As some of you might now I am a dog trainer in Portugal. My main clients are Portuguese speaking countries, so I have developed my business mainly in Portugal and Brazil. I am fluent in English and all my training and studies were made in English, and I have had the enormous pleasure of doing some work abroad mainly in the UK.
I have always strived to have good qualifications and I do that because this industry is unregulated, so anyone in the world can call themselves a dog trainer, behaviourist or whatever they feel like it. Very few people will ask for proof of learning, degrees, mentorships or even certifications. This is true specially here in Portugal and also Brazil.
Despite that I have made and continue to try to educate myself AND get the diplomas, certificates, and also get my work criticized by institutions formed by my peers in order to validate my knowledge and to make sure I will never be outdated and that I am always up to par with the best practices and techniques.
Those of you who know me a little bit, also know I am a bit of an activist in that I feel like I need to give dogs a voice, they are voiceless and like children and many times the elderly they are unable to fend for themselves.
I started my career as a what we know aversive trainer. My first course was a 3-month hands on in Canada, and it involved mainly punishment-based techniques.
At the time I knew very little about dogs apart from that I loved them and wanted to work with them and help people. I was failing that course because I was unable many times to adequately apply the punishment with the right strength and timing. Dealing mainly with Huskies, Malamutes and dogs around that size, I was having difficulty giving a proper choke chain correction when they pulled merely because I lacked the strength.
Whereas in the beginning it looked like it was working, very quickly my poor attempts to apply the same "correction" were ignored by the dogs. When this happened along came the prong collars, and they worked wonderfully, as the dogs would no pull at all, and I didn't relay anymore on my strength. As long as the prong was on the dogs neck properly fitted, I could direct him anywhere with little to no effort. At the time I thought nothing of it, except how great it was. I did not like the appearance of the collar, but the trainers, told me it was fine, the dog would hardly feel anything and it was used commonly especially with large dogs.
But then there were other issues, like bolting, aggression, anxiety and making the dog comply at a distance. I was following all the indication from the trainers, but as I did that I started to become really uncomfortable with some of the things we needed to do. Although I knew very little about dogs, I knew what fear looked like in a dog, since I had grown around them all my life. And it was fear I started to observe around me.
15 girls, 15 dogs at that course and we were all learning the same. Some dogs required more punishments and different tools, others not so much. We had food with us all the time, and we did give food to the dogs periodically. It was never clear to me, when or for what.
During the course in Canada. I did not learn anything about classical conditioning, or operant conditioning, or canine body language. I learnt only recipes. I learnt how to stop behaviour and force behaviour and how to escalate and which tools and how to use them to get the result.
One of the students we had was a basenji with aggressive behaviour towards strangers. We had a total of 4 classes with him, all of us plus the trainers from the school. The first class, he told us to walk the dog and surround him. There were 15 of us around a small dog, who was literally shaking and watching us as we walked glued to him. After walking a but like that as a strange group cult with a small dog in the middle, the trainer gave large working gloves to three of us, and what followed included, we stop and touch the dog, and did not stop touching even if he tried biting.
It was absolutely upsetting to watch I again, refused to touch the dog. Our second class, with him the trainer brought a football horn. Made us do the same walk as a group around the dog, and then touch him, if he tried to bite, we would sound the horn close to his ears.
I remember clearly being completely confused because the first time he sounded the horn I had to leave because the noise was overwhelmingly loud, most of us asked to step away because we were having problems with the horn sound.
I remember thinking that I knew dogs had great earing, and wondering how was he feeling if I was upset by it. Nonetheless he managed to touch the dog and he was not being aggressive, looking back I think the dog was in pain from the sound, since he was panting and stopped moving. The owners sat back looking at all this, I remember the lady talking to us and some of the girls reassuring her it was ok.
I am not going into the 2 other classes we had with that dog, but I can say I never saw before that day a dog pee and poo in shear fear. That night I could not stop thinking about it, torn between trusting the “professional” and the “process” and trusting nothing but my gut feeling.
From the 15 dogs, 3 were showing aggressive behaviour when we started the course, at the end of the 3 months, 7 had bitten and one, a Collie, sent the owner to he hospital ripping her hand open when she was applying a correction.
Culture Clash and Ian Dunbar fell on my lap after I spent all my money on the course that I just quit 2 days before the end and all my dreams of becoming a dog trainer had come to an end. I remember so clearly reading those books on the airplane journey back to the UK and being so excited that I was reading that there were people training dogs and not using things that were confusing to me.
This time was specially important to me because I decided to give up dog training I believed I was not “cut out” to do it, because of the way I felt, but, thanks to these two people and very quickly Karen Pyror, I started my journey into learning to train Force Free, and reward based.
I learnt about the clicker, rewards, science of learning (classical and operant conditioning), I learnt canine communication signals, and above all I learnt that educating dogs had so much hours of training as it had of studying. I began training every single dog I could applying all the new things I was learning. I still had some bad habits, but I was making an effort and to me it was not very hard to let go of them as the alternative worked better and made me feel great. I also started to realize what had happened at that course in Canada.
This was in 2005 and we are now in 2021. I specialized myself in dealing with aggressive behaviours, much because of the Basenji and Charlie, a pitbull I saw being hung up until he lost consciousness. It was made clear to me at my first course I would never be able to deal with aggressive dogs, I lacked the leadership and skills and also apparently some strenght they said.
As I started to learn more and more about real education of dogs and animals, I made it my goal to learn how to truly help and understand aggressive behaviours in dogs. I also took a vow to make up for all the dogs I had hurt during that time that I was always going to do whatever I could to stop those things from happening to them.
So here I am today.
I choose Portugal to launch my career not because I am Portuguese, but because here it was more of a challenge since “positive dog training” was not has common here when I started. In the UK I still worked a couple of years whilst studying, with positive dog trainers, in London and also with RSPCA which gave me time to learn and practice and develop my skills having someone looking at what I was doing.
My first real course what from CASI Institute and I am so thankful I came across it. It was the best choice for me, I learnt during those 4 years having James O’heare as my mentor that I had found real passion. Training dogs became a healthy obsession and being a complete science nerd I had found so much science behind teaching and educating dogs which till that time I was told was not part of training dogs.
Educating sentient beings requires a huge responsibility. You are dealing with the lives of the dogs, how will they live their lives alongside their human family. You are also responsible for the human family being happy with their dogs.
It’s a lot of work, and as I learnt a lot of hours of training and as many hours of studying.
This is a huge introduction to say that when looking for the best people to learn from as I continue to do so and so thankful they are willing to teach I also grew more and more sensitive to those vows I made in the past.
For many years, maybe the first decade I had not time for confrontations or arguments. Yes I had my passion talking moments, I had some planting seeds and I also confronted some professionals who continued to do what I had learnt to be so bad and above all unnecessary. But mainly I kept to myself, I had too much work and too much learning to do to be worried with proving anything to anyone of changing anyone’s mind. I surrounded myself with like minded people and those I could learn from.
However I now, feel a bit differently. I have come to a point in my career as a dog educator, that I continue to train and learn but it bothers me to watch dogs being shocked, choked and suffer under the same ignorance and tools I saw in 2004.
It is a hard pillow to swallow to watch so many “so called professionals” still using tolls that to me are nothing but old news!
But the hardest pill to swallow is when suddenly the community of dog trainers who train force free starting shaming other force free trainers for the way they approach other professionals.
I am still baffled that in 2021 I am being constantly told my what I consider colleagues and wonderful trainers not to point fingers at trainers who use e-collars daily. I am being constantly told, it is better just to do my thing. But this is not my story. And to me there is not more time to wait. I’ve done the “my thing” and the “don’t point fingers” and after more than a decade there is more people using shocks to “fix” aggression in dogs and prongs to walk them, then ever.
I am in Europe, and I see a huge difference from European to USA trainers. In the USA there is way more use of aversive tools, than in Europe. I don’t know exactly why that is, and I have no data to substantiate this however this has been my anecdotal experience from having dog educator friends around the world.
Brazil is fighting a good fight. Unfortunately, being such a huge country, information comes late sometimes, but there is a great community of trainers, dog professionals and vets, working hard to end what I call abuse in the name of training.
Also, I need to expose my view on this,
I am not talking about the use of quadrants such as R- and P+ but the use of tools that to me are inherently abusive. To me there is absolutely no one who can justify using those tools – remember I am talking about professionals. Dog owners get confused and can get influenced and choose without knowing exactly what they are doing.
But dog trainers, have the responsibility to know exactly what they are doing. My fight is not with a trainer who after careful planning decides to use R- but those who charge money to people to use prongs to walk a dog without pulling, or shock a dog so he does not bark at other dogs.
Professionals, whether being certified or not have a responsibility. Taking away that responsibility from their hands is giving them power. No, not all dog trainers are interested in changing their ways or doing better. I know this from personal experience from the trainers on my first course, who was the most toxic, narcissist, aggressive men, who had pure pleasure in enforcing his power over dogs and women.
The ugly truth is there are a lot of people out there, who have millions of dog owner followers and who could not tell you what R- is. So when my own community points a finger at me it makes me sad. Not all need to be activists, but let me do my thing, because I owe it to the dogs and I need to try and do whatever I think I need to do within my small power to change things, yesterday.
There is no more time for me, because I don’t want to listen to one more dog being shocked, or pronged or choked. To me this is not training its pure abuse. We would not contemplate giving a child an electric shock to have her do what we want, even if we deemed it dangerous for the child herself, but with dogs? All goes.
I never hear marine mammal trainers, argue if giving electric shocks to a dolphin is abusive, heck as Kathy Sdao says no one among the marine animals trainers, even discuss if training these animals is made with food!
But why must we be so complacent with abuse in the name of dog training? Why are we backing down and waiting for the other side to “come around”? I do not relly on common sense for people to change, were that to be true, we did not need laws telling us to respect speed limits, or not to drive drunk! But we need these laws and such legal punishments and still look at how many problems we have.
In saying this I do not condone punishment, and above all shaming other people. But I most definitely will point a finger to a trainer abusing a dog as I would and do if I see someone abusing a child in the name of education and so on.
I am tired of excuses I just want to create awareness. I want dog owners to go “what?” this is abusive? I don’t need this?
I want governments to prohibit these tools and fortunately there are a few already.
I want to stop the abuse.
To finish this long story I want to say I am certified behaviorist by IAABC. To me this association was one of the best and getting this certification was incredibly hard. Where I was proud I am now disappointed to say the least. More and more through these last years IAABC have turned a blind eye to abusive tools. They never took a clear stance against shock collars, and turned LIMA public which is being used by shock jogs as a green card to use them.
IAABC is failing me personally they have more than once failed to take a clear stance. Why that is, is not clear to me. I have had many discussions about it to no avail. Be inclusive they say and I hear “turn a blind eye to those who still abuse dogs with abusive tools”.
But the last drop to me was the announcement of the last Lemon Conference 2021 where they are bringing Alexandre Rossi basically the Cesar Millan of Brazil. A veterinarian who succeeded in resurrecting leadership ideas, prong and choke chains and fixing aggressive behaviour with lots of flooding and behaviour suppression.
It is public on Youtube you can find videos of him putting people in danger. There is a series where he is teaching people how to present a cat to a dog, he is using his own very well-trained dog, and ends up hanging the dog and spraying him with citronella. You can also find a video of him, dressing an old person (grandad of the family) who lived with the family and the dog who tried to bite every time he could, in a protection suit, and have him touch the dog the whole time whilst being bit on the suit continuously. A few episodes later and who knows what more happened, the dog is in grandads lap and all is well in paradise.
Brazilian and Portuguese community have been creating channels, videos, there are more and more dog training courses based in force free techniques, more webinars, seminars, and invitations to bring the best international speakers in a group effort to stop the dissemination of that trainer and his followers who are by the millions.
All this effort is being ignored by IAABC. I learnt that IAABC was inviting him to the Lemonade Conference through a Brazilian trainer who came to vent. She said she contacted IAABC and was completely dismissed. She linked videos and proof but to no avail.
I took it to myself to try myself. I wrote to IAABC, and the answer was only ridiculous, He is bringing another person who has a physical problem and learnt everything from him, and she says he is great. Well, of course he is, to her he is the best, and like so many followers and admirers of Cesar Millan will swear all he does is the best and only way.
However, they did not look at any of the very upsetting videos, or any of the things I said that go against the guideline communities of IAABC.
IAABC chooses to give a huge highlight to a dog abuser. Someone who last month made a video saying people should use choke chains on dogs because it saves their lives!
I am coming out in public, saying this institution is no longer in my humble opinion one I respect or even care about. Fortunately, others came around who give me hope we have the same goals. But IAABC not only allowing these tools to be used without any consequence, but now they are endorsing trainers who choose ignorance and abusive methods, because the means justify the methods.
I spent my life fighting against racism, bigotry, and human rights causes, and all the good fights are done with words. By speaking out loud. Loud and clear so everyone can hear it, so people can be moved, so dog owners can be truly helped.
So here, I am pointing a finger, I want to end dog abuse in the name of training, I dream towards the prohibition of these tolls everywhere, forcing everyone to actually study and practice other more effective and helpful methods. I dream of less time having to point a finger and trying to explain the 101 of dog training to someone called Joe the dog trainer which has 500k views of people praising him for making a dog urinate after getting a shock for interacting with another dog. But I will keep doing it, and I will die doing it, because I owe to the dogs, to the dog owners and to myself.
So go on, point the finger back if you wish but I will not be silent.