Finding the Disconnect
Susan Claire investigates whether students can help the veterinary profession cross over to
force-free training, highlighting an innovative program currently underway in a Miami school
Student handlers in the PUPE SPOTS Training Program get to know their dogs through play and three types of weekly training classes. Back row (L to R): Instructor Sandra Machado, Andy Soto with Scooby, Sheila Vasco with Jackie, Brianna Davila with Jerry, Hannah Richardson with Becky, Andrea Ruiz with Lily, and author/instructor Susan Claire. Front row (L to R): Amanda Guzman and Riley, Marcos Perez and Bailey, Robert Tejidor and Luna
s a professional behavior consultant and trainer, when I first asked my own veterinarian for client referrals he was reluctant. In the past, he explained, clients had been unhappy with trainers he had referred them to and that it had reflected negatively on him. I admired his discretion, and was thrilled at the opportunity to explain what I do. But I was soon to learn that the veterinarians who do more than say, “Sure, put your brochures over there,” with all the rest, are few and far between. Even those who pleasantly surprise me by requesting a meeting, sometimes lack the conviction to consistently refer clients to force-free, or even credentialed, trainers. Several years ago, I was contacted by the new medical director at a corporate-owned veterinary practice. She explained she would like to start referring clients to positive reinforcement trainers only, and invited me for a meeting. During her tenure, we enjoyed a professional relationship until someone else took over. One day, however, a long-time client she had referred called me, crying hysterically. While boarding at the veterinary hospital, my client’s fearful dog had bitten an employee in the face when she had cornered him in a run, shook open a blanket, and leaned forward to place it on the floor. My confused client tearfully told me the trainer the new medical director worked with had insisted she send her dog away to “boot camp” immediately. If she did not, allegedly the dog would one day turn on her and attack her. I reached out several times to discuss the case, and offer bite prevention training and body language presentations for the staff. My
call was never returned by the recently hired medical director, who had brought her own compulsion-based trainer into the practice relationship.
Conveying the Force-Free Message
The training profession, no longer a matter of “methodologies” and equally valid “points of view,” now has a veterinary standard of care, best practices and codes of ethics in place. Scientific research demonstrates that punitive collars and methods cause injuries both physical and emotional. Why, then, do some clients still get outdated behavior advice from their veterinarians? Why are some of our veterinarians and their staff still talking about dominance and pack theory? Why would a veterinarian in my area instruct every client to use a choke collar (including a mutual client’s dog that I had successfully desensitized to having his collar touched, after snapping at Dr. X for grabbing it)? Why would a veterinarian I admire for his implementation of Fear Free℠ protocols tell me that dogs “play us,” when my dog yelped during an ear exam? Why does a local practice have a sign on the outside of the building that says “The Gentle Vet,” yet a countertop full of compulsion trainers’ brochures on the inside? Where is the disconnect?
The Big Idea
One day, Miami, Florida-based veterinarian Dr. Karen Ashby had an epiphany. A big picture thinker, she had the idea to “infect” her profession with a “virus for good.” This “virus” would take the BARKS from the Guild/May 2017