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)


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