Earlier this year, a law was proposed in metropolitan New York City that would require all dog owners to pass a mandatory, state-regulated obedience course for dogs. I remember, when the highly controversial law was announced, logging into my Facebook and e-mail accounts and receiving lots of messages from clients and colleagues who were extremely excited about this, seeing it as a fantastic way to legitimize professional dog training to the pet-owning public.
While I believe it was a noble effort by lawmakers to reduce the number of dangerous dogs and bite incidents in NYC, this is a law I just cant get behind. Here are just a few of the reasons I believe that similar laws should be avoided or dramatically changed before implementation in any community:
1. State regulation of approved schools/instructors
Its very important that pet owners realize not all trainers are created equal and that no training is often preferable to bad training. What sort of screening guidelines would be in place for eligible training companies? There are a great many professional trainers that I would not allow to touch or train my dogs under any circumstances.
2. Such a law could make pet owners resent training.
I find that the clients who are most enthusiastic about training are the most successful. A well-trained dog never does the bulk of its learning in the classroom â€” for training to be effective, it must be worked on at home, throughout the dogs life. If people resent the fact that they MUST do training, they are unlikely to follow through with it.
3. Obedience classes are not for all dogs.
Just because a dog may know how to sit and lie down on cue does not mean it is a safe dog who doesnt present a bite risk. In fact, most of the aggressive dogs I work with already know sit and down. Obedience classes are not the best learning environment for dogs with real aggression issues; allowing such dogs into group classes without laying down significant layers of behavior modification puts all dogs and humans in that classroom in jeopardy.
4. Knowledge, for people and dogs, is a use it or lose it enterprise.
I started learning French in 6th grade and continued studying it through college. Years later, I cant have a coherent conversation. Similarly, an obedience certificate today does not mean that your dog is necessarily less likely to bite someone three years from now!
As an alternative, Id love to see owners given incentives and positive reinforcement for being proactive and making training a priority. Potential incentives could include:
discounts on homeowners insurance policies
discounts on pet health insurance policies
exemptions from breed-specific legislation (an issue worthy of its own blog topic!)
What are your thoughts on the issue?
About the Author: Casey Lomonaco graduated with distinction from the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior, and is a member of the following professional organizations: APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), CGC evaluator â€” AKC (American Kennel Club), TDF (Truly Dog Friendly), and the No-Shock Collar Coalition.