Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Be careful of who you go to training for

Many people nowadays are out there looking for a trainer to help them with their dog. Either they have a "problem dog" (resourcing guarding, varying degrees of aggression, or something more mild like house training issues or jumping up on company and generally being unruly) or they adopted or bought a dog they want to learn how to train.

There are many trainers out there and sometimes the search can be quite daunting. Who do you trust? Who is going to give you a way to work with your dog that gels with what you want? And even more importantly, who is going to give you methods that work and that are humane and that help to build a bond with your dog?

Because this can be so overwhelming, many folks find someone who has advertised in their area and because their website "looks good" they jump at the opportunity to work with that person. But people must look closer. People must question these trainers before they even meet with them. Do not ever simply attend training with the first person you find online. Do some research, check out many people and training facilities, and find the one that is the most successful and most positive-based you can find.

Things to beware of:

1. Websites that do not give any real information on how they train dogs. Many of these sites show a "before" and "after" video and claim that the proof is in the video, but they do not show how they got from point A to point B (and if, indeed, they were the ones who even got the dog from one point to the next). I find, if you delve further into things by writing to the person, you find their methods are often aversive.

2.  Any site that says they always use a certain training collar. This includes choke chains, prong collars, and shock collars. All are aversive techniques that cause pain.  Studies have recently shown that using aggressive training techniques results in more aggression. You cannot treat aggression with aggression and end up with a solid, balanced, happy dog. And for dogs who have more milder problems, who you're trying to teach sit, stay, and come, these collars can create more problems, especially if you have a soft dog who shuts down at the first sign of pain.

3.  Any site that makes use of an aversive tool without ever using any positive methods first.  Take Fred Hassen and his "Sit Means Sit" site. He promotes and solely uses shock collars in training dogs, even on small puppies.  There are no alternatives, there is no "this is a last resort" message.  This is the very first thing trainers in the "Sit Means Sit" franchise go to.  A trainer that promotes shock collars without even considering other, more humane methods, shows a complete lack of understanding of psychology, canine behavior, and (in my personal opinion) a lack of humane treatment of animals. Is this really the kind of place you want to take your dog?

4. If you are comfortable using an aversive method, be wary of how that method is being used.  While I am not a supporter of shock collar usage to train a dog, there is a right way and a wrong way to use this tool.  Putting one on an untrained dog and shocking it until it somehow manages to offer the behavior you want is not the correct way to use a punishment-based tool, yet this is how the "Sit Means Sit" franchise uses it.  Others use this same method with choke chains and prong collars.
Always do your research. I cannot emphasize this enough. You find a website. All looks good. But then you spend a little time finding reviews from people who have experienced that person's training or seen that person's demo and you find out that all is not as it seems.

Take Sit Means Sit again. A little searching on some dog forums found a rather lengthy description from a dog trainer who attended one of his demos.  Unfortunately the original has been removed, but the description consisted of Hassen putting dogs (and even a wolf hybrid) up on a high table and parading them back and forth across it shocking them until they urinated and defecated out of fear.  No matter how many positive reviews are out there for his franchise, something like that would make me leery enough to avoid the place.  A place where something like this might happen, or did happen, is not a place I would trust with my dog.

Let's examine another trainer, Kevin Salem (sometimes written as Kawain, Salim, or any combination thereof) of "Real Life Dog Training." His website ( touts his great abilities (he's the dog "prodigy," one step up from Cesar Millan of "dog whisperer" fame) and a book (that is still yet to be published) as the be-all end-all of dog training.  At first glance, the website seems good, if a bit on the egotistical side.  But a closer look shows multiple pages disparaging anyone who uses positive training methods such as clicker training or rewarding with "cookies."  Salem uses a method he calls "diverse training," which sounds like a good idea (diversity is always an excellent thing, isn't it?), but the site gives you little information on what is diverse about is (the site is, after all, called "dog secrets").   Instead he offers up some videos of himself "training" dogs.  The videos feature Salem with the untrained dog who he is dragging around by its collar, often quite roughly.  Then, quite suddenly, the scene changes and it's Salem walking the now well-behaved dog.  What you don't see is what worries me: How did the dog get from point A to point B?  He doesn't want to reveal his "secrets" of course, so it's up to you to take your dog to him to find out just what those secrets are.

Unfortunately, to the laymen, these dogs in the "after" portion of the video look calm and well-behaved but a close look at their body language shows otherwise (just as they do in the "after" videos of Hassen and on Cesar Millan's TV show). A fearful dog is not a trained dog. Like Fred of Sit Means Sit, he also touts quick results for owners who have little time to train their dog.. Here's a hint: doing anything correctly takes time; you cannot teach your child to read in an hour and neither can you train your dog in such a short period of time.

So now you've looked at his site.  You think that things look pretty good.  Diversity is a plus.  The dogs look trained.  He has great "customer testimonials."  This is the point at which you need to take any website with a grain of salt.  No trainer is going to put negative reviews on their site.  No trainer is going to say anything less than positive about him/herself.  So you need to look further.

For that, I turn to looking for reviews of a particular trainer.  A quick google search turned up reviews in various places. lists 9 reviews of "Real Life Dog Training."  Of them, 6 are positive.  So just by going by sheer number, that sounds not so bad.  But it's the content of the bad reviews that might make one leery.

Review #1 of "Real Life Dog Training"

Review #2 of "Real Life Dog Training"

Along with not training their dogs, these people say he's returned them filthy, aggressive, and even injured.  One person mentions a review that has since been removed because both she and this other person have been threatened with lawsuits for stating their experiences.

A continued google search brings up a couple news articles:

Illegal Dog Training Kennel Has Moved  This would be the explanation for all the personal and business name changes.

Amazingly Training Boarding and Training Academy.  Yes, that's right.  Another name for the same business.  If a business consistently changes its name to avoid bad reviews, there's probably something wrong with it.

This gives you the full picture.  You get the websites, the positive reviews, and the negative reviews.  It's up to each individual to weigh the pros and cons and decide if Sit Means Sit or Real Life Dog Training are places they want to take their dog.

I would also add that this person has found this post and has been harassing me for well over a year in order to get it removed.  He's taken to writing fake reports about the dog training business I do not have, paid money to dig me up on the internet, and written nasty misogynstic messages to me since September 2009.  I have given anyone who reads this the opportunity to see the good reviews and the bad.  They're out there for anyone to find.  Would you really want to board your dog with someone who harasses others for reviews they didn't even write?  Please note that none of the reviews above are mine.  I simply looked up his name and found them all.  A google search brought me there.  If they were untrue, do you think he would be so desperate to get this post removed?  Think about it.

After checking out Sit Means Sit and, reading their claims about themselves and their customer testimonials, after seeing reviews both positive and negative, I can honestly say the cons far outweigh the pros with both of these places.  I would not be taking my dog there.

Again, I reiterate. When looking for a dog trainer, do your research.

1. Look for reviews of that particular trainer or training facility.

2. Talk to the trainers and find out their philosophy about dog training and how they go about training. Also find out about their experiences with dogs similar to yours. Many trainers deal with basic obedience issues (sit, stay, come), unruly behavior (jumping on guests, puppy mouthing, house training issues), and some mild aggression (resource guarding), but those who have dealt with true aggression are few and far between. If your dog is truly aggressive (human, child, or dog aggressive), you will want to first see a vet to rule out medical issues and then, if there are no medical problems, find a good behaviorist who knows what to do to rehabilitate an aggressive dog.

3. Talk to people who have gone to this person for training. A good trainer will often find ways to connect you with people who are willing to tell you about their experiences. You can also often find people on your local Craigslist or other sites devoted to dogs and dog training who will share an honest opinion of the trainer.

4. Ask the trainer if you can come observe their class or a training session. Any good trainer will be happy for you to come and watch a class (sans dog) to see if they are someone you want to work with. If a trainer refuses, I would personally worry about why. I have once in my life gone against this and ended up paying for a class I walked out of due to their cruel training methods.

5. And mostly, trust your gut. If something feels off, it probably is. If you feel uncomfortable, then they are not the right trainer or training facility for you. Remember, this is your dog and you are the one who has vowed to protect him and keep him safe. Be careful!

Good luck in your search for a good solid dog trainer. There are some fantastic ones out there.

A good place to start might be the International Positive Dog Training Association, which provides lists of positive dog trainers in many areas.

5/14/19: Edited to add
I see today that because of the latest fiasco with Kevin Salem either losing or killing someone's dog, that hits on my post have gone up something like 5200%. Welcome all!

I should have done this a long time ago, but I want to share a couple more posts I made that reference his and his reaction to this post. After I made this, Kevin Salem spent some 3 years sending me harassing e-mails. He threatened me with lawyers and fake court documents, even going so far as to harass my husband through Facebook and trying to get my home address and phone number from the domain that hosts this blog (lucky for me, they sent ME that information and I was allowed to ignore it).

These posts reference the harassment I experienced at his hands:

On harassment, misogyny, and what is slander, really?

A post I didn't want to make 

I'm happy to discuss any of this with anyone! I have never met this man face-to-face, but the online harassment went on for far too long and he took things too far. I only wish that more people would stay far away from him and his "training school."


  1. Great post. With so many of these "dog whisperer" types out there manipulating video and testimonials, it can be really tough for people to figure out that their dog is going to be hurt and/or frightened into seeming comliance only to find out later that they have merely paid someone to give them even harder behavior problems to solve.

  2. Just wondering if you have taken your own advise and actually talked with someone from Sit Means Sit? Or are you just going off something you read on the internet?

    Encourage you to take your own advice and talk with a Sit Means Sit trainer. Pretty sure they all do free demonstrations to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

  3. Thanks for the advice Jason but yes. I have spoken to both the head of Sit Means Sit as well as a local trainer. I have seen a demonstration (not on MY dog). I have no interest in any sort of shock collar training and especially not the kind of shock collar training they do, which I find to be outright abuse. I've also read descriptions from other people who have seen demonstrations, one of which included a dog urinating and defecating in fear. I wish I had saved that particular description as the entire thing was horrifying. Unfortunately the post was lost due to technical problems on the site.

  4. We used Kevin Salem for our dog. He injured himself that now he cannot eat dry dog food, without aspirating. It is amazing how he got his bad reviews from Yelp removed. he threatened us as well with a lawsuit. I feel guilty every day for sending my dog to that man.

  5. I found this article to be very informative and helpful. Very well written and executed :) Thank You!Trainer Auckland

  6. Very nice. Glad to see another professional standing up against the Sit Means Sit franchise. They are like the Walmart of dog training. No ethics, all about the money and building the franchise. Im sure that a lot of people are just deceived to there ways and practices. They get overwhelmed by the show of it all. At surface level probably seems like a great option, and easy. There is a whole lot going on behind the scenes and in the dogs minds that we can't even begin to comprehend. Major retailers are just as guilty. There definitely needs to be more legislation and oversight for these types of devices.

  7. Be Happy.Since your dog is your friend and your training partner,keep your voice playful and smile at him.Dogs are delicate to our manner of speaking and body language,so utilize both to tell him that you will be so happy when he does what you ask him.

  8. My dogs have a trainer from sit means sit. He's great. It's not a "shock collar." Please also do your research. I did mine.

    1. I have done my research. It seems you have not. Being suckered in by trainers who call it an "e-collar" and "it's just a stim" and "it doesn't hurt" is not research. It's falling for a line, and a terrible one at that. I know more about Sit Means Sit than a lot of people do and it's NOT a franchise I would touch with a 100 foot pole. I have seen abuses coming out of that franchise like you wouldn't believe and I have seen firsthand the messes real behaviorists have to clean up from dogs who have been there.

  9. This is really just your opinion on a dog training method. Which is totally fine, but you should not discount the method for those that feel it works for their dog and lifestyle. As with any dog training facility, it is the staff and trainers that can make a place great. The SMS location near me has fabulous trainers who care about all of their clients (both dogs and humans). I imagine some locations are better than others, but I think its really ignorant to all Sit Means Sit locations are bad.

    1. There are literally NO Sit means Sit locations that are good. None. The entire philosophy is built on using shock collars on all dogs. There are no fabulous trainers at SMS. There are no dogs that this is the best method for (or even a GOOD method for) and SMS is pretty much the WORST method of using shock to train that's out there. What's ignorant is using shock collars to train. Period. End of story.

  10. I just got my dog back from the 10-day training program at Sit Means Sit. During the initial evaluation, the owner demonstrated the use of their special "e-collar", saying they simply used the vibration to get the dog's attention - essentially a "tap" on the shoulder. Then, if that didn't work, he said they delivered a very, very mild "shock". He demonstrated that - I could barely feel it. In fact, I felt it a moment later but he said he hadn't "shocked" me - that I had "felt" only a placebo effect. When I asked if that's all Jake would feel, he said that occasionally they had to go a bit higher. When Jake came home, he was a wreck and backed away from me at the mere sight of the collar, including his familiar citronella bark collar. When I tested the level of the "stimulation" his "e-collar" was set at, and that his trainer had told me to repeatedly press every time I simply asked him to sit, it was definitely a shock and uncomfortable. It was set at level 7! My dog is a mopey dog who typically has a hang-dog expression; they said they had not been able to build his confidence level, and that apparently he just had "that kind of personality". Good God, no wonder, with that kind of treatment! I have no doubt my dog was traumatized by repeated shocks given the instant an initial commend was given - he was never even given a chance to choose - just a shock! Forget that tap on the shoulder! I paid $2000 to have this abuse delivered to my dog, because I was intentionally misled. Oh yes - the shock collar's level was set to 7. I felt an uncomfortable shock until I got it all the way down to 1. There was very little gradation in levels. Beware, beware beware!!! Even the instruction manual for the collar states that it may not be appropriate for certain dogs, depending on their temperament. If these folks are dogs professionals, they should have spotted this in a minute. I used that collar several times before testing it, and now he backs away from me at times when I just approach him. It has damaged our bond. Oh yes - when the trainer brought him to me right after his training, he immediately came to me and hid his head under my legs - the only time he ever does that is during thunderstorms, when he is FRIGHTENED!!

  11. Kevin Salem from Dog Secrets has “lost” a family’s 5 months old Amstaff in the Sacramento area. We likely think he was killed while in the “care” of Kevin. The family is devestated. He says the dog was stolen but all of the horrible reviews I’ve read makes me think otherwise. Heartbreaking. I pray to God this man never trains another dog.