comforted by her protector. I am not going to try and flood my dog into accepting the hugely bouncy dogs chasing her around and scaring the living daylights out of her.
Later, she snapped at two dogs--the lurcher and alsatian cross that belonged to the secondary trainer--which is something she has never done before.

I am tired of the dominance bullshit, the constant use of aversives and no treats. I am tired of being treated like an "average" owner who knows nothing. I am tired of being told that I cannot use treats when I am training my dog to accept something new.

I am not going back.


Sara said...

Oh no. It is hard to believe there are still classes out there that aren't using positive methods exclusively. Horrible.

I'm glad you're not going back, but sorry you had such a bad experience.

Sophie said...

It makes it even 'better' because the woman who came over to correct Lola when we were doing down-stays is someone who is part of the 'Tricks 4 Treats' dog training thing near me; an agility club I was hoping to join when Lola was older. Now, though, I'm not so sure--I've seen some videos of the club in action, and Val uses a half check collar on her Alsatian cross even whilst Lucy is running the course. Surely that's a massive health/safety risk?

I've also emailed another puppy training class near me, asking when their next course starts - and if I can sit in on a lesson first! Waiting to see now if I get a reply.

Crystal said...

Oh my gosh. I'm thankful to have never experienced anything like that. Good for you for leaving!!

Sophie said...

I know; people around here are about 2% positive, 98% dominance theory, regardless of whether you talk to average dog owners or (often self-proclaimed) dog trainers. It doesn't help that I live in a small town, and am currently unable to drive, so I'm stuck with what I have!