How Dog Trainer Alecia Evans Is Banishing the Shock Collar
When meeting Alecia Evans, a holistically minded dog trainer, the first thing that’s evident is how passionate she is about the health and well-being of not just dogs but their humans as well. It's what led her to create the Walk In Sync Humane Dog Walking and Training System, a method that hopes to do away with shock collars and choke chains.
Alecia's love affair with training began some 20 years ago, when she was having issues with her Labrador puppy, Barney. “I tried everything,” she says. “But he didn’t have motivation. He didn’t care.”
This was a time when using treats for positive reinforcement was frowned upon, so Alecia had been trying other means to get Barney to stop pulling on their walks. “The saddest part is every single thing I did to my dog was hurting him,” she says.
She tried a choke chain, a prong collar (Barney wouldn’t even walk forward with it), a nose halter (he scratched his nose bloody and knocked three vertebrae out in his neck), and finally, as a last resort, a shock collar.
“I only used the shock collar once,” she says. “That’s how much it freaked Barney out.”
But she was worried that her dog, a tremendous puller, was going to pull her down the steep, icy, snow-covered hill in her Bronx neighborhood, so she went back to the choke chain. “No matter how many times he got choked, though, the communication was not working. I loved this dog so much, but I just didn’t know how to connect with him.”
Alecia was devastated. She knew she’d hurt Barney and that their relationship was not great. So she hired an animal behaviorist, who taught her about positive reinforcement training and using treats as a reward. Things got a lot better, but at some point even treats weren’t motivation enough for Barney.
It was then that Alecia made a promise to Barney that she was going to find a way to make training easier, make communication better, and deepen the bond between dogs and their humans. She asked the universe through her meditations to show her a product she could use that respected the dog’s body, and that’s when she had her vision for Walk In Sync.
“I didn’t develop Walk In Sync because I wanted to start a manufacturing company,” Alecia explains. “I just wanted tools that were safe for my dog." And when she combined the harness with the leash, she says she “found the magic sauce. The dogs got it and the people got it.”
The process of creating the system was eye-opening for Alecia. “I realized a bunch of things. While we’ve been using collars and nose halters and all of these apparatuses on dogs, there’s one place on the dog’s body that if you apply a little pressure, the dog cannot push into it, and he can’t gain power -- and that’s right on the chest. Dogs don’t like to push through things. They were designed to pull away from things.”
She loved front-clip halters, but wanted one with a completely open shoulder so that it wouldn’t sacrifice the dog’s movement patterns or rub on the shoulder joints. It was also important to Alecia that the human get it. “What I realized was the harness alone is great, but if you don’t give a dog consistent boundaries, they’re going to consistently break them. We always think we’re training dogs, but most of the time the dogs are training us. They’re training us to be clear and consistent and say what we mean.”
One of the hardest parts, she says, is helping the human understand how to physically embody what it is to be an authentic and natural leader to their dog. “What I learned with Walk In Sync is it’s really getting us to that much deeper connection and awareness, and getting your dog to focus on you not because you have a treat, but because your body language shows your dog you really are capable of being in charge.” Once they see that in their human, she says, the dog goes, “Oh my gosh, this is so great. I didn’t want to be the leader anyway!”
Alecia’s background as an animal wellness consultant also means she approaches dogs with a holistic mind. “If you look at just the behavior, you’re missing the root of the problem, which is generally in the body.” When dogs are out of balance, she says their nervous system goes out and they don’t have the same level or patience or calmness, making it more difficult to train them. Her hope is that by creating tools that are safe for dogs and lessen the chance of body imbalance, she’ll also help raise awareness about how the tools we put on our dogs affect their physical bodies.
Alecia is spirited about so many aspects of her work as a trainer and "animal heeler,” but the one thing she comes back to again and again is that we don’t need to choke or hurt dogs to walk or train them. “We have safer tools that work better, that dogs understand, and that improve communication,” she says. “This is not about buying a product; it’s about a movement towards pet owners saying, ‘I’m not going to hurt my dog anymore.’”
Ultimately, Alecia wants to help dogs harness their energy so they can realize their greatest potential. Once that happens, she believes their humans will realize their potential as well. After all, while we are certainly here to teach things to our dogs, we all know they’re really here to teach us a few things about ourselves.
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Alecia Evans is an Animal Heeler who resolves animals' health and behavioral issues naturally. She is also the inventor of the Walk In Sync Humane Dog Walking and Training System. Check out her book The In Sync Method: 6 Secrets Your Dog Wants to Teach You to Unleash Your Greatest Potential to learn how to be an authentic leader to your dog.