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This article was originally posted in March of 2019. I’ve updated it a bit for 2021 and am reposting it as the message still needs to be heard.

Confessions of a Former Shock Jock Dog Trainer

The blog article I get the most (and mostly angry) comments on is one called “Why E-Collars are Cruel.” Lot’s of traditional trainers who use punishment as a training method rant and rave about how wrong I am. The thing is, despite the overwhelming amount of research that supports my position, I also know from personal experience that using shock collars and other aversive methods on your dog causes both physical and emotional harm to your dog.

Sadly, I took bad advice about how to train my dog who was reactive and a few other things. At the time I didn’t know training was an unregulated field or that there were different ways to train a dog. I didn’t know there was so much scientific knowledge about how dogs think and learn either. I was overwhelmed by my dog’s behavior and desperate for help. I made a terrible mistake and see now that I greatly mistreated and harmed my dog.

That experience was the start of my journey to become a well-trained, certified positive trainer and passionate advocate of humane dog training methods. Now, my dog, Jake, and I have made our peace with our past and I spend my days using compassion and treats to teach dogs and their people how to live together in peace and harmony.

Although I’ve never earned my living as a “shock jock,” I’ve used the methods I now despise on my own precious dog and I truly wish I never did.

What’s a shock jock, you ask?

Also called “traditional trainers,” shock jocks use fear and punishment to train dogs. They use devices such as electronic shock collars (hence the term “shock” jock), prong and pinch collars, high pitched noise, physical measures such as jerking on the leash to cause pain or “alpha rolling” a dog. Alpha rolling is essentially wrestling your dog to the ground and holding him down as a punishment.

Traditional trainers also rely upon outdated and debunked pseudo-science such as dominance theory to justify their methods. They eschew giving dogs treats as part of training because they insist it is bribery.

Yes, this description is biased and I’m not shy about saying that. I absolutely do not recommend taking your dog to a traditional trainer or ever using their methods at home. These methods may appear to get quick results (you’d stop doing something too if you got shocked every time) but do not garner consistent long term results and can be physically and emotionally damaging to your dog and your bond with your dog.

I’m ashamed I used any of these methods. My “excuse” was desperation and ignorance which is why I now work so hard to educate people that there is only one humane way to train dogs and that is by using positive reinforcement training.

Positive Reinforcement trainers use a completely pain and force free, science based method of training that enables your dog to learn and gain confidence without fear or abuse.

Positive Reinforcement trainers base their methodologies on the latest science into dog learning and behavior. They respect both the dog and the handler and promote a strong bond between you and your dog. Positive Reinforcement trainers combine environmental and behavioral techniques to give clients both immediate and long term results. These  days I make my living as a Positive Reinforcement trainer and love how smart and capable dogs are not to mention all the lovely owners). I, like all Positive Reinforcement trainers, use treats, praise and toys as training rewards and encourage dogs to think and make choices. Positive Reinforcement training is the only method I use or recommend.

Unfortunately, traditional training methods are more prevalent than positive reinforcement training which is how I fell into its clutches in the first place. I adopted my first dog, the wonderful Jake, back in 2010. At the time I knew nothing about the world of dog training. I also didn’t know what it meant to adopt a 50 pound feral dog. Jake was a maniac who bit me and destroyed my things. I loved him and was also afraid of him. I did what anyone would do and looked to professionals for help. I believed them when they said that Jake was “dominant” and I needed to become our “pack leader.” I shocked, jerked and generally mistreated that poor dog for months before I couldn’t take it anymore.

I felt like a monster because of the way I was treating Jake and what I was doing wasn’t even making a difference in his behavior.

For all his misadventures, I loved Jake and he loved me. I could see he was trying. I had taken this poor sweet animal with severe anxiety who had never been socialized and had PTSD to boot from a dog attack and tried to force him to become a textbook dog. He couldn’t do that and neither could I.

Then I had my “aha” moment, my epiphany, if you will. Jake and I had a long talk. We agreed to put the past behind us and move forward as partners rather than adversaries. I did my research and discovered there was another – a better – way. I discovered positive reinforcement training and I have never looked back. I took all the classes and trainings I could get my human paws on. I learned the impact not being socialized has on a dog, I learned the role of puppy mills in the increase in dog bites we see these days, I learned positive reinforcement training methods from the best trainers in the industry and I changed everything about how I treat my dog, what I expect from him and how I get him to understand what I want. Jake and I have never been happier or more connected. He has overcome so much through positive reinforcement training and I have gained a new career in the process.

Jake and Ruth today

So, there you have it. I decided to train my dog with love and kindness and now I coach other people and their dogs the same way. I crusade for positive reinforcement training because I’ve seen first hand the difference it makes for both dog and owner. I advocate for canine wellness and the positive use of muzzles to protect both dogs and people. I hold classes and seminars on how to read dog body language for children and adults so they know how to avoid a dog bite. I use the latest in science based positive reinforcement training and work with all sizes, breeds, temperaments and abilities of dogs. And Jake, well, he’s our official CEO – Canine Executive Officer – and reminds me every day why I do this work and also why I love it!

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