A pressing reader question: What would you do if you caught a trainer hitting your dog?
Hello Life With Dogs,
I have an infuriating issue on my hands and am not sure how to best address it. I’m seeking feedback from those who have been through anything like this. Hopefully, few people have.
My husband and I brought home a lab puppy seven months ago. We both have demanding jobs and while we have plenty of time to spend with Ryder, we can’t come up with enough time to learn how to properly train him. After seeking suggestions a friend recommended a local “puppy boot camp”, a program where you leave the dog for two weeks and bring it home once the training program is completed.
I had reservations about leaving our boy for two weeks, but the testimonials offered by this business (I am considering legal action, and my attorney has advised me not to publicly disparage the business) seemed positive and legit, so we dropped him off and expected to bring home a new, improved, well trained puppy. Our expectations were dashed when we saw Ryder again for the first time.
He was clearly despondent. Normally excited by our presence, this typically cheery dog seemed depressed. We were troubled but thought he just needed to get home. We were wrong. After he got home, Ryder would sulk, preferring to spend time alone in quiet parts of the house. He also started peeing inside again, something we had not encountered since he was four months old.
Concerned by the changes, we called the trainers to ask how things went during his stay. We were assured that he did well, learned the standard commands promised by the program, and that he had “graduated” in top form. They also recommended that we bring him back for a two day, $500 refresher course designed specifically for dogs who slipped up after returning home.
After discussing it, my husband and I agreed that a couple more days might make the difference, so Saturday we dropped him off again. We were told to return for him on Monday.
On Sunday we were discussing Ryder’s recent behavior with friends who we consider dog-savvy, and they were alarmed by the changes we’d noted in our dog since he came home. They didn’t suggest that the training program was flawed, but they did point out that some methods are incompatible with certain dogs. After hearing this, it occurred to us that we might be causing our dog undue harm.
So late that morning I drove out to the trainer’s property. I was rushing to get Ryder back and didn’t think to call ahead. It’s a fairly large, open space, and as I rounded a curve in the driveway I stopped my car when I saw my dog cowering as a man swung a leash over his head and hit him with it full force.
I have no idea how long this was happening before I arrived, but once I saw Ryder recoil when he was hit a second time I stepped on the gas and blew my horn. The man stopped and turned toward me as I sped closer to the kennel. When I got out of my car he met me and seemed unconcerned, despite my obvious rage. I demanded to know why he hit my dog. He denied doing it.
He said he was using leash “snaps” to get Ryder’s attention, and that he was just hitting the ground near the dog – not actually striking him. But Ryder was cowering in the corner of the kennel like he was trying to make himself as small as possible. I know my dog and I know what I saw. When I pressed for answers the trainer was elusive, and said unconventional dogs sometimes require unconventional techniques.
I told him I knew better and put my frightened dog in the car. I drove home in tears, riddled with guilt for putting my pet in such a stressful situation. The changes we saw in him started to make sense. He had been completely traumatized.
Now we have two issues to sort out. I need to know how we help Ryder to rebuild his confidence, and I need advice on how to handle the trainer. I wanted to take them to court for misrepresenting their services, but without photographic proof and no visible injuries on my dog, my attorney says it’s my word against theirs and is probably a long shot. I understand that, but how do I address this?
I never want another person to experience this with their dog, but my lawyer says I could be sued if I tell everyone not to do business with these people. I feel like my hands are tied and I don’t know what to do next. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.