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Dog trainer wanted: Control freaks need not apply

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I find it very difficult to write or even think about the topic of cruel dog-training techniques. In fact, it makes me feel lightheaded and sick to my stomach. Because of my close relationship to my dogs and my familiarity with their beautiful nature and endearing qualities, it's incomprehensible to me that someone could purposely inflict pain on them while claiming to be teaching them. The only thing that dogs can learn from the infliction of physical pain is terror, which is the same thing that we would learn.

So it was especially disheartening to read about a dog trainer named Jeff Loy who was brought up on charges of severely beating a 6-pound shih tzu named Moby with an 18-inch piece of PVC pipe, as well as abusing the dog with a choke collar, slamming him to the floor and punching him in the chest with a clenched fist. The dog had to be rushed to the vet and was found to have sustained a broken rib, a bruised liver, a bruised bladder, profuse internal and external bleeding and ruptured blood vessels in his eyes. The incident took place in New Jersey in 2007, but the trainer wasn't convicted until just recently after a lengthy investigation.

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And this was no isolated incident. Last March, a dog trainer in Ontario, Canada, was convicted of cruelty after a dog she was training was found to have suffered from heatstroke and sustained severe cuts to all four paw pads, indicative of having been dragged.

Last year, an article in the St. Petersburg Times profiled a dog trainer who routinely uses the technique of "helicoptering," in which he hoists dogs off the ground by a choke chain and leash, and then swings them around him in a circle. Trainers have also been exposed for using shock collars in extraordinarily cruel ways, including reportedly placing two on a dog simultaneously (one around the neck and one around the groin).

It's important to know that there is no certification or licensing requirement for dog trainers in the U.S. Anyone can call him- or herself a dog trainer. So it really is a case of "Buyer, beware."

Unfortunately, people tend to see dog trainers as such authority figures or experts that they make the mistake of suspending their own judgment and believing whatever the trainer tells them. They allow the trainer to harm their dog because the trainer persuades them that it's in the dog's best interests or that it really doesn't hurt the dog or that there's simply no other way to train the dog. I imagine that these trainers really believe what they say, but they are sadly mistaken, and anyone who allows them to come anywhere near their dog will likely regret it.

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Here are a few questions that you can ask when evaluating a potential dog trainer: Does the trainer seem to view his or her relationship to dogs as adversarial, i.e., that dogs need to be subdued or conquered? Does he or she believe that the infliction of pain is a valid part of a dog-training program? Are prong, choke or shock collars used? How about crates? Does the trainer insist on being alone with the dog, and does he or she require clients to sign a "hold harmless agreement," absolving him- or herself from any liability?

If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes," it's time to send the trainer packing. When in doubt, go with your gut feelings. If the trainer seems just a little too pushy, too intense or too controlling, show him or her the door. And remember: Don't ever, ever, ever leave your dog alone with any trainer, no matter how nice or friendly he or she may seem. Your dog's well-being depends on it.

Karen Porreca is a senior director for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), with more than 5 million members and supporters, is the largest animal rights organization in the world. PETA focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals (more...)

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