Who is Responsible for the Euthanasia of Dangerous Dogs?

Q: What is your response to more traditional trainers that claim that force free and positive method trainers are responsible for the euthanasia of more dangerous dogs because force free or positive methods do not work on more complex behavioral cases?

A: My first thought about this is we have no data to even prove that statement. Someone’s opinion on what they think they have seen a handful of times isn’t enough to make it factual information.

I have had many clients not helped by both other force-free trainers and more punitive trainers. My guess as to why? The trainers aren’t experienced enough in their methods to successfully handle that case. End of story. Nothing more and nothing less.

In my mind, both training methods are effective and arguing effectiveness until we are blue in the face is silly because science tells us punishment and reinforcement both work. Of course, forcing a dog to comply also works – because it is a bigger stronger animal forcing a smaller, less intelligent one to do something.

I think it also depends on what the trainer is trying to achieve. Most trainers who identify as force free or positive, are looking to address the underline cause of the problem behavior.

However, more traditional trainers call removing the symptoms a success, which is much easier to accomplish, however it is dangerous.

For example, stopping your dog from growling with punishment will only suppresses the growling behavior and it doesn’t address the actual reason for growling, which means the dog is still not comfortable and now the dog isn’t telling us it is uncomfortable.

Pretty dangerous situation, but most clients only know to ask for trainers to stop behaviors, not address the underline cause to create a safer, happier dog overall.

Due to this, I think that many “traditional” trainers that lean towards punishment, don’t even comprehend why we would make such suggestions when removing those symptoms is so “easy“. They simply do not understand the fall out that comes out with what they are doing or that we are trying to achieve two very different goals. One certainly more complex and difficult to achieve than the other.

It is the consequences and ethical nature of my training method choices in which I am concerned about. Any dogs I have suggested be euthanized, wasn’t based on my ability to help them, but what I thought that dog was capable of doing if any management or training method failed.

I ethically don’t want the death of innocent pet or someone’s child on my hands. If my client’s dog could take more lives than I will be saving, it is time to consider more extreme options to protect the others around them. At that point, all pride needs to be put aside and we need to be seriously considering the importance of the lives around that single dog. 

Using punishment or reinforcement isn’t going to decrease the likelihood of management or training failures on the part of the owner once I leave.