Wall Street Journal article from 8/3/21 along with my response to the editor.
Updated: Nov 27, 2021
Dear Editor, I was shocked and disgusted to read your article from Tuesday, August 2, 2021 by Mark Naida, aka @supermarkus, titled “I’m Disciplining My Dog, Not Torturing Her”. I have been a professional dog behavior consultant and trainer for over twenty years, I have been featured on NPR, and am well-respected in the canine behavior community. I receive daily calls from dog owners/guardians who, similar to Mr. Naida, are struggling with their dog’s behavior and completely lost about what to do. They need guidance to manage many of the behaviors mentioned in the article: barking, leash training, crate training, etc. Sadly, Mr. Naida’s article is particularly damaging to pet owners, especially during a time when so many people are in over their heads with adopting dogs during the pandemic that they did not proactively train. In the 1960’s many trainers used harsh, punitive methods on dogs such as shock and prong collars because of a shortage of research and a lack of deep understanding of canine ability and cognition. Back then, somehow, it was not yet widely known that if we simply motivate a dog to want to do what we ask, they will! Positive training does not mean you are a pushover. It leads to a strong trusting bond with your dog who sees you as someone they respect and enjoy being with, unlike a dictator who is feared not respected. During this era, humans were also treated with the same harsh methods including shock therapy and aversive stimuli to manage mental illness and disabilities. Fortunately, in the 1980s deeper research contributed to a paradigm shift toward more positive methods of helping both humans and dogs. Throughout my more than twenty year career I have owned a private dog training practice in the Seattle area (and previously in Norfolk/Virginia Beach, VA) where I have a track record of successfully using positive reinforcement and science-based training methods. These strategies and tactics are proven to not only motivate dogs to voluntarily do what is asked of them but also demonstrate longevity and stability in their behavior. Furthermore, these methods are widely accepted by my professional behavior associations such as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) and the Animal Behavior Society (ABS). Unlike Mr Naida’s misinformation that positive training ”...is a slow method”, on the contrary, it can actually be very quick and quite efficient. If I had the opportunity to work with Charley, Mr Naida’s Irish setter, I would have explained to him that his first of many mistakes with his dog was waiting for her behavior to be out of control before he did something about it. Barking in the crate does not happen overnight and had it been properly handled earlier would’ve been a much easier fix. If Charley is barking in Mr. Naida’s absence, this typically has a few causes. This might be separation anxiety if no one taught Charley how to be confident spending time on her own when she was a puppy. In the article, Mr. Naida said “...we felt we couldn’t leave her alone”. I understand that we are all stuck at home, spending almost 24/7 with our dogs because of the state of the world, but there are still many ways to teach your dog confidence and independence so that leaving her alone is not so stressful for either of you. Another common cause of barking in the crate is lack of stimulation and sufficient exercise and interestingly Mr. Naida says that he is keeping Charley cooped up in an apartment, despite Irish setters being a large and athletic breed who need considerable daily exercise. It’s also possible Charley may be barking as an attention-seeking behavior because she was inadvertently taught that if she barks, she gets what she wants. Similar to the barking problem, “being pulled down the street on walks” or being “barked at during video calls” are all very common, preventable behaviors. Unfortunately instead of simply doing a few minutes of research on how to humanely train an animal who has deep intelligence and emotion, Mr Naida said he “went nuclear.” Who’s really out of control here? A single consult with a professional trainer could have helped solve all of these very common challenges while creating a trusting relationship with Charley. Instead, Mr. Naida chose antiquated, painful methods that were rash and convenient to the owner, but unfortunately very ineffective long-term not to mention cruel to the animal. What a horrible and dangerous example for your millions of readers. I must also point out that Mr. Naida falsely assumes that if the prong collar hurt, his “sissy” dog would yelp. However, since there is already a history in this relationship of the dog being harshly reprimanded and even being subjected to a shock collar, most likely Charley is judiciously trying to minimize any behavior, including yelping, that would cause further pain or reprimand. The lack of a yelp in no way means the dog isn’t in pain or distress. Like many other intelligent animals, dogs have many non-verbal signals they use to communicate feelings, desires, needs, distress, pain, fear, etc. I’m certain if I watched Charley as Mr. Naida even picked up the prong collar, I could point out numerous body language signals indicating stress, fear, and emotional pain. I am astounded that The Wall Street journal has printed such ill-informed garbage. So many people who are struggling to find help for their dog’s behavior will look to the WSJ as a source of educated information, read this trash, and even worse may try using some of this cruel and painful equipment on their own dogs. Your article could directly lead to animals being hurt and abused. Do you do any sort of research to ensure that this type of ignorance is vetted by professionals? To me and the members of our professional community, this article demonstrates low standards, poor quality writers, and irresponsibility to your community of readers. You can do better than this WSJ. Please do better than this. Florence Bernhard Owner, The Tail Wagger's Club email@example.com www.tailwaggersclub.net