Puppy Death at PetCo – Who is Training the Puppy Trainers?

by Mary Haight on June 13, 2013

puppy death at PetcoA February puppy death at Petco on Long Island during a training session was in the news and I was shocked all over again. The update centered around policy — the dog’s family want Petco to change their training policies, providing more than the current 16 weeks of education, adding CPR training.

Petco has not made any changes to policy according to the CBS television report, though there is no trainer currently available at this store. I wondered how many people had heard about this, the circumstances surrounding the incident and what effect this might have on people’s process of choosing a trainer. Here’s what happened:

A six-month-old bulldog puppy, Sophia Belle, was in the ring with a Petco trainer who, according to the owner, pulled back hard enough on the leash to lift the puppy’s two front feet off the floor “and choking her,” pet parent Michael DiMaggio said. There was no mention of a choke chain, but what happened next, according to a vet quoted in the article, was Sophia Belle’s trachea collapsed and she died. What a nightmare for any pet parent to witness.

In an attempt to know what they don’t know, people need to wrap their heads around a significant number of choices — which vet, what food, where’s a good groomer that won’t hurt my dog, what does “good trainer” mean, how can I spot them?

While knowing how to make all these choices is second nature to many experienced with dogs, the important conformation and health particulars of a breed can be left undiscovered by the less experienced pet parent and insufficiently trained “trainer”. It is not up to the pet parent to know everything. It is incumbent on those offering their services as professional trainers to actually be a professional with expertise. Expertise is gathered over time.

Petco offered another dog and payment for the vet bill, but that is not all they can do. Petco can change their training time policy and have trainers certified in CPR as the pet parents requested, even take it a step further. Petco noted that their training is reward based. Perhaps forming a contractual relationship with a body of professionals such as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers for education might be part of a smart solution. Petco employees could have hands-on training and refresher courses throughout the year from a certified dog trainer employing humane methods, proper handling and equipment use.

We don’t know who is teaching what to whom in those 16 weeks and information on that point has not been forthcoming — does anyone fail or does everyone who attends classes get the title of “trainer”? Regardless of how many thousands have made it through their classes with no incident, any puppy death at Petco is one too many. Petco reported they had outside experts look at the video and nothing inappropriate occurred. The description given by the pet parents would not lead to that assessment.

What I do know is this: Lifting a puppy up by the leash so paws come off the ground is not training — no matter how many times you’ve seen it on TV.

 

*Update: From Eric Goebelbecker’s FB page, trainer Leah Roberts offers this link to the Pet Professional Guild, an association of force-free trainers.

(Photo:public domain bulldog example)

 

22 comments
debordel0809
debordel0809

Wow - freak accident or not, what a tragedy!  I can't even imagine seeing my pup die before my eyes.  I am one of those people that freaks out as soon as my dog starts getting a little piece of food stuck in her throat.  I see visions of me initiating doggy cpr and wailing at passersby to "do something!"  I throw away bones as soon as they get even close to too small - all the while, my husband is rolling his eyes and I know what he's thinking...that I'm overprotective or maybe becoming a crazy dog lady.  But I don't care.  All I know is that I never want to be left feeling like I did something that caused pain to my helpless little four legged friend.   I think your readers have posted some very thoughtful comments and I doubt there's much more I could add but I gotta be honest, I don't think I'd trust PetCo with my dog.  In fact, I'm not sure I'd trust anyone with my dog.  I think that's why I prefer the training places who allow you full control of the situation.  That way, if something happens, it's (sadly) YOUR fault.  My dog and I are taking a training class now and the instructor is  very hands off.  He only takes the leash so that I can get ready for the next trick.  Training is all about building trust between the dog and handler/owner.  No one should get in the way of that.  But anyway, I digress.  Thanks for initiating the discussion...very interesting.

Elizabeth3
Elizabeth3

You have to be careful with baby dogs, (or any dog) and who you choose to help train them. This is a horrible story. In a puppy class, it should never happen that a dog is yanked like that, it should be about  repeating the task and praise. I'm not a trainer, but have been in classes with good ones, and also with people who think just they are good. I'd never let anyone abuse the animal in the name of training. Nobody in their right mind trains a dog by choking and lifting their front paws off the ground. I'm so very sorry for this puppy. 

YvonneDiVita
YvonneDiVita

Like @LorieHuston , I would like more facts but on the surface, I'm appalled by many parts of this story. I'm appalled that anyone would pull hard enough on any dog's leash (puppy or adult) to raise them off their front feet. I am appalled that the pet parents were offered another dog, as if... a dog is a product, a thing, a possession and replacing one with another is the 'solution.'

 

What I'm saying is that this 'solution' demeans the life of the puppy that died. It demeans the pet family's grief. It demeans the treasure we hold true in the life of our pets. Perhaps it's a small attempt to make amends, but... the solution is to change training tactics, and find another way to give the pet family closure.

 

The value of our pets' lives is more than the value you give a lamp. Break a lamp, and you replace it. Accidently cause the death of a pet, and you do much, much more than 'replace' it. At some point, a puppy in honor of the one lost is a consideration, but before that... serious change needs to happen.

Eric Goebelbecker
Eric Goebelbecker

Wow. To echo Lorie, I don't how pulling/jerking a leash hard enough to collapse a trachea qualifies as reward-based. Honestly, I don't know how jerking a leash at all qualifies as training, but I digress.

 

16 weeks is about long enough to learn enough to be dangerous. Unfortunately this problem isn't unique to Petco. Another, ahem, large chain forced all of their trainers to either go exclusive to teaching with them or quit, which made a lot of their experienced trainers leave the company.

 

I can't speak for the APDT, but they don't certify trainers. They do provide plenty of education though. 

 

Certification is a big issue right now in the training industry. In my opinion one of the biggest problems is the large number of trainers that are too busy arguing tools and methods to allow any sort of standardization to emerge. (Many trainers still want to argue, and even ridicule, basic science, which is hard to believe until you hear Presidential candidates do the same thing.)

 

As a result the most common certification only requires that one pass a multiple choice test!

 

Before you sign up for a class, go observe one and make sure you feel comfortable with it. If the trainer won't let you, find another.

 

 

KarenFriesecke
KarenFriesecke

What this sounds like is a freak accident kind of thing. Bulldogs have pretty thick necks so either the dog was already predisposed to this problem or the trainer pulled really, really, really hard. Besides all that, pulling on a 4 month old puppy's neck so hard that the front paws lift off the ground doesn't sound like an effective training technique to me.

LorieHuston
LorieHuston

Wow! I'm not sure how pulling so hard on a puppy's leash that it raises her front legs off the ground and causes tracheal collapse can possibly qualify as positive reward-based training. I'm not sure whether this applies to all Petco locations or all Petco trainers but it seems to me that this partcular trainer needs some additional training in dog training techniques. I realize accidents happen and are sometimes unavoidable. In those circumstances, CPR training is useful. But CPR should really not be necessary as a result of any basic obedience training.

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

 @debordel0809 Thanks for rounding off the conversation here - I have the same issue with trust and think it's much better to train the pet parent first, then have the pet parent train the dog through proper instruction. Thanks for stopping by!

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

 @Elizabeth3 Hi Elizabeth - all the choices pet parents need to make, and so many are life or death. The couple were trying to give their dog a good start in life. This should not happen. Thanks for speaking up!

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

 @YvonneDiVita  I hear you Yvonne, I sat with my mouth agape at that part of the report. Yet that typifies the reaction of so many corporations, and as an aside, the police -- "it's just a dog" is what they are saying when they offer to "replace" the dog, a wholly unacceptable response.

 

The courts need to allow those pleas in wrongful death cases to be judged for the plaintiff. Establishing the value of a dog's life above that of a commodity, an owned possession, is very important to anti-cruelty, other cases.

 

I'd love to see Petco step up and improve their program. Thanks for stopping by and speaking up =)

 

.

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

 @Eric Goebelbecker Thanks for joining the conversation, Eric. Especially since you're a certified trainer.

 

I know certification has been a point of contention, especially given the entrenched position of people who have been training dogs for decades. But respecting science and being up to date in their field, spending hundreds of hours working with dogs, and being patient/kind in the process of teaching a dog are a few of the things I look for. 

 

It's good to know about the force free association of pet professionals, which link I will add to the post's text: http://petprofessionalguild.com/ (offered on your FB page by Leah Roberts). It's too much of a crap-shoot out there...

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

 @KarenFriesecke Hi Karen! I thought it *could* be a freak accident -- I've seen many foolish people get impatient or lose their temper with the dog and yank them around by the neck without it resulting in death -- but while no doubt the pet parents were in shock after the fact, I would imagine the sight of your dog's paws coming off the floor and seeing the surprised distress and choking would be seared in memory.

 

That action of lifting the dog could not be considered accidental to my mind. Unfortunately we'll likely never see the video. 

 

Because change does not come easily, I had to put it out there and hope many others do too. Petco needs to be seen as pro-active, not foot-dragging.

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

 @LorieHuston Hi Lorie - I know, wow. Corporations should be able to see outside their own culture at how this looks to you, a Vet, me, trainers and dog lovers everywhere. Death by obedience class is not an acceptable outcome.

 

Doing all they can to ensure it won't happen again should be the immediate and very public reaction. What we know, how we are taught, how we pass that on evolves and changes all the time - we get new information and that impacts how we do things.

 

The way Petco has approached this looks like they are trying to protect themselves from being seen as having a defective program that was careless in its design. Today we got a great link from Eric Goebelbecker's page on an organization that promotes force free training and trainers who join that would be a good place to find trainers to interview. (link is in my response to him and will also be an update.

 

Ongoing training of employees involved in dog classes with demonstration of force-free effective teaching should be easy enough to implement. I agree with the CPR comment, but it would probably add a gold star to any effort they might choose to make. Thanks for your input Dr Lorie!

LorieHuston
LorieHuston

The previous comment is made assuming that the pet owner's description is accurate. I should add that I do realize there may be another side to the story. Still, it seems a tragedy. As Mary said, one puppy death at Petco is too many. I do have to say that these circumstances sound suspect.

SadieBell13
SadieBell13

Idk if I agree... I am a trainer dog parent and Petco employee and what I see is that Petco offered to pay the "life insurance" policy... It's the same if a human dies in accidents the family gets compensation.... I don't believe that any Petco would offer to buy another dog but my guess is they offered some compensation for what happened... And I don't find it right that you're telling this story without all the facts... You don't know what was offered in what way to whom or how... So stop it... This is stupid... A poor animal died and the woman should be fired and the family compensated.... That's what happened so it should be over with... It's stories like these that make ppl scared to deal with everyday life... People and things die... Companies weather a human victim or not compansate the families of the deceased. That's how life works.... I agree the woman was cruel stupid and should be fired but that was her mistake not the companies and the company was doing the only thing they could do because other than compensating the family for ONE PERSONS MISTAKE what were they supposed to do? What she did is not in Petco policy what she did was not allowed and should've never happened... We are trained to treat these animals as if they are our own and in turn most of us do... This was a sad unfortunate accident that was handled the best way possible... There wasn't anything else they could do. And unless you're standing right there as this was all happening there's no point in talking about it Cus none of us actually knows a god d**+ thing!!!!

Eric Goebelbecker
Eric Goebelbecker

 @MaryEHaight  @Eric Goebelbecker  The Pet Professional Guild(PPG) criticizes the APDT for accepting any trainer as a member as long as they pay dues. Meanwhile the PPG will accept any trainer as a member if they agree to their position statements and don't pay dues. 

 

Neither is a guarantee of an effective trainer, or even a guarantee of a trainer that doesn't harm your puppy.

 

That said, the APDT does reach out to members and non-members and educate them on safe, effective, and humane methods via their online education offerings and conference. The PPG will NOT allow you to join unless you agree to their terms.

 

Who is helping improve the overall state of dog training? Who is surrounding themselves with people that validate their view of the world?

 

I guess it depends on what you are looking for.

 

The PPG is an example of the discord and infighting in the trainer community that has long kept us from making meaningful progress on setting standards in the community. 

 

(If it seems like I know a lot about the PPG without being a member it's because I have been attacked in private emails by some of their members for not being critical enough of some trainers and their methods. As you know, I am a bit of a softie when it comes to criticizing others.)

 

 

 

 

 

BrianDouglas
BrianDouglas

 @MaryEHaight  @KarenFriesecke hello, i have just posted another perspective on this story as I have spent a great deal of my life in the area this happened as well as having direct involvement with the animal shelter / rights community here. Thank you

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@SadieBell13 Since you're either a team of Petco workers who think they are doing a good thing for their employer--and believe me you are not--or you're an unskilled social media team who believes spamming this content with three comments, not 3 different comments, just 3 comments calling out the post as unfair and one-sided written by 3 different writers of vastly differing writing skills, I've had to ban your account from posting any further comments. Certainly the above response is not helpful, suggesting "no one should talk about this".

This was how you chose to respond initially, over a year ago, so that is the response that will remain. Should someone in authority from Corporate wish to offer an interview, more than a year later, with an update of changes made, they are welcome to contact me by email, though I doubt that will happen.

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

 @Eric Goebelbecker I was just telling someone that most everything is built on sand - you would think people would work together where they could. Change takes a long time and is very messy.

 

I appreciate APDT's educational opportunities and their conferences have wonderful speakers from all that I have read and heard. I did see the comment left by another trainer on your FB page on how she would not be interested in getting certification, and she justified it, even with all her years in the business -- seems to be many barriers to any kind of forward motion.

 

Now as to the comments of your not being critical enough of trainers using non-science based methods I am dumbfounded. Have they met you?? You're the guy who dissected a Cesar Millan training segment in great detail, citing with precision what was happening to the dog. And as far as I know, you were the first to do it.

 

Thanks for shedding light on this aspect of the story., Eric!

 

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

 @BrianDouglas Yes, after seeing the cut and paste problem I figured you weren't wagging a finger my way =) I think if you summarize your points of interest in not seeing a copy of the actual necropsy only a brief from the pet parents, and add your pov the system won't go into overwhelm. Thanks!

BrianDouglas
BrianDouglas

 @MaryEHaight sorry about that... the reason why I copied and pasted my original comments was because after several weeks of having to say the same thing over and over and over again because people didn't take the time out to read all of the comments, I figured rather than write a 1 paragraph response and than have to go through the process of again of 20 question, posting everything upfront would have been easier.

 

My FB account is very much active and has plenty of profile information on it. I don't believe what you are claiming as an inaccurate surmise was directed at you but in RE: to the dogster articles i was pasting my comments from.Thanks again

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

 @BrianDouglas  That doesn't work either, but I see what happened. Your comment was a cut and paste from another blog. Your comments here must be original. Please send another shorter comment to share your point of view.

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

 @BrianDouglas  @KarenFriesecke Hi Brian - Livefyre commenting system will not accommodate your post which I see in the backoffice but which is outside the area that will print.

 

The commenting system now sees you as a spammer because of your identical and repeated response to each commenter here and perhaps because your identity is based on a FB account that is not active and has no profile information on it. But spammin is why you were cut off by Livefyre.

 

I checked the WordPress Moderated comment system and I see your post is there. I will be happy to print it, even your inaccurate surmise at the end (my post was based on news report clearly linked  not  based on a FB post), but I can tell you it is too long. It will probably end up cutting off. I will cut and paste the rest.

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