Ethical dilemma - really long

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Postby pitbullmamaliz » August 31st, 2010, 11:10 am

Wasn't sure what section to put this in but it's related to training so I'll try it here.

I'm the head trainer at the shelter I volunteer at so it's up to me to decide training plans for the shelter dogs that are in need of a bit more help. The shelter (and I) teach the volunteers how to train using the clicker and positive reinforcement training. It's great. They use my trainer to do the new volunteer mandatory training, which is great. So on the surface they seem on par with my feelings regarding training.

However, many of the volunteers there use a trainer, Mel, who I took Inara to when she was younger. He was horribly abusive with the prong and is a strong advocate of the e-collar, but not in an ethical way. He touts dominance theory and pack leadership BS for everything. They try to tell me that "he's changed" yet I can see his posts on Facebook (without friending him!) and he hasn't. They tell me that "anybody who doesn't believe in dominance theory obviously only has one dog." Fine, if they want to subject their dogs to that, I don't have to like it but it's their own dogs.

Unfortunately, several of the adoption consultants seem to think it's a good thing when potential adopters use pack leadership techniques on the dogs - bumping into them to make them move (pack leaders don't walk around another dog!), going through doorways first, ignoring the dog (pack leaders don't fawn all over their pack!), blah blah blah. These consultants enjoy seeing our shelter dogs "dominated" because it means that a potential adopter knows what they're doing. Alright, fine. I disagree, but if the person is an otherwise suitable adopter then at least the dog won't be returned to the shelter.

These things have always bothered me but all I can do is try to educate, right? Easier said than done. The shelter has a "backdoor site" that is for volunteers to receive updates on the dogs, read training articles, etc. The articles page says anybody is welcome to post articles. All of the ones on there are dominance-related things, so I submitted several articles about positive training, including position statements on dominance from the AVMA and ASPCA. They weren't posted.

That really annoyed me, but the thing that has really pushed me over the edge is a dog named Holly. She's been with the shelter since December. She was in the shelter for several months but was EXTREMELY fear aggressive to men and some women - lunging, snapping, barking, growling, etc. She was placed into foster care with the previous head trainer and he was using very gentle, reward-based methods with her. She was making great progress. Unfortunately he left the shelter and Holly was placed with another foster home where she seems to have slid backwards a bit. I recommended placing her on Prozac and giving it time to kick in and then reassessing her afterwards. I feel she is a very high-liability dog and is not adoptable, but the shelter doesn't like to hear that. Well, I just found out that they are taking Holly to work with Mel, the e-collar/prong fanatic. I can only imagine the damage he is going to inflict upon her, for being fearful, in the name of training.

This makes me livid. They have no problem accepting my recommendations with the dogs in the shelter, and have no problem using my trainer to train their volunteers, but then they refer adopters to and use Mel for the dogs MOST IN NEED of hands-off, gentle training.

Am I wrong for being so irritated by this? I feel like by continuing to volunteer with the shelter, especially as their head trainer, that I'm condoning their use/referral of Mel. I feel they're being extremely hypocritical by using my trainer to train their volunteers but then turning around and using Mel to actually work with the dogs.

And one of my final points that really pushed me over the edge recently was a family that had adopted one of our HW positive pit bulls, and was just keeping him in the backyard during the day, at which point he would jump out of the yard and run around the neighborhood. A heartworm positive dog, running around. A PIT BULL, running around loose. They were actually debating about whether to take the dog back back from the family or not. I said they absolutely needed to do so as the family had been made aware both of the medical condition and the breed requirements in Ohio and this had happened on more than one occasion. "But the family is a big supporter of the shelter," I was told. Who effing cares? They're going to kill this dog and possible do more harm for pit bulls in Ohio. So they took the dog back but said it was for medical reasons - they didn't even tell the family it was because they were being irresponsible! They didn't want to offend the family. So they learned nothing and they'll be allowed to adopt again.

I guess I'm just wondering what you guys would do - stick with this shelter or move on and find one that meshes more with my training/adopting ethics?
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Postby TheRedQueen » August 31st, 2010, 11:44 am

Very hard choice there...and one I've been through with working with Fidos. I spent years there, fighting the R+ battle...and yes, I won some people over...but the same crap keeps happening there...just saw a post from a trainer about a dog (that I had for a while as a pup) that is scared of surfaces (slick floors etc). She said that the prong doesn't help either nor do treats. I just feel sadness...she's a nice person, but a rough trainer.

So while I changed some minds, the training problems were part of my decision to leave Fidos. One person would say..."oh, we love that you're teaching clicker stuff" and yet other trainers were hauling dogs around on prongs instead of using the equipment that the dog/pup had been trained in originally. Lots of going around behind my back, not listening to my suggestions, etc. It wears a person down eventually.

Honestly...you're not going to be able to fight this easily. If you're up for it, stick around and try and change some minds, and help out where you can. But I'd be looking for a new shelter...one that is willing to work with you, because otherwise I do see you getting burned out.
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Postby LMM » August 31st, 2010, 11:51 am

I can tell you what I would do but you have to be comfortable with your own actions Liz. Is there a shelter nearby you think would mesh more? Do you feel you are making a difference at this particular shelter or are you butting your head against the wall? Who suffers if you leave?

I would walk out no questions asked. I would find someone to mentor under where I can move forward in an actual career in dog training. It seems like you have the drive and ability here Liz, seriously. I have no tolerance for irresponsibility on anyone's part much less a shelter. How are we to educate people if we sweep things under the rug? How are we to make a difference if we cannot even help the dogs in our care?

Having said that, it absolutely sucks for the dogs. So yea, you have to be comfortable about walking out on them too. It's a hard, HARD decision.
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Postby Pit♥bull » August 31st, 2010, 11:53 am

Liz,
If they keep you 'bent out of shape' you won't be able to do your best work. :|
Just my .02.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » August 31st, 2010, 1:38 pm

Thanks guys. I think that's the direction I'm leaning but I need to think more on it. They were going to my trainer before I arrived, so they'll continue to use her for basic volunteer education, as well as the advanced training team trainings, so that's good. I already prepared a proposal for the training budget to increase - it hasn't been presented to the Board yet, but hopefully it will pass and whoever takes over after me will have leeway to do more trainings. I only actually walk the dogs one night per week. I do very little actual hands on training - more of it is telling others how to handle the dogs.

Honestly, this is the only shelter in my area I'd want to volunteer at - it's immaculately clean and the dogs have a ton of human interaction. They're also the only shelter that adopts out pit bulls. So that being said, if I quit there I think I'll talk to my trainer and see if I can begin shadowing her during her classes. She had also mentioned that she is thinking about getting somebody to help return phone calls/emails, so I could do that as well.

I'm open to any more feedback if people have it. This is a tough decision for me, but I think my main hurdle to overcome is my hatred of confrontation. I'd probably chicken out and just tell them that due to personal reasons in my life I'm having to quit. I'd love to tell them why but it wouldn't make a difference. *sigh* I'll probably do my volunteer shift tomorrow night and then send an email to co-chairs of the Dog Committee Thursday or Friday.
"Remember - every time your dog gets somewhere on a tight leash *a fairy dies and it's all your fault.* Think of the fairies." http://www.positivepetzine.com"

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Postby PetieMarie22 » August 31st, 2010, 2:17 pm

What does your trainer say about this? If she is on the same page as you, how does she cope with the hypocracy?
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » August 31st, 2010, 2:21 pm

Well, she refuses to let them put her name on anything where they also put Mel's name because she doesn't want to be associated with him at all. Right now I think she just appreciates any business coming her way (the trainings they have her do for the volunteers).
"Remember - every time your dog gets somewhere on a tight leash *a fairy dies and it's all your fault.* Think of the fairies." http://www.positivepetzine.com"

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Postby airwalk » August 31st, 2010, 3:26 pm

Have you tried talking to the shelter manager or division director? As a volunteer you have the ability to be pretty straight in your communication because the worst they can do is ask you not to come back..which you are already considering.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » August 31st, 2010, 4:51 pm

The shelter manager is a scary guy who isn't overly fond of me - I think I came across too strongly in my opinions before letting him get used to me. :wink:

I sent an email to my trainer asking what she thinks and seeing if she'd be willing to let me shadow her (I can't imagine she'll say no).
"Remember - every time your dog gets somewhere on a tight leash *a fairy dies and it's all your fault.* Think of the fairies." http://www.positivepetzine.com"

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Postby tiva » September 1st, 2010, 3:19 pm

Liz, you might also think about talking with your trainer (Ginger) about a way you both could go to the director with an alternative plan. Rather than criticizing their use of Mel, offering them explicit alternatives might make it much easier for them to move away from using him and his methods. Good luck with your decision.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » September 1st, 2010, 5:55 pm

Well, I spoke to Ginger and she said she's almost positive that the last head trainer abruptly left for the exact same problems I have. She said she won't be surprised if the shelter stops using her after I leave, but she made sure to tell me that she is completely okay with that.

So I sent an email out a few minutes just telling the heads of the Dog Committee that due to personal issues, effective immediately I'm leaving the shelter. I kept it short and sweet. I feel bad, but I have to do what's right for me and I just cannot be with a group that condones the methods that Mel uses. *sigh*
"Remember - every time your dog gets somewhere on a tight leash *a fairy dies and it's all your fault.* Think of the fairies." http://www.positivepetzine.com"

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Postby madremissy » September 2nd, 2010, 6:07 am

Don't have any advice but just wanted to say good luck with what ever you decided to do.
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Postby mnp13 » September 2nd, 2010, 11:55 am

Sorry, I only just saw this.

I'm confused on how they have a "head trainer" for the shelter that they use for people and not for dogs anyway... The two need to go hand in hand.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » September 2nd, 2010, 12:06 pm

You would think, right?
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Postby furever_pit » September 2nd, 2010, 9:10 pm

I don't understand why the shelter is using two trainers with such different methods. It seems weird to train the volunteers with one person and then send the dog someone else. It just seems like it would make more sense to have one go-to person.

pitbullmamaliz wrote:Unfortunately, several of the adoption consultants seem to think it's a good thing when potential adopters use pack leadership techniques on the dogs - bumping into them to make them move (pack leaders don't walk around another dog!), going through doorways first, ignoring the dog (pack leaders don't fawn all over their pack!), blah blah blah. These consultants enjoy seeing our shelter dogs "dominated" because it means that a potential adopter knows what they're doing. Alright, fine. I disagree, but if the person is an otherwise suitable adopter then at least the dog won't be returned to the shelter.


This is sort of off topic I guess, but can I ask what is actually wrong with the examples you supplied above??
When I think of pack dominance techniques I tend to think more along the lines of alpha rolls and that kind of thing, but that is not what you have mentioned so I may be on a different page.
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Postby TheRedQueen » September 2nd, 2010, 9:56 pm

pitbullmamaliz wrote:Well, I spoke to Ginger and she said she's almost positive that the last head trainer abruptly left for the exact same problems I have. She said she won't be surprised if the shelter stops using her after I leave, but she made sure to tell me that she is completely okay with that.

So I sent an email out a few minutes just telling the heads of the Dog Committee that due to personal issues, effective immediately I'm leaving the shelter. I kept it short and sweet. I feel bad, but I have to do what's right for me and I just cannot be with a group that condones the methods that Mel uses. *sigh*


sorry that it came to this...:hug3:
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Postby mnp13 » September 2nd, 2010, 10:13 pm

furever_pit wrote:
pitbullmamaliz wrote:Unfortunately, several of the adoption consultants seem to think it's a good thing when potential adopters use pack leadership techniques on the dogs - bumping into them to make them move (pack leaders don't walk around another dog!), going through doorways first, ignoring the dog (pack leaders don't fawn all over their pack!), blah blah blah. These consultants enjoy seeing our shelter dogs "dominated" because it means that a potential adopter knows what they're doing. Alright, fine. I disagree, but if the person is an otherwise suitable adopter then at least the dog won't be returned to the shelter.


This is sort of off topic I guess, but can I ask what is actually wrong with the examples you supplied above??
When I think of pack dominance techniques I tend to think more along the lines of alpha rolls and that kind of thing, but that is not what you have mentioned so I may be on a different page.


I'm not speaking for Liz, but Demo and I talked about this actually. There are people who follow these examples to extremes and people who just follow them as an ideal.

I don't stress myself out over who goes through a door first, who goes up the stairs first or stepping over the dog. However, when I tell them to get out of my way, they had damn well better move now.

Personally, though I own a very dominant dog, I think the whole "dominance theory" thing is BS. Dogs make a pack, we are not dogs, they don't think we are part of that pack. If I make my dog work for rewards he behaves better, that's pretty simple. However, that doesn't mean I have to ignore him unless we are training which is the extreme that some trainers take it to.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » September 3rd, 2010, 3:20 pm

Kinda like Michelle said, the majority (no, not all) of people who do that kind of stuff take it to extremes and think that Cesar walks on water.
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Postby DemoDick » September 3rd, 2010, 4:34 pm

pitbullmamaliz wrote:Kinda like Michelle said, the majority (no, not all) of people who do that kind of stuff take it to extremes and think that Cesar walks on water.


I don't think this is accurate at all. Most owners naturally figure out how to communicate to the dog that they are the one in charge and the dog is along for the ride without doing anything overt at all. Likewise, most dogs figure their role in the relationship out without any conscious effort on the owner's part. They are domesticated animals and they act like it. For every dog that needs behavioral modification there are 100,000 whose owners have zero issues. We just only see the ones with problems, so there is a selection bias.

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Postby airwalk » September 3rd, 2010, 5:33 pm

I'm with Demo here. The vast majority of folks figure out a relationship that works for them and the dog and they live long and healthy lives. I have to keep reminding myself of that, because in a shelter environment you see mostly the folks that don't ever figure it out and really don't try to.
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