How I ALMOST Ruined My Relationship with My Puppy | Pupford
May 2nd, 2023
Filed under Podcasts
The way we choose to train our puppies can have long-term effects on their mental well-being and behavior!
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of trusting some “experts” who guided me to make training decisions that almost ruined my relationship with my puppy.
Let’s dive into why it happened to me and why it often happens to other well-intentioned pup parents.
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WE WERE IN OVER OUR HEADS
My wife and I got our to try and give our 1st puppy a friend and playmate. While it was a great decision overall, we were in over our heads…
We were first-time pup parents and we truly didn’t know what to expect. And we certainly didn’t know what we were doing!
Feeling overwhelmed by our puppies’ behavior, we decided to enroll in an in-person training class (this was before existed).
The group that hosted the training class was full of trainers with decades of experience, awards, and reviews. Simply put, it sounded legit to us!
RED FLAGS FROM DAY 1
On orientation day (without dogs present), we were informed that we would need to use a choke chain for our dogs. They called it something else, but it was a metal slip/choke chain.
While both my wife and I didn’t feel great about it, we figured since they were experts with lots of experience it would be fine.
Fast forward to week 1 of the actual training class.
A middle-school-sized gymnasium was filled with about 35-50 puppies and their pup parents. It was clear through observation and conversation that many of the pup parents were in the same boat as us.
Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and downright unsure of what to do with our young puppies.
And you can imagine the level of chaos in the room. Puppies lunging toward other puppies, instructors trying to teach over the sound of dozens of barks, and many pup parents seeming to struggle to just keep their dogs from running every which way.
From day 1 of instruction, it was a LOT of corrections, collar pops, and generally unpleasant techniques. While there were some teachings about how and when to reward, the focus was on corrections and stopping our dog from doing “bad” things.
But we believed it would get better, and we didn’t have much of a frame of reference… so we kept going.
LACK OF PROGRESS
Looking back now, it was clear that our , and confused every time we went to class.
There was little to no learning going on.
As the class progressed, our puppy Scout didn’t seem to be progressing (not surprising). Leash walking was still a challenge, she didn’t focus in class, and it seemed like nothing was working.
One of the trainer's recommendations was to put her on a prong collar. A 3-month-old puppy.
Luckily we didn’t.
Our puppies loved other dogs and puppies. They wanted to go up and interact with all of them during the class hours!
The trainers instructed us to give a collar pop/correction whenever our puppies lunged or pulled to go toward other dogs.
Fast forward to 1 year after this class, and we were struggling tremendously with Scout’s
At the time I didn’t understand why, but now that I’ve learned more about dog behavior it was clear those constant corrections helped make Scout reactive.
It took us months (pushing on years) of hard and stressful work to .
LESSONS FROM MY EXPERIENCE
While it is extremely frustrating to look back and realize those trainers set us up for failure, there are some lessons I learned that hopefully you can apply to your relationship with your puppy!
- Trust your gut/instincts with training techniques
- Just because someone has experience doesn’t mean you should trust them
- Tools can do more harm than good
1- TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
While both my wife and I felt like some of the techniques weren’t ideal, we were nervous to just stop given that we had invested money into the training class. We also hoped things would improve.
In hindsight, our instincts had been right. We did not feel good during the training sessions. We did not feel good about the tools being used. We didn’t feel like the trainers had our dogs’ best interests at heart.
And we were right! The techniques caused serious damage to our relationships with our puppies and played a huge part in our dog Scout becoming reactive.
If a friend, family member, or even dog trainer wants you to use training techniques that make you uncomfortable, don’t use the techniques.
Ultimately you have to do what is right for you and your puppy, even if it creates awkward situations with other people. As humans, we are pretty good at recognizing when our actions make others (including dogs) feel bad or stressed.
So, tune into that as you interact with and train your pup.
2- SHOULD YOU TRUST EVERY DOG TRAINER?
There are many different types of dog trainers with a wide range of experiences. The question is, should you trust all of them?
Just because a trainer has a dog that is well-behaved, doesn’t mean you want to follow their techniques.
Just because a trainer has “decades of experience”, doesn’t mean you want to follow their techniques.
Just because a trainer has won awards and competitions, doesn’t mean you want to follow their techniques.
It can be really , but there is one thing that you should ask before working with a certain trainer or group.
Do you follow the (least intrusive, minimally aversive) strategy?
If a trainer answers no or side skirts the question, avoid said trainer. It will save you and your dog from a lot of headaches, stress, and potential negative long-term effects.
3- TOOLS THAT CAN DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD
Let me be clear, I am completely against the use of aversive tools (e-Collars, choke chains, prong collars, etc.) in 99% of cases. And what happened to Scout is one of the huge reasons for that!
While I’m certain the people leading the training group had a solid grasp on how to properly use a choke chain, I did not. Yet they still put the tool in my hand.
It didn’t matter if they were there to coach me.
Would you put dental tools into the hands of someone off the street and ask them to pull a tooth? Even if a super-skilled dentist was there to coach that amateur, would you want them working on your teeth?
The problem with aversive tools is that experts who may understand the proper use want to put them into the hands of complete beginners. It’s unfair to pup parents and even more unfair to the pups they’re training.
The tools often end up causing more harm than good.
SCOUT TODAY AND FINAL THOUGHTS
Luckily, Scout has overcome her reactivity. It took a lot of effort, patience, and time, but she no longer reacts to dogs while on walks.
Also, my relationship with Scout is better than ever, but it may have not happened that way.
I was lucky enough to get exposure to positive reinforcement techniques and trainers who really cared about my dog’s best interests. I worked closely with Traci Madson to implement techniques to overcome reactivity using counter-conditioning, positive reinforcement, and love!
If you’re struggling with your dog’s reactivity,
Have you had similar experiences with making decisions that may have negatively affected your dog? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below!