What Is Humane Dog Training?

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Sam Basso
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What does it mean to be “humane” in your dog training methods?

I was watching a fairly well known clicker trainer the other day work a dog. One of the exercises she was working on was to transition from using treats in the training to using petting. She would reach for the dog to pet him, and then give him a treat. Doesn’t sound all that bad, huh? But, here’s the problem. The dog didn’t like what she was doing and was not comfortable with her. At the same time, she was not reading the dog, and was more concerned about her training method than how the dog was feeling about what was going on. Mind you, this is a nationally known trainer, not some novice. The method was wrong and she wasn’t making the transition at all, and she didn’t even see it. If the dog is trying to defend itself from you, then whatever you are doing isn’t humane.

I also remember a guy I saw at a dog training seminar working his dogs years ago. He was an old school trainer. When his dog didn’t obey, he’d kick the dog in the sides with his shin. And I’m not talking a light tap. I’m talking a football kick to the ribs. I had to look away, and there was nothing I could do about it. I complained to the person who organized the event, and he said he agreed it was abusive, and that he had talked to this man about what he was doing. Obviously that wasn’t humane dog training. Then there are the guys who will fry your dog with an electric collar, a quick and dirty way for them to pluck dollars from your wallet. That’s not humane, either.

I also remember a dog training class I attended years ago. The trainer would bully his students. He was really rough on them, and even when what he said was correct, it didn’t make it into the brains of his students because he offended them so badly. That wasn’t humane dog training, either.

Humane dog training also involves what the owner does to their dog. I’ve seen dogs that were abused. I’ve seen families that let the kids abuse the dog. I’ve seen dogs that were severely stressed or neglected, too. And I’ve had to confront numerous dog owners during lessons, who would ignore what I taught, and would continue to do bad things to their dogs and give me endless excuses why it was justified. Those are the most upsetting situations for me.

The idea of being a humane dog trainer is that you have compassion for the dog. You take into consideration how the dog is feeling and puzzle out why the dog is doing, or not doing, some particular behavior. It also means treating people with the Golden Rule.

I know over the years that I have made mistakes with dogs and people. We all do. Yet, it is one thing to be trying to be humane, and another where you don’t feel that is a necessary part of dog training. I regularly study animal behavior so as to be more in tune with the dogs I train. I keep refining my skills and knowledge. I know I can do things better today than I did yesterday, and I know that I will be doing things better in the future than I do today. I also involve myself in dog rescue, so as to see the plight of dogs that ended up in bad situations, to help me understand why people abuse or neglect their dogs. And I work on my people skills, too. We all grow up… well I hope everyone grows up… and I want to be a better person today, and a better dog trainer today, than the person I was yesterday.

Not all dog trainers are that way, however. If you do your research, you’ll see. One of the major compliments I get is when a student tells me: you are saying and doing exactly what I wanted done with my dog. Or when students become friends after the training is over. Or when a dog I’m working with decides I’m pretty terrific.

There are some really good people in the dog training world. And there are some serious nutcases. I guess it is like anything else in the world… except in this case, it can directly impact what is going on in your home, and affect whether your dog is being treated kindly or not. I’m in other people’s homes every day. You just don’t want some weirdo coming in the door to charge you money to abuse your dog and make you feel like two cents. You want someone you can trust, who will be kind to your dog, get the job done appropriately, and someone you can consult with in future years should the need arise. That’s humane dog training.

Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.