Should Dog Adoptions Be Restricted Based on Training Methods?

If you ran a dog rescue and someone whose training techniques you disagree with wanted to adopt a dog from you, would you let them? Stokenchurch Dog Rescue didn’t.

The story:

A woman who follows Cesar Millan (The Dog Whisperer) came in looking to adopt a dog from them, but when they witnessed her pin one of her dogs to the ground in an attempt to force it into submission they decided they would not be adopting to her.

Many people, including several certified canine behaviorists, strongly disagree with Millan’s “pack leader” ideologies and techniques. Even when his methods “work,” things are not what they appear… More often than not, the now “well-behaved” dog is actually shut down and terrified, but most people are not educated enough to know or see the difference. I am in complete agreement that his methods are outdated and will typically do more harm than good, but I’ll save my thoughts on Mr. Millan for another post, though.

The question is… do I think Stokenchurch Dog Rescue made the right decision? Yes and no. But mostly yes.

In a perfect world I absolutely think rescues and shelters should be able to refuse to adopt dogs to people who exhibit such a severe lack of knowledge regarding dog behavior. However, I’m well aware this is a touch unrealistic. I don’t know how the pet population situation is in that particular area of the UK, but in many places here in the U.S. our shelters are bursting at the seams with unwanted dogs.

I am technically a “force-free” trainer who believes that one should never use physical or psychological force/pain/intimidation/manipulation to get a dog to do what you want. But I am not so nutty I would rather see a dog euthanized than put on a prong collar. With dogs being euthanized simply because there is no space for them, a mediocre home is better than no home, and it is better than being warehoused in a stressful shelter kennel for years.

But if Stokenchurch Dog Rescue has the resources to continue to properly look after the dogs in their care, then I completely agree with ¬†their decision. Traditional training techniques based on asserting one’s dominance using confrontational methods such as pinning, alpha rolling, scruff shaking, etc. can leave a dog far worse off, or even lead to its death. These improper techniques can force the dog into defensive aggression resulting in someone getting bitten (and ultimately the dog will be blamed, possibly euthanized). Alternatively, they can “work” and leave the dog in an almost constant state of terror in which the dog shuts down and avoids doing anything for fear of punishment (often mistaken for a well-behaved dog).

I would rather a dog be euthanized in the shelter than suffer either of those ends.

I know very well not all dogs trained using punitive methods are miserable or develop behavioral issues. Some dogs don’t bat an eye at receiving a leash correction on a prong collar or a zap from a shock collar (those methods are still quite unnecessary, however). I don’t automatically assume everyone who trains with those methods is a horrible monster who shouldn’t be allowed to own dogs. But there is a limit. Millan’s methods in particular go over that limit. I’ve watched his show and been horrified by what I’ve seen, from a scientific (and common sense) standpoint. Adopting a dog to someone who practices his techniques is a huge risk for that dog’s psychological welfare. And it’s not worth it.