Leave Boot Camp To The Army

An increasing number of services are being offered to dog owners that effectively mean that they contract out most of their ownership.

At work all day?
Hire a dog walker.

Can’t be asked to clean or groom your own dog?
Hire a groomer.

Got no recall?
Stick a GPS on your dog.

Suddenly find that what seemed cute in a puppy is a serious nuisance in an adult dog?
Send your dog away to boot camp.

Dogs are expensive so most owners will need to work and some will hire a dog walker or day care. This still leaves 24% of dogs in the UK (2.1 million dogs) alone for more than five hours on a typical weekday. At the moment, dog walkers are unregulated. How many owners check that their walker is even competent, let alone insured? How many owners putting their dog in day care have checked that the day care provider is complying with the law? How many don’t want to know because all they care about is the convenience? Even when day care providers and walkers have been proven to be abusing dogs and causing injury and even death, owners are loath to prosecute.

Owners profess to love their dog but many can’t be bothered to wield a grooming brush. At best, dogs are hosed down frequently putting their skin and coat at risk. At worst they are left until the owner can’t stand it anymore and then taken to a groomer. Groomers are not regulated by legislation and again, few owners will bother to find out if they have any professional credentials such as membership of the British Dog Groomers’ Association or hold a City & Guilds Certificate for Dog Grooming. Handling techniques are frequently aversive and far too many groomers are shaving coats that should never be cut.

Few owners know how to identify signs of stress in their dogs and monitoring a dog using a camera or sticking a GPS tracker on its collar are no substitute for human company, proper consideration of welfare or only letting a dog off lead when it is safe and the dog has reliable recall. Plonking a treat or a ball dispenser down for five hours is not a solution either.

In 2018, only 20% of dogs ever attended a training course with 3% of those dropping out before the course was complete. Again owners don’t always check that trainers are registered with professional bodies and that is not always a guarantee that the trainer is abiding by the guidelines. Two trainers in my area, both of whom who have been members of the APDT for decades, use aversive methods on dogs and, for that matter, are pretty rude to owners.

78% of owners state that they would like to change at least one behaviour displayed by their dog. 26% complained about pulling on the lead, 25% of dogs are afraid of fireworks, 22% jump up at people, 6% show aggression to other pets and 4% aggression towards people.

Many of these owners are choosing to send their dogs away to residential training. Owners learn nothing and dogs don’t get to work with the person with whom they live. “Trainers” are laughing all the way to the bank. There are no guarantees that decent welfare standards will apply: the designation “boot camp” says it all. It is possible to teach owners an awful lot over the course of a week or two. Three 1-5 minutes sessions a day for their dog, conducted using the right techniques can work wonders very quickly when backed up with a consistent approach in a variety of circumstances. Training without owners being present can never offer that.

It is not possible to assess how many dogs suffer and how much, some by just being wrenched from all they know and handled by strangers. No doubt many owners are delighted by what they see as a quiet dog when the dog is actually traumatised. A short while later, the unwanted behaviours will return and maybe in even more extreme forms.

Sometimes it ends in downright tragedy. An owner in California was awarded $60,000 when her German Shepherd died when at a remote “training” facility. The dog died from hyperthermia – he overheated. Other dogs in the facility were later found to have been deprived of food, water and adequate shelter. The location was not where the German Shepherd’s owner had been told the dog would be trained. The “trainer” declined to appear in court or answer the complaint, but stated that he plans to appeal against the judgement and that he is not to blame for the dog’s death in spite of being found guilty of eight counts of animal cruelty.

Even if the owner gets some financial redress – and the judge made an award that took into account the distress as well as the monetary value of the dog – nothing will bring her dog back or ameliorate the animals’ suffering.

Last year, a London-based “trainer” won a case in the High Court when an owner complained that her dog’s behaviour had worsened after being “put through a two-week intensive boot camp” at a cost of £2,800. The judge ruled that “To suggest that, after 14 days, any previous behavioural issues would be, as it were, permanently gone forever is unreal. That would ignore the fact that we are not dealing with a machine here, but a puppy. Puppies behave in particular ways and training is always intended to achieve certain results, but those results are not guaranteed”.

It’s a pity that the judge did not go on to add that it is the owners that need educating – the dogs will follow.

The 71 year old owner had complained that her puppy was “out of control” and running riot in her one-bedroomed flat, biting and jumping up at her owner. Sounds like a normal puppy to me and one that needed a lot more stimulation than was provided by the sound of it.

Neither trainer nor owner come out of this well, although both are clearly sufficiently wealthy to have pursued the case as far as the High Court. What a pity the money was not spent on educating the owner to train the dog herself alongside a suitably qualified trainer. It is not recorded whether the unrealistic owner re-homed her dog.

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