Sunday, March 3, 2019

Buddy's story by Chelsie Blaine

I would like to thank Chelsie Blaine, a friend, I admire very much for being a guest writer on my blog.What she has to say here is so well written and resonates with my beliefs very much.
I am thankful to have her story to share. I believe this message should be shared everywhere, it is so important, it could save a life.

Chelsie is a staff member and dog trainer at Muskegon Humane.
Shown here are her personal pack she has adopted in to her home. 




Buddy’s Story
Written by Chelsie Blaine, CPDT-KA, PMCT-1
Navigating the world of dog training can be confusing at best; a quick Google search will yield a head spinning amount of results, with no shortage of conflicting information and ideas on the best way to go about it. To add to the confusion, the dog training industry is completely unregulated. Anyone can start a business and call themselves a dog trainer- or even a behaviorist- regardless of their skills and education level, or lack thereof, with no repercussions. One would hope that when enlisting the services of someone with the title of ‘professional’ they could trust that their pet is in safe hands. Dog owners can easily find themselves in the hands of an unqualified person using antiquated training methods on their dog, and it can have devastating consequences.
A dog very near and dear to my heart, Buddy, a dog that I fostered was the unfortunate victim of a painful training device still used and on the market today; a shock collar. Buddy was adopted from MHS in 2016 by a wonderful family. They loved, cherished, and spoiled him- he was a part of the family! We received many pictures of Buddy enjoying his new life and happy updates about how great Buddy was. He did bark and sometimes growl at unfamiliar people, but this was something they knew he struggled with and wanted to work on with him.
Buddy’s family found a trainer to help them with his behavior, and in their next update reported how well he was doing. We didn’t hear from them again until a few short months ago when I took the phone call that made my hear sink- Buddy had bitten someone quite seriously. 
His family was completely caught off guard- he had been doing so well! And the bite, his owner said, was ‘completely unprovoked’. Those words, “completely unprovoked’, immediately trigger my mind to ask more questions. More often than not, this is not the case. It may appear that way from the human point of view, but from the dog’s perspective something very bad or scary was going on that warranted the bite.
Through the conversation, I learned that the trainer they hired not only advised that they stop using all treats and rewards for any training at all, but that a shock collar was also used to correct him for barking and growling at strangers.  After 6 months, they thought the problem was solved- he no longer barked and growled at strangers. So when he “went nuts”, charged out of the house, and latched on to the leg of an unsuspecting pedestrian they were completely stunned. What on earth could cause him to do that?
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior states, “When used effectively, punishment can suppress the behavior of fearful or aggressive animals, but it may not change the association underlying the behavior problem. For instance, if the animal is aggressive due to fear, then the use of force to stop the fearful reactions will make the dog more fearful while at the same time suppressing or masking the outward signs of fear. Once it can no longer suppress its fear, the animal may suddenly act with heightened aggression and with fewer warning signs of impending aggression. In other words, it may now attack with no warning.” (AVSAB Position Statement: The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals).
 So, applying this information we know that what likely happened is that they had suppressed Buddy’s behavior; using the shock collar did not change his underlying stress around strange people. By treating his aggressive behavior as ‘being bad’ or ‘misbehaving’ rather than what it truly was- an attempt to communicate that he was uncomfortable- they unintentionally strengthened his negative association. He was able to mask his outward behavior for a period of time to avoid the painful shock, but when it became too difficult handle he reacted with heightened aggression. This is one of the unfortunate behavioral side effects that can come with using aversives to correct a behavior problem.
While Buddy’s story is one of the more extreme cases of what can happen as a result of the use of force in training, it is the reality of what can happen. The majority of dogs will go their entire lives without ever biting anyone, regardless of what training methods are used. For a portion of dogs, punishment works; but that does not mean it comes without consequence. The more common scenario is that the dog will ‘behave’ out of fear of being punished. The end result may be a well behaved, model canine citizen, but it comes at the cost of a diminished relationship with the dog and a reduced quality of life.
Without regulation or universally accepted industry standards, how do you make the best, most humane choice for your furry best friend when it comes to training? Jean Donaldson, respected behavior professional and author, suggests asking these three questions before hiring a trainer: “What will happen to my dog if he gets it right? What will happen to my dog if he gets it wrong? Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?”- make sure you are comfortable with their answers.  Any ethical and professional trainer should not make you feel pressured, have your dog’s comfort and safety as a priority, and be able to explain to you exactly how and why the methods they advice work.
Seek out a trainer who utilizes force-free training methods. Force-free training focuses on a combination of positive reinforcement (the dog gets it right, we reward him- the behavior increases), management (preventing the dog from practicing unwanted behaviors), and negative punishment (the dog gets it wrong, we with hold the reward- the behavior decreases). Force-free training strengthens your bond with your dog, promotes active learning, and best of all- it can be fun! Use caution if the trainer practices traditional training methods, as they often utilize force. This can cause the dog to shut down to avoid corrections, have unintended behavioral side effects- such as increased fearful or aggressive behavior, and it does not teach the dog what we would like to him do instead.
Certifications and memberships to professional organizations are also good indicators that they are committed to continued education and the most modern, science based training techniques. Two reputable websites to start your search for a trainer are The Certification Counsel for Professional Dog Trainers ( and The Pet Professional Guild (
I hope that by sharing his story, I can prevent this tragic situation from happening to other dogs. We owe it not only to our dogs, but to our communities to make humane choices when it comes to training options for our dogs. Buddy is an unfortunate example of how our choices affect not only our dog’s wellbeing, but the safety of others in the community as well. Until we have the needed changes and regulations made in the industry, it is imperative to be your dogs best advocate and do your research when selecting a trainer and training equipment.
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. 2007. AVSAB Position Statement The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals.