Just down the road from me in Loveland, Colorado, a so-called dog trainer recently slammed his own Belgian Malinois’ nose against the wall — hard enough to leave a large hole in the sheet rock — and then "body slammed" the dog on a carpeted section of concrete, according to an employee of the company. A video of the "trainer" abusing his own dogs was also reviewed by animal control officers, which resulted in him being accused of felony animal cruelty.

The "trainer" has just pled guilty to the lesser charge of misdemeanor animal cruelty. He has relinquished his two dogs to a new owner (but could get them back if the new owner agrees) and may spend a month in jail followed by a two year probationary period.

How anyone could do this to a dog and call himself a trainer is beyond me. This is animal abuse, plain and simple.

Current behavioral research shows that there is virtually no place for negative reinforcement (let alone abuse) when it comes to dog training. I tell my clients that the only time they should reprimand their dogs for "bad" behavior is when they catch them in the act. And even under these circumstances, punishment should be restricted to a firm "NO."

I know how hard it can be to ignore the puddle of pee on the floor, or the new rug that you find pulled halfway through the dog door (thanks for that one, Apollo), but ignoring it is exactly the right response. Praise the good behavior, ignore the results of the bad … that’s the recipe for success.

I’m sure I’ll hear from some who say, "But my dog looks guilty when I walk in the room. He knows he’s done something wrong." Of course it’s impossible to say what a dog is thinking, but I’d be willing to bet it’s something more along the lines of, "The last time Mom saw a puddle on the floor, she swatted me. I think I’m going to get hit again." That’s a fear response, not an admission of guilt. Dogs are good at correlation (when A happens so does B), but not so good at causation.

I witnessed an event at the playground a few days ago that is a great example of how dogs and people view things differently. I didn’t see exactly how it happened, but somehow a dog got off its lead while under the supervision of children. This young black lab came bounding across the play yard, his body language just screaming, "WoooHOOO! Letsrunletsrunletsrun! Yippee! Hey … look, there’s my Mom," at which point he ran over to a woman who was calling to him from a bench.

Now when your dog is running loose, what do you want him to do? Come when called, right? But instead of praising her dog, the woman pinned him to the ground and yelled at him. The look on the dog’s face was a combination between "YIKES!" and "What the *%$#." I’m sure the woman thought she was reprimanding the dog for running away in the first place, but he’ll remember the punishment as what happens when you "come" after running loose. Good luck getting him back next time.

Remember. When in doubt, praise the good and ignore the bad.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: MCarper / via Shutterstock