Ask a Trainer: How Can I Protect Myself Against Bonehead Dog “Professionals?”

A person's business card might say "professional," but you could be dealing with a fool -- or worse. Here are some bad examples I've encountered.


As a dog trainer who has worked in the industry for a long time, and as an active dog owner and foster mom for most of my life, I hear horror stories about what happens to dogs at the hands of professionals when the owners aren’t present. These stories of animal abuse depress me, but they keep happening — so I am writing this to you, the dog owners of the world, to ask you to step up and protect your dogs from potential harm.

Just because someone calls herself a “professional” in the dog industry does not mean you are dealing with a true pro. Sometimes, in fact, you are dealing with a felon. These cold-hearted humans come from all walks of life in the realm of dog services, including veterinarians, trainers, dog walkers, and rescuers.

What can you do to protect your own dog to make sure no harm comes to your best friend? Here are five boneheads who did horrible acts, with my recommendations on how to avoid such things happening to you.

1. A trainer who was sentenced to prison for dragging dogs down the street

Problem: Michael Rosenberg had been cited by local animal control for dragging a dog down the road. His prison time will run concurrently with a four-year term he received in 2011 on child endangerment charges, according to news reports. He still managed to get his animal abuse sentence suspended, but then had it reinstated after he violated his probation and failed a drug test and attempted to cheat on another.

Solution: Google a trainer’s name and company before you take your dog in. Read the trainer’s website carefully and determine what training philosophy he or she adheres to. Don’t fall for propaganda, and ask for details if you detect any rubbish or vague wording on their promotional materials. If you feel their web presence tells you little about their training methods, move on.

Ask for recommendations from happy dog owners and local veterinarians who recommend their services, and call those people. Look for trainers who have the ability to train with force-free methods. Learning should not cause pain. You can find force free trainers at the Pet Professional Guild.

2. A vet who kept dogs brought to him for euthanasia alive — to harvest their blood

One of the worst evildoers this year has to be the Texas vet who did not put down five dogs brought in for euthanasia. Instead, he kept them in small cages lying in their own excrement and used them for blood transfusions. This sicko’s own poor Border Collie seemed to get the brunt of the cruelty; one of its legs was missing and another was dislocated, and both of his shoulders were dislocated.

I have nightmares about the stress these dogs endured by someone sanctioned by the state as a legitimate veterinarian. He’s been charged with cruelty to animals and his license has been suspended, but that’s not enough punishment for what he made animals endure.

Solution: Read “How Should I Choose a Vet?” Research your veterinarian’s name and check your local media to see if there are any news stories about the vet. Ask people you know who have happy, healthy dogs who their vet is.

Ask for a tour of the veterinary office for your first visit and come without Fido. Ask for a list of satisfied clients you can call. In other words, don’t immediately trust someone simply because they have a DVM after their name. Your dog can’t check Angie’s List or Yelp, so investigate properly on your dog’s behalf.

3. A trainer who tried to rehabilitate an aggressive dog in public

Paul, a stray German Shepherd, was scheduled to be euthanized because of his aggressive behavior. Shortly after pulling the dog from a shelter, a trainer permitted the dog to be out in a public place, where he attacked another person and then the trainer. The attack was so bad that an animal control officer had to shoot the dog three times.

Attempting to “fix” an aggressive dog in two weeks is unrealistic at best. This dog had bitten a sheriff’s deputy while at the shelter even before this trainer rode in on her white horse. The dog needed long-term behavioral modification and perhaps help from a veterinary behaviorist. Even with proper training, there is no guarantee that a dog with a bite history won’t bite again. It’s up to the humans around the dog to not put the animal in a situation where he believes his teeth are the necessary communication tool.

Solution: Look for online reviews and especially news stories with the trainer’s name and website. Ask what professional membership and training certifications the trainer has and then look up those organizations and ensure they are a current member. Learn what their professional affiliations mean by reading the mission of the organizations. Anyone anywhere can claim to be a canine behaviorist or a trainer, so it is a true buyer beware situation.

Trainers can be highly specialized, and just because someone is a great agility trainer, that does not automatically qualify them to help with serious canine behavior issues. If you are dealing with aggression or any severe and protracted unwanted behavior, consult with a veterinary behaviorist or a certified applied animal behaviorist.

4. A woman who claimed she was a trainer arrested on 12 counts of animal cruelty

Thirty-seven bags were filled with animal remains. Nicole Hulbig said she founded RRR Service Dogs to help returning soldiers and others who suffered from PTSD by “training” a service dog for folks in need. At least three dogs were flown in from Afghanistan at great expense by well-meaning people for former military personnel who wanted to save these dogs. The dogs arrived at RRR Service Dogs alive and healthy but left inside of the trash bags. It’s a horror story that is all too real.

Solution: The service dog industry has no one organization overseeing it and anyone can claim to train service dogs. See my recent article, “5 Tips to Avoid Getting a Service Dog Who’s a Dud.” Visit the trainer’s facility and ask to see dogs working. The dogs must have good manners and they must do what they are being sold to do and do so in public settings. If you are thinking of obtaining a service dog — which can cost up to $20,000 — demand that any dog you are considering will be tested on video by a third party tester, who has no connection or interest with the service dog organization or trainer.

5. A dog walker who left eight dogs in a hot van while she went shopping

The dogs were hot and defenseless in the van. The dog walker had her dog walking city license removed –but so far that seems to be the extent of her punishment and the owners of the dogs were not notified by authorities. This “pro” took client’s money and trust, and instead of doing her job, she tied the dogs inside of her hot can so that she could go about her mall shopping. She’s very lucky they didn’t die.

Solution: By now, you know what to do: your homework! Also, do surprise drive-bys when you know the dog walker will be out in public with your dog. Make sure your instructions are followed exactly and that your dog is not in stress.

I told you it is beyond depressing what happens to our beloved dogs when we leave them in the hands of unscrupulous professionals who seem to exist just to make a buck off of helpless animals. There are many talented and safe canine professionals out there, but it is up to you to know the difference between a good professional and a dangerous one. Please be your dog’s advocate, and do your homework!

Read more by Annie Phenix:

About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She and her husband get to take their four highly trained dogs with them everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Phenix generally leaves her six donkeys at home on the ranch . . .but she is thinking about clicker training those little hairy hee-hawers as well.

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