Dear Unethical Organization,
What happened when we were best buds, and nothing could tear us apart? I miss those days and yearn for them back. Do you remember when you were young and you heard through the grapevine that your best friend said something negative about you? Do you remember the feeling of emptiness, cognitive dissonance, and just plain betrayal? I was hoping those feelings of yesteryear were long gone and left in my immature childhood. Surely as I became a mature adult the contiguity of these acts would be far less, right? Not so fast…
What do all of the following organizations have in common?
- APDT (Association of Professional Dog Trainers)
- NAPPS (National Association of Professional Pet Sitters)
- IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals)
- AKC (American Kennel Club)
- ABC (Animal Behavior College) (Updated 12/31/2014)
Not only are they organizations I no longer support, but they do not have the best interest of your dog at heart, are not compassionate, and are swayed by money, special interests and/or ignorance. The APDT, IACP, NAPPS, AKC, and others are useless metrics in which to gauge the proficiency of a behavior specialist, dog trainer or pet professional.
The Dissonance, Hypocrisy, and Inhumanity of Inclusivity in “Teaching”
It would be nice if both pet parents and dogs learned behaviors quickly and easily, however, if we are to adhere to the first rule of the science of behavior—do no harm—we must avoid shortcuts. Behaviorists and dog trainers first and foremost need to advocate for compassionate and sound behavior modification practices that do not expose dogs/patients, or pet parents to unnecessary risks. Such force-free techniques, otherwise referred to as LIMA (least invasive minimally aversive), procedures and to reduce fallout.
Trust me; I would rather be writing an article on the pleasures of R+ than writing this post. That being said, I proudly and successfully petitioned the AVMA years ago to adopt AVSAB’s position statement on How to Choose a Trainer when they previously had none. I do not enjoy calling out companies and naming names any more than the next individual, but my conscious will have it no other way. I will act as a watchdog for animal rights, welfare, morals, and ethics. In this less than utopian world, these topics occupy a more significant amount of my time nowadays.
The perfidy is shocking. Could you imagine your child’s school defending corporal punishment behind the veil of inclusivity? They claim to support all “teachers,” even relics who believe in old-school abuse, hitting, yelling, choking, intimidating, shocking and flooding your child as a way to “teach” because they wanted to be inclusive and open to all forms of “teaching”? No educated practitioner would consider flooding/response blocking an acceptable form of exposure therapy, it is never the least intrusive choice given all the tools we have and on the opposite side of the humane/compassion spectrum. “Teachers” who taught in this manner may be put in jail and would be out of business in a New York minute if this was attempted on a child. So how and why can nonhuman animal organizations get away with this?
It seems the lack of regulation in the industry and MONEY has caused many to go astray. Many avarice-focused organizations such as APDT, AKC, NAPPS, IACP and others are ignorantly supporting animal abusers in their refusal to take a stance for what are the most compassionate, humane and effective training methods (without fallout). These organizations cater to dollars as their primary constituency, and their goals are abundantly clear. They aim to increase membership numbers and to include every layman under the sun as “professionals” regardless of how abusive, inhumane and unscientific their methods. Their de facto endorsement of abuse, hiding under the veil of their “all-inclusive” mantra is the bane of our industry and the very platform by which traditional “trainers” try and gain credibility to ruse the public at the expense of our industry, the people and the pets we have pledged to serve.
Companies that have conflicting messages and do not embrace change slide into obscurity. Even the largest companies on Wall Street heed the call of ethics, morals and clear messages that are in line with their mission statements. The recent decision of CVS to stop selling all cigarette and tobacco products is a perfect example “forgoing $2 billion in annual revenue from tobacco and other sundries as a result.” We applaud and choose to spend our money at responsible, ethical companies where beings and compassion come before profits. CVS Chief Executive, Larry Merlo, stated “[tobacco products] have no place in a drugstore company that is trying to become more of a health-care provider. Cigarettes have no place in an environment where health care is being delivered.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. You either evolve or dissolve.
The reason I am bent on outing these types of egregious nuances is simple. Animals have no voice, and it is our responsibility to be their advocates above all else. Being an advocate includes empowerment, bodily integrity, force-free, LIMA, education, health, nutrition, medical attention, enrichment, shelter, socialization, exercise…etc. I have dedicated my life to educating animals both human and nonhuman in a compassionate way. Compassion does not discriminate, and more dogs die from poor behavior than for any other reason.1 So if my discourse seems pedantic, please excuse me as this is my passion, profession and the backbone of my existence, not a punchline.
Never underestimate the power of ONE
Life can sometimes feel daunting, overwhelming and disempowering. The feeling of, it’s me against the world, or what can I possibly do to make a difference, too often pervades many of our psyches. After we shake those thoughts and persevere, upon reflection, we can see that the payout of service and giving back is monumental. Once we are removed from the frame to see the big picture, the rewards are abundant to help others and make a difference.
Life is all about the small victories that mean the world to others. This is why we advocate adopt, don’t shop, veganism, and compassion through all of our actions. However, in my defiance and efforts to thwart speciesism, and during the daily battle to make the world “fair” and “just” for all, the stress, pressure, and stagnation can sometimes feel overwhelming sometimes leading to compassion fatigue. Instead of allowing negative thoughts to prevail such as: what good am I doing, whose life am I helping, how can I make a difference today, I focus on the wins and differences that I have made.
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” Dahli Lama
I am a dog trainer in Miami Florida, and like many of you, I am a passionate, caring and driven individual who abides by a strong internal moral and ethical code. It brings me great pleasure to bring positive, helpful and compassionate change to others.
Over the many years that I have been a student of applied animal behavior, dog training, in the pet industry and animal activism, I have witnessed a deluge of changes in staffs, board of directors, mission statements, visions, sponsorships, ideologies, and position statements than I care to remember, and many of which do not benefit the voiceless nonhuman animal. In this vein, I am inspired to have the community participation to continue as a watchdog for animal rights, ethics, morals and the professional organizations in our industry that we follow and support. Below are some examples of current conflicts and concerns in the industry, organizations that I would suggest boycotting and speaking out against until humane, up-to-date and scientific change is made. This leads me to the AVSAB (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior). In contrast to other organizations, the AVSAB stands out by NOT supporting conflicting mixed messages; they are making positive, compassionate change, heeding the call, listening to the concerned voices of their constituents, and choosing the high road to help the voiceless.
AVSAB Position Statements NO LONGER Sponsored by Shock Collar Company
GASP, surely you jest!! I didn’t even realize they did; I hear you murmur. While providing the AVSAB Puppy Socialization Position Statement to a client, I noticed on the bottom of the page the sponsorship label “Premier” now known as “Pet Safe.”
And sadly again on AVSAB’s Position Statement denouncing the Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals.
I could not believe what I was seeing. After rubbing my eyes incredulously, there it was staring right back at me.
As you may be aware, Premier pet products got bought out by the shock collar company ironically named “Pet Safe” years ago. Many educated, ethical, compassionate professionals with an inkling of compassion and professional ethics boycott this company and their products after the buyout in favor of the many other ethical companies that do not support animal abuse.
I boycott and despise being associated with companies such as these so I was naturally shocked (no pun intended) to see that AVSAB would allow this association/sponsorship.
However, I am VERY pleased with the letter below and outcome of our discussions. Not all organizations are this responsive, thoughtful, compassionate and ethical. Luckily for all animals, the AVSAB is sensitive, thoughtful and conscious. While working with AVSAB to rectify this glaring conflict, I was told the following by the President of AVSAB, Dr. John Ciribassi:
I have received some feedback from the board. I was informed that when Premier made the donation, and before they were owned by Pet Safe, the understanding was that the donation was to cover only the first printing of the documents. As a result, we no longer have an obligation to maintain their image in the pieces as I had erroneously thought when I first wrote back to you.
As a result, we will be removing the Premier Logo from the statements on the web site. Apparently, the printed copies had the logo removed but the older pdf versions were left on the web site. We will be putting up more current versions.
The board, and myself, wanted to thank you for calling this to our attention and I am glad we can get it worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.
President of (AVSAB) American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
I am delighted to announce that after speaking with the president and board of AVSAB, they have decided to make the ethical and responsible decision to remove the sponsorship of the Premier logo on their position statements. For those that were not aware of the sponsorship association, AVSAB had retained the Premier logo on two position statements:
These will be updated very soon so that the statements are in line with their mission and are disassociated from the shock collar promoting company, Pet Safe. Now our community can use these position statements without reservations and conflicts of interest.
I would like to thank Dr. John Ciribassi and the Board of directors for making this expeditious and much-needed correction and disassociation from “Pet Safe.”
Organizations APDT, AKC, NAPPS, IACP With Conflicts of Interest?
As part of many boards of directors and as a sponsor (monetarily and otherwise) to many organizations, I understand the nature of relationships and gratitude for others. However, I also am not naïve to organizations utilizing funds and support to further their business agendas that are often not aligned with my own. A strong ethical and moral compass are needed to thwart nefarious money and support from organizations not aligned with the ethos of one’s organization, regardless of how large the donation or power.
I fail to see the necessity of an ongoing relationship with any organization given the poignant conflict, mixed message, nature of hypocrisy and harm this could do to all animals and the organization touting this inclusivity in “teaching” abuse and pseudoscience perpetuate. The affiliation or association with the slightest impropriety is simply unacceptable and sends the wrong message.
It is imperative to lead by example and to maintain the rock-solid foundation and trust that organizations have earned over the years. This will allow an organization to continue being relevant and a present-day leader in the science of behavior and training, morals, and ethics that set the standard for our entire community. Compassion and respect are the antithesis of punition, shock collars, choke chains, pinch/prong collars, and force. It is imperative that we are unified in our mission, voice, and message via clear, concise and consistent messages. Any waiver of that message could easily be misconstrued and send the wrong message and only serve to bifurcate our community.
I stopped doing business with and supporting a litany of companies for ethical and moral reasons over the years. Being true to myself means setting a code of ethics that many organizations do not meet. These ethics are the backbone of my existence and the reason I am a vegan, a dog trainer and forever a student of learning and behavior modification. They are not a punchline to gain clients or members of my organization.
I will often hear the logical fallacy tu quoque in defense of shock collars or inclusivity. As a vegan, I often hear such arguments like “being a vegan means the food won’t taste as good.” The argument against shock collars is an ethical one. Therefore it is a red herring to bring up perceived training results. Most often the perception of a “behaved” dog when trained by a traditional dog trainer is out of fear, intimidation, pain, punishment and/or learned helplessness. When you see a listless dog lay by a handler’s side, it would behoove oneself to be critical and investigate the methods that were used to achieve these results and not to romanticize them and use this perception as the rationalization for inclusivity. It is a moot point how “behaved” a dog appears to be. The central question an individual must ask oneself is, “does compassion and humane treatment trump results?” The answer couldn’t be any more salient and resounding – YES. It is never OK to abuse a dog. When dog training, expediency should never trump the humane, ethical treatment and welfare of your dog. The first rule, do no harm.
Maintaining vigilance on the ethical battle lines is a difficult task as boards change hands, new staff gets hired, and visions change. Especially when money comes into the mix, people who are not firmly rooted in their beliefs will easily be swayed.
In gathering the opinions of my fellow force-free veterinarians, behaviorists and trainers in the industry regarding their take on these matters, we agree that the continued support of the inclusivity mantra, punitive equipment, and inhumane training is confusing, tainted and associates an organization with punitive and abusive practices.
How will this hypocrisy and incongruence be rectified? We all eagerly await the outcome of this very disheartening and disconcerting quagmire that APDT, AKC, NAPPS and IACP find themselves in.
“As long as we oppress other living beings we will create a culture of oppression.”
“Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. RISK being seen in all of your glory.” Jim Carrey
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- Miller DM, Stats SR, Partlo BS, et al. Factors associated with the decision to surrender a pet to an animal shelter. J Am Vet Med
Assoc 1996;209:738- 742