The Crossover Child

One of my first foster dogs, who was later adopted into an amazing home. (Photo: Mia Baker Photography)

One of my first foster dogs, who was later adopted into an amazing home. (Photo: Mia Baker Photography)

I have often wondered which side I would take in the greatest historical injustices throughout history. Would I have been for slavery or against it? Would I have fought for civil equality or against it? If I had grown up in an upbringing that encouraged immorality, would I have gone with the social norm or would I have forsaken the “popular” opinion of the times to fight the battle for equality and justice?

The answer came to me most clearly through my experience with training dogs. As a child, my parents trained their dogs using a so-called "trainer" who I now know to be highly aversive, using outdated, punishment-based methods. My parents’ dog, Romeo, was trained using a shock collar and harsh leash corrections on a prong collar. At about 10 years old, I was taught how to use the collar at the “appropriate” level of shock and how to enforce a “correction” on the prong collar.  The trainer even suggested putting water on the shock collar to increase the level of the shock. Most children at that age believe that adults know best and don’t question their judgment on issues they know nothing about. But when I saw the light in Romeo’s eyes start to fade, and heard my parents comment that there was something “not quite right” about the way he was beginning to act, I knew that something was wrong. My parents love their dogs unconditionally, and simply fell victim to a trainer's smooth-talking promise of a quick fix.

Even at such a young age, something about the methods that were being used on this dog didn’t sit right with me. His issues were jumping, constant mouthing, and not coming when called. I wish I could go back in time and, using the knowledge I know now, have taught my parents to solve Romeo's issues without the use of force or fear. But I can only look to the future to help prevent any more people from damaging their dogs in this way.

One day when my parents weren’t looking, I threw their shock and the prong collars away. I stopped watching a popular dog training show and started to watch It’s Me or the Dog every morning before school, and I began researching dog behavior and training. Page by page, episode by episode, I started to see just how flawed the aversive techniques that I had been taught really were. My parents would never use aversive methods on their dogs today, and they have had happier, healthier dogs because of it.

The final straw for me as a child was watching a show about animal cops on TV. I found it exasperating that dogs were being euthanized simply because of their breed or breed mix, and worst of all, for curable behavioral problems such as food guarding. Every time the narrator would say, “And sadly, the dog had to be humanely euthanized,” I would literally scream at the TV, knowing it was too late for that dog, but determined to help others in the future avoid this fate.

When you really delve into the science behind the ways dogs think, behave, and learn, there isn’t much question as to the methods that work long-term to solve behavioral problems.  The best thing you can do for yourself and for your dog is to read everything you can get your hands on about positive training and the science behind dog behavior, and to hire a dog trainer that steers clear of aversive methods and collars that cause your dog fear, anxiety, and pain.

I’m happy to say that I was a crossover child. I was raised with the belief that dogs have to be dominated into submission in order to behave, and as an adult, I have emerged on the other side of the battle. It doesn’t matter what you were raised to believe or what “everyone else” is doing. What matters is trusting the instinct that tells you something is wrong here, and having the courage to take a stand against injustice.


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Positively Expert: Alex Andes

Alex Andes is the owner and head trainer of Peach on a Leash Dog Training & Behavior Services in Atlanta, GA.


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