a cautionary letter

I receive letters from my clients all of the time. Holidays, birthdays, updates on their dog and family, vacation photos, a new trick learned, and everything in between. I love it, it makes my work feel so real, tangible.  This letter came in this morning and I was asked to share. While my heart is sad, and I write this with some tears, I thank this owner for being so brave to put pen to paper and send this my way. Fessing up to our mistakes is not easy, we have to let go of EGO completely. And with that comes the reality that there is going to be a level of judgement from others. If anything, it pains me that there are people out there calling themselves trainers, and harming dogs with really crappy awful advice, and allowing well intentioned people to believe it. 

With love, peace, and kindness, Nancy…

Dear Nancy,
Before I begin I want to make sure you share this on all of your lists and sites. I hope no person has to go through what we have, and hopefully our painful lesson will help someone else.

We came to you for help and advice for our sound sensitive dog. You were so kind, you gave us a plan, and told us over and over again that most likely our dog would never ‘get over’ this, but we would become great managers and help her to feel safe. In all honesty, we left joking about how many different ways you can say ‘safe’ in one hour. We wanted her to be better and not fear obvious noises, but you were telling us it was our responsibility to change our home environment for her and her well being. Calming scents, white noise, comfort space, and low light. We just didn’t  buy it at the time. We tried it for awhile, and she was no worse, the house seemed calm, but it seemed like so much effort on our part.

On some level we knew there was a cure for her, that she could be cured. And frankly, we weren’t about to change our lives that much.

So we went to another trainer that promised us a cure, and 100% results. We were taught how to make a ‘correction noise’ when she showed fear or started to tremble. We were told that our dog needed a true leader and then she would stop ‘acting out’. We didn’t have to change our life style at all, and could sit in the comfort of our family room and verbally correct her. We were told not to comfort her, as that would reward her for being so ‘needy’.

Nancy, I am sure you have stopped breathing at this point, and I am sure you know what is coming.

Her stress, anxiety, and fears blossomed to a whole new level, to the point where any sound, even foot steps sent her into a total panic. She no longer trusted us. She started to foam and drool when we would come near her, trembling all of the time, she feared our touch, and running from room to room. Our hearts broke.

We wanted her to ‘be better’, we were doing what we thought was right, to give her a better quality of life, and in turn, we made her feel like she lived in a horror house 24/7. We not only neglected to make her feel safe, but we became her tormentors. And all we wanted was for her to be better, to have a better life.

We chose to end her suffering. Our hearts are heavy, and we fully understand what went wrong. Your words of ‘feeling safe’ ring in my head all of the time. What you tried to help us with was common sense, kindness, comfort, and really very doable. What we were apparently grasping for was a miracle. And the price for a failed miracle was a life.

I will never torment another dog, I will never go a day without comforting a dog, nurturing a dog, and allowing a dog to feel safe in my presence. Common sense will prevail.

There is so much dog training advice out there, a full spectrum, and we fell for superior marketing and promises of success. And what we failed to see was what you initially told us, ‘always think, does she feel safe’.

This is painful to write, and painful to think about, but if it helps one person, well then.

With heart felt sincerity,


This post has received a lot of attention and quite a few comments – I have posted my thoughts about this instead of responding to each individual reply – thoughts

102 Comments Add yours

  1. Teresa Tanner says:

    Nancy you have always offered your very educated and informed advice and opinions from your heart. You have never ‘required’ people to follow your advice or suggestions, only offered them in truth, experience, wisdom, education and again from your heart. All of the years I spent working with Veterinary Surgeons, I would see dog/cat owners come in with their dogs, placing ‘their’ needs over the well being of their dog. My choice to adopt a child, put me under a microscope for more than a year by social services and child custody evaluators, honestly, I think anyone desiring to have children or be responsible for any living being or animal should have the opportunities to find out the “why” they desire to be responsible for another living being or animal. It is simply not about us ~ it is more about us giving to something outside of ourselves. Being a parent, being an owner of an animal is a privilege, it is an honor and it is the greatest gift during this very short life…………why would anyone want to take a short cut or miss one minute of the journey, its just too fragile, too precious and too short to miss out on! While I appreciate that you posted this letter, before this individual is allowed to purchase, adopt or rescue another animal, she needs serious counseling on the duties and responsibilities of same, otherwise another dog will be put too sleep after she has with good intentions, albiet misguided abused and victimized a creative God created to be loved, protected and nurtured for the greater good! URGH!

    1. TPG says:

      On the contrary, this individual (who wrote this vulnerable confession) I don’t feel needs ‘serious counseling’ on duties and responsibilities to ever own another pet. Those words are in judgement directly behind the confession of her professing the virtues of positive training and her anguish at learning the difference. The trainer who followed after and made things so much worse, the fact that these people can be lawfully in business, that is where your anger can be directed, they SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. Owners don’t know better, and learn the hard way. The poor dogs suffer. This owner learned, the hard way, how promises of quick fix and instant gratification got in the way against positive methods. It’s not fair to impute she’ll do this again, in fact – due to her utterly vulnerable disclosure and angst, I feel confident this owner will work ardently to advocate for positive reinforcement throughout her future. When people make mistakes, it’s best not to hurt or criticize them even more, and this owner especially is showing a great deal of courage and clarity in what went wrong so other people will not fall prey to the same mistakes – and that is worthy of praise and support. The ‘trainer’ who taught these horrific systems, they need the counseling and education. May this letter help other owners avoid bad trainers ahead, nurture patience for change, and put bad science out of business, that is what is fair to direct out heartbreak and hope towards.

  2. mtwaggin says:

    I too have tears in my eyes. Not only for the dog who suffered but for parents suffering now with some guilt over the lesson they had to learn the hard way. We all are thankful there are trainers like you out there that see more to our dogs oft times than we do and teach us to show the love and care that we should to all animals (human and other).

  3. Nikki says:

    My heart is heavy with sadness, but also gratitude at the courage it took for this person to share this story so others can learn, and thereby help other animals, in the long run. Thank you so much for sharing this heartbreaking story with others.

  4. How very sad for all of them. Thank you so much for sharing this story. We hope they can once again get their dog to trust them and feel safe with them. Hugs to you and to them!

    1. nevermore says:

      didn’t you read it? they had the dog put down! nothing to trust anymore

  5. nutsfortreasure says:

    From my home I am also in tears. My little JT the Border Collie hates fire works and gun shots so bad but I remind her I will never let anyone hurt her I give her a hug and kiss and try real hard to play catch with her my way of saying it’s going to be OK and out we go. She loved the play but I am sure if I was not hear she would be under my desk 😦 I have had hunting dogs that loved shooting and ones that stayed home as I always gave my animals only what they could deal with.

    You tried and they searched for more answers and another way and yes forever it will haunt them and for this I am so sorry. I am so sorry their dog was so beside it’s self it had to be put down. Thank you for sharing it. I have a neighbor who needs to read this but sadly she never will 😦

    Again Thanks So much.
    HUGS from me and JT

    1. Jean Strong says:

      I have a little Ridgeback mix named Duct Tape. She is very anxious. She’s afraid of men, afraid of the f word and afraid of loud noises and things with long handles. I have gone to the same vet for twenty years, but I had to switch to a woman vet for her. We don’t know what her puppy life was like, other than it was obviously traumatic. I was also told by well meaning people not to comfort her but my mother’s heart didn’t listen. She does agility with me, but does not like it when there is a man judge. If she gets too upset we leave the course. She had a thundershirt which she loves and an airline create that she can retreat to when she feels the need. My sympathies are strong for this family. God bless and bring them comfort.

  6. nutsfortreasure says:

    Reblogged this on Living and Lovin.

  7. Ohhhhh, what can I say. It was the right thing to do, to write you about the experience, and for you to share.

  8. Nancy Fisher says:

    My Broghan is quite sound sensitive. I don’t coddle him when he is startled by a sound, but I make sure he knows two things, 1. that he is safe and 2. it is no big deal and certainly nothing to be afraid of!!!!!

  9. Nancy, thank you for sharing that heartbreaking letter.

    As you know, our Annie is sound sensitive, and though we have tried many things to get her over it, she remains sound sensitive. The latest experiment is earmuffs, designed for dogs that ride in cockpits! They do help … along with her Thundershirt. But she’s not cured.

    The other night the wind blew fiercely, and it slammed a door shut. Annie jumped onto our bed and curled up next to me, where she felt safe. I let her stay a little while (generally getting on the bed is a no-no), shut the window that the wind was blowing through, gave her a “cookie”, and soon she was off the bed and unafraid once more. I think comforting a dog that is stressed by fireworks, or thunder, or whatever, is the right thing to do. I want my dog to come towards me, not run away from me, when she is afraid. If she were a child, I’d feel the same way.

  10. Leslie says:

    My heart breaks both for you and this poor dog’s owners. I respect and honor them for writing you. I’m going to go hug my scaredy dog now and pray for all the others that they find a gentler fate.

  11. sperry brown says:

    I feel to put her to death was not the right decision. There are ways to correct this and because you didn’t want to pursue them, put in the effort, is your fault. To put the blame on a trainer whos approach was wrong is even worse. Please don’t have another dog. Problems, health wise and brain/behavior wise always arise. Having an animal dependent on you means sacrificing, and obviously you don’t want to do this, you would rather have them killed. Please don’t have children either, it’s the same story with them.

    1. Fay Bartsch says:

      What an incredibly nasty thing to say to someone who is brave enough to admit to a mistake. Have you never made a mistake in your life ? My heart aches for this person, what a hard lesson to learn.

    2. chickadee780 says:

      What an incredibly nasty thing to say. Have you never made a mistake in your life that you regretted?
      My heart aches for these people and I admire them for being brave enough to share.

    3. Mark says:

      Personally I agree with you, I read this article and what I see is an owner who was not prepared to handle a dog like this. There is so much information available now that a person should have no excuse in relation to not being able to rehabilitate an animal. With the right knowledge all it takes is time and effort for one thing I haven’t seen you mention how long you have been trying for or what other alternatives did you try. I had to deal with an animal similar to what you have described for a year I could not go near it, it would just run away or poop but you know what I took my time I did my research and now it is not just friendly to me but others as well. (It took just over 1 year but it is done) Truth is that instead of moaning and crying admit it that the only reason this animal is dead is because you failed to take the time and effort to probably learn what to do.

      1. Camilla McCullough says:

        They did admit it was their fault and I am sure they feel quite guilty, just form reading the letter. This is a person showing her strength by showing us her shortcomings!! This is a lesson learned and I am sure next time they have a dog,(and yes, I do feel it is ok for them to get another dog!) they are more than willing to learn from Nancy and her approach about making sure the dog feel safe. Calling people nasty things and adding to their guilt just shows a person feeling righteous in being better…and that is not an admirable characteristic to have either!

    4. Dsoir says:

      I agree with you Sperry Brown. They lost my sympathy and respect at;
      ” And frankly, we weren’t about to change our lives that much.”
      These people should never own another dog again. I have a very sound sensitive border collie, I would NEVER give up on her.

    5. Pigbot says:

      I understand where you’re coming from, but I find it a little ridiculous to insist these people shouldn’t have children because of this mistake. Also keep in mind that they may have then been lead to believe by a veterinarian that the dog was permanently ruined.

      And seriously, being a ‘bad’ or ignorant dog owner doesn’t render someone an unfit parent. They aren’t children; it isn’t the same.

      1. Robin says:

        If you cannot and will not change your lifestyle for a dog that you know has issues they please find it a home with someone who cares enough.
        Pigbot seriously if you cannot take care of a pet I can imagine what a great parent they will be. Children are much more demanding and I imagine that would require huge lifestyle changes.

    6. HummingbirdIndy says:

      Unlike a human where we can cognitively explain phobias (and even then there are people for whom anxiety is debilitating), reinforcement measures and counter conditioning can only go so far in a canine. While humans have a variety of medication available to ease the pressure of a debilitating anxiety, dogs do not. It is very sad a dog was euthanized because of extreme anxiety, but in extraordinary cases like this one it is often the kindest and safest route for the people and animals. It is a sad ending, but what devastation could have occurred if this poor dog had been forced to continue to live in such extreme fear all the time.

    7. HClarke says:

      Completely agree with Sperry. This made me sick, terrible pet owners! They should have given the dog to a warm loving person who could have worked with her, not taking the dogs life. So very selfish, they proved this in the letter from the very beginning.

  12. ritaroberts says:

    What a very sad story, so heartbreaking. I think most dogs are afraid of thunder and fireworks and in general sudden loud noises. I dread it here when in Crete fireworks are let off for most special occasions as a celebration. My dog hates them but he does come to us for comfort We try to comfort him, he calms down for a while then begins to shake at the next big bang. He is o.k. once they stop. Its so hard to lose your best friend I am so sorry for these people.

    1. nutsfortreasure says:

      It is a hard thing to do make a dog feel safe when they are so torn up inside. JT is so good about playing as much as she can to lesson the stress though I swear when these huge weather systems come through she is smarter than us by seeking shelter under the desk. Animals must suffer in the wilds as well. Can you imagine what they think of with storms and fireworks and no one to comfort them 😦

      1. Crys Buck says:

        I, too, have two dogs that are somewhat sound sensitive. I don’t coddle either one. Not going to invite them into bed, feed them cookies, and in general, encourage the fear. They will sit beside me during fireworks and other loud noises, but they haven’t gotten worse, haven’t gone into mental insanity because they aren’t being coddled. My German Shepherd calms down relatively quick just being near me, and the border collie, though far more sensitive than the GSD, does not freak completely, after you tell her “It’s okay. Just noise.” They both stay close, but they aren’t panicking, climbing the walls, or hiding in the basement, because I don’t reward the fear. I am there, I am safe, and they know that they are safe, so beyond a little initial worry, they don’t escalate. I don’t own a Thundershirt, don’t buy tranquilizers, and don’t use white noise or anything like that.

        As far as wild animals, wild animals steer clear of humans, especially during fireworks or hunting season, and during storms, they take shelter. They do not live a life of absolute panic as a result of loud noises, because they haven’t been taught by humans to have such fear through reinforcement. So many dogs have this fear because it has been introduced, reinforced, and encouraged. Animals are not humans, are not furry kids, and do not deserve to be demeaned in such a way.

      2. Jean Strong says:

        Wow. With that attitude and the actions you take, or don’t take, and your dogs are okay with it, either they are nowhere near as sound sensitive as you think, or they are not as okay as you think. I have no idea what your definition of “coddling” is, but judging from this post and no other information about you, I do see you using some comforting measures, but I also see an impatience with the problem. I commend you for what you have done. However, I tend to get my hackles up over your insinuation that it is our fault that our dogs are sound sensitive. I believe that if you do ever get a truly sound sensitive dog your “oh stop coddling your dog it’s not that big of a deal” mindset will undergo some reconstruction. Until then, I am glad to hear that you have taken steps to reassure your dogs.

      3. stacey says:

        To Crys Buck…..you can’t reinforce fear. You can reinforce BEHAVIOURS, but not emotions. This concept is explained well here: http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/you-cant-reinforce-fear-dogs-and-thunderstorms

      4. Jean Strong says:

        Thank you Stacey, I’ve read that article and it’s one of the things that have helped me deal with my girl. We can’t take away the fear but we can surely make our furkids (and yes, my dogs ARE my kids) at least feel loved.

  13. Kay says:

    I came across this in one of my classes recently. . . .an owner who said he had been told to cure his dog who was afraid of fireworks and loud noises he should just “make him tough” by leaving him out in the noise and ignore him, that sooner or later he would just ignore it all. That if they were on their walk in leash and those loud noises began, to just “jerk” the “choke chain” and teach the dog to ignore it (what??????) I got all teary (you know I do that pretty easily with my soft heart) and said why oh why would you do that???and begged him to please consider some other things, even offering to come over to their house and help. We made huge strides. I taught him how to “comfort” the dog, but not “baby” the dog. Of course it will be another year before those things are heard again, but I hope they remember it all or call me when it starts happening again.

  14. Kim says:

    Ugh. So sad on so many levels. I hope so many things for this person (who was brave enough to put pen to paper and share their failure with the world).

  15. fearfuldogs says:

    The “trainer” who provided the advice to punish a dog for being afraid should be held accountable for the result. The owner’s paid for professional advice and that professional has been grossly negligent.

    1. Debra Moody says:

      I could not agree more, Debbie.

    2. Natasha says:

      Exactly! They should be called out very publicly!!

    3. Absolutely. What happened to that owner (and thus, her dog) is malpractice! The advice given was “grossly negligent” and not the fault of the consumer, who thought she was dealing with a professional. I do find it very sad that, instead of euthanizing the dog, she didn’t return to Nancy and complete her training protocol. But, we have to remember that our clients aren’t as “dog-centric” as we are, and they didn’t sign up for problems, they just wanted Lassie. Sad, but true, and there’s little we can do to change it, or there would be no more dead dogs, no more puppy mills, no more shock collars, no more TV reality stars kicking dogs, and no more heartbreak.

      1. As a certified trainer all I can say is this is the problem when anyone can call them self a “dog trainer”. I would love to see requirements of all dog trainers to be certified, licensed, insured and bonded. All professionals should be held responsible for what they say and do. However this will probably never happen because we live in a country that considers dogs to be property of little value.
        B. Staub CDT, APDT

  16. Curious says:

    Someone please explain to me why it’s brave to write a letter about how you say you wanted to help your dog, but didn’t actually want to do anything about it, realized your mistake, still didn’t do anything about it, then put the dog down because you didn’t want to do anything about it, then wrote a letter about how you feel guilty which you don’t, you feel ashamed and are hoping this letter will somehow alleviate you from feeling that. In psychology, we call this crowdsourcing the ego – you share your story with enough people, and there will be someone out there who agrees that what you did was right and you can stop feeling bad about doing a bad thing because someone else would have done the same.

    For an introduction that talks about letting go of EGO, there sure is a lot of irony in following it with a letter about a woman who does nothing but reduce her dog problems to how it affects HER (inconvenience, annoyance, “guilt”). Then puts the dog down and still the focus is how it affects HER.

    A dog dies because she thinks “Calming scents, white noise, comfort space, and low light” is too much effort = “we weren’t about to change our lives that much”. This is heartbreaking, but it’s all the more heartbreaking that you support this woman being so incredibly LAZY that not only does the dog die, but she feels justified in it dying. The most effort she is willing to put into dog training is to write a letter to make herself feel better. To call that brave is insane.

    1. Camilla McCullough says:

      I don’t agree with you. As a dog trainer ,I see pet owners “attitude” towards their pets and for many, more convenient, less trouble is just better. And then when a “so-called” trainer comes along and promise he can make the dog better without them having to change their lifestyle, well of course they trust this person …he is after all a Trainer!! This happens ALL THE TIME!!..why do you think so many dogs are in shelters? This person is brave because she is ready to show us her shortcomings and admit it!!

    2. stacey says:

      I gotta say I agree with you on this one. She is looking for redemption, IMHO.

    3. Diana says:

      I disagree with you completely. I have a very sound sensitive dog, and I would do anything, anything, that I thought would relieve that fear. I comfort the dog, make safe places, plan exercise and activities to release energy. I have spent many nights all night with the light on to hide the lightening flashes and the swamp cooler running in the rain to cover some of the noise, every window shut up in the heat, the entire night awake, just rubbing his ear to give him some comfort. He has a thundershirt and a designated hidey hole in the closet. But, if someone promised me a chance to end that dog’s fear and suffering instead of merely mitigating and managing? I would be all over that, if I thought there were any chance, not because I am lazy, or don’t care about the dog, but because I do care, and sound sensitivity sucks for the dog and badly impacts his quality of life. Grow up and nurture a shred of empathy. Writing that letter was a service to every desperate, loving owner out there who just wants something better for their dog than a hidey hole and thundershirt. Someone comes along and promises to make it all better? I would try ANYTHING.

      1. If you would try anything, then Google John Visconti and thunder. He has an interesting protocol that might help. But, dear God, don’t try “anything” because that might lead you and your dog down a road that is truly more horrendous than a fear of noises.

    4. Totally agree with what you have said.

    5. rebecca says:

      She is trying to justify her decision to kill her dog instead of once again taking the time to work with the poor baby. I volunteer at a shelter and see all types of emotional issues. It may have taken time to fix the mess they made but once again they didnt want to take the time or put forth the effort.

  17. Marieke says:

    I was redirected here from our dog forum and it brought tears to my eyes. It is so wonderful of these people to share this story. It is what happens when goodwilling people who seek a miracle cure (and it is so human to want to believe it exists) meet someone who mistakenly thinks they are a miracle worker.
    I wish those people all the best and thanks again for sharing

  18. Sue says:

    So brave to write the letter. SO WRONG to kill a dog because YOU were not abe to deal with it. So if a child has fears, you kill it? PLEASE do NOT EVER adopt another dog or have kids!

    1. Camilla McCullough says:

      “Sue” , as a dog trainer, I wouldn’t have a problem with them getting another dog. The learned a lesson and are now very open to listen to what Nancy have to teach them. At least they now know what to look for in a person who calls himself a dog trainer!!! at the sound of it, this dog was living a life of noise torture, so who knows, maybe it was just the best to give it peace. Neither of us will ever know, because we don’t know this family or dog. Please think twice before attacking people and tell them to not have kids or dogs again. That only shows a shortcoming on your behalf

      1. stacey says:

        If the owner had gone back to Nancy looking to un-do the destruction the 2nd type of training caused, AND TOOK THE ADVICE THIS TIME, I would say this woman was really trying. To just put the dog to death to ease its misery makes me wonder whose misery was really being addressed with the death of the dog.
        I have a noise-reactive dog. (who is also leash-reactive, bike-reactive, reactive to anyone walking too close to our car, etc, etc, etc) NEVER has putting the dog down been a consideration. We too found the “wrong” trainer first time around, a bit better trainer on the 2nd try, and then finally the right trainer on the 3rd try. We have learned how to better manage the dog, and ourselves. One of the most amazing ways to get the dog to stop barking when she hears a noise is to thank her for taking good care of us, and offering her a treat. Doing this has turned the outbursts from howling, barking, crying etc into a few loud barks. I don’t think we’ll ever see the day when her reactivity is gone all together, but we all (the dog and us humans in the house) feel better with this approach.

      2. JoAnne Polsak says:

        I so agree with everything you said Nancy. We all want to feel “safe” confessing so others can learn from our mistakes. Thank you for creating safe places fore all of us.

  19. sensored says:

    It’s interesting to me that it is so easy for people to condemn. “Well then they shouldn’t have another dog, oh and better not have kids either while you are at it.” Your black and white world must be simple to live.

    It’s saddenning that this happened, it’s maddening that there are trainers who handle this in the exact wrong way. It is infuriating that the owners put the dog down as a result. There’s blame to be found everywhere, but given the remorse and sadness the owner has expressed as well as their courage to admit on a forum what they did wrong is penance.

    My heart and compassion go out to the poor animal, and my heart and compassion also go out to the owners. Take heart and learn. If you choose to have another dog, examine why you want one first, and make sure that you are willing to commit to what is necessary in order to ensure that dogs health.

    1. codie-odie says:

      Sensored above….from the original sad letter on here and ALL of the comments posted, YOUR comment is the one that actually brought tears to my eyes. You put into words exactly the way I feel about everyone involved. It is terribly sad for the dog and the owners and to see that so many people are quick to judge without knowing either of them is heartbreaking. Just because something worked for your sound sensitive dog does not necessarily mean it would have worked for this dog. Nor do you know the extent of this poor dog’s misery. Be glad they were willing to share their story and everyone learn what they can from it without judging, slamming and belittling people in the process. And, may I add, R.I.P. little baby!

  20. r3dogz says:

    Reblogged this on dixiescrittercare and commented:
    Please read, take it to heart, and share with everyone who owns a dog. ALWAYS question your trainer and ALWAYS make sure your dog feels SAFE before proceeding.

  21. Nancy Bonner says:

    Honestly, I’m still processing how I feel about this. While I don’t feel explosive wrath towards the writer of the letter, I don’t feel much sympathy either, and I can understand why the people who had a bad reaction did so. The only value in a mistake really is the ability to learn from it and adjust so as to avoid making it in the future if possible. Admitting a mistake, publicly stating “you were right and I was wrong” is brave indeed. But it would certainly have been better to admit to the mistake while it was ongoing and obvious. The escalation of the issue… the fact that the dog was allowed to reach such a state of horror and mania at all, was unnecessary to the point of being inexcusable. I am one who believes that there is something to be gained from every educator to whom you are exposed, whether you are taking something away from the lesson or leaving something behind. Learning is a process. We are none of us born knowing everything and mistakes must be made so that we can identify what is right. Working with a trainer whose methods do not work for you or your dog is not a crime. People who don’t know anything don’t know the difference, and can only come to understand it by the results they see. But this poor dog’s dissolution would not have happened overnight. To see deterioration day in and day out, to see suffering increase because of your actions, to see the results and continue doing what you are doing, to be inured by what you are doing that you will continue doing it up to the point of literally killing another, rather than stopping and trying a different way… On the one hand, I agree with those who are saying that this is not a black and white world, that the writer was brave to admit her mistake when she finally understood it, and that the comment “never have another animal or child” is cruel and unwarranted. On the other hand, it seems that a person who refuses one method of training and embraces another to the point of being unwilling to abandon the preferred method regardless of every negative consequence… that, too, is an attempt to live in a black and white world.

    1. Laura says:

      “But this poor dog’s dissolution would not have happened overnight.”

      Well said

  22. Ab says:

    It took a lot of courage for them to come back and admit they made a big mistake. They could have just buried that within themselves and not shared it even with Nancy.

  23. TessN says:

    They tortured the dog until it was completely dysfunctional, killed it, blamed it all on following bad advice and then wrote a big public letter. These folks have shown no common sense or responsibility at any point, and to me this is not courageous in any way. I completely agree with Curious about the motivation and also with whoever said “no more pets or children, please”. Unbelievable.

  24. Lynn says:

    I do believe I would have contacted Cesar Milan….too often I hear and read things like this. I cannot believe the lack of sense people run around with these days, not only for their children but animals as well. I’m not going to say what they did was ok and let them off the hook like everyone is doing. I’m tired of people who do things like this and don’t use common sense as to whether things are better or not. I want to scream for the sake of the precious dog and Thank God it finally has peace elsewhere. If they couldn’t do what was right for this dog, they should have found a good rescue to help it! Oh, but wait!!!! That would have taken some common sense….next time have the sense to realize you are out of your element and give the dog up before you kill it!!!!!

    1. Pigbot says:

      Why would you have contacted Cesar Millan? His techniques are the precise garbage that lead to the dog’s problems in the first place. Did you not gather that from reading the article?

      1. Nancy Bonner says:

        I expect aversive trainers like Cesar Millan, and the mass social acceptability of such by the ignorant, are part of the reason why these owners did not recognize that what they were being asked to do to their dog was actually causing a problem.

      2. Guess what kind of trainer did the damage to this dog? One who uses the same kind of “training” as Cesar Millan! Outdated, fear-inducing, pain-inducing ridiculous poppycock totally unrelated to science or ethical behavior toward dogs.

      3. Lynn says:

        Oh Pigbot, Pigbot, PIGBOT!!!!! You don’t know what you’re talking about…just spouting, like most of the people lacking common sense…its a pretty big category! Cesar Millan puts himself out there for the sake of dogs that most trainers wouldn’t even attempt! AND I’m pretty sure he could have done a better job on this poor dog than euthanization!

    2. Jean Strong says:

      Oh dear God, not that man. He trains with domination and aggression. He is absolutely the worst possible choice for this situation.

    3. Mark says:

      For all who are trashing Cesar Millan just remember this one he has never on his show ever recommended a dog to be put down he has rather take a dog himself and give you one of his own. While miss positivity herself Victoria Stilwell has made the recommendation that a Cocker Spaniel be but to death and she did it over the phone. Secondly Cesar Millan has recently given an Pit Bull Terrier for rehabilitation awarded to him by court of law as a last chance for rehabilitation for aggression. Thirdly he has successfully rehabilitated a Labrador suffering from Past Traumatic Stress Disorder due to being a service dog in Iraq. So maybe you guys should educate yourself a little bit about what he actually does before making comments. Yes the trainer in the story gave the wrong advise but the fact is that it was the author own choice not to go try alternative methodology in fact she downright refused to do so. She learned her mistake blah blah blah … What will happen the next time she gets a dog that is say dog aggressive, or not toilet trained or is a barker? Kill them too because I am “unwilling to change my lifestyle that much.” Hey lets just kill dogs till I get it right huh? I have no sympathy for the writer whatsoever this letter did not take courage to write this letter at all the writer is a hypocrite and I seen this a lot, people moan and cry to me about how their dog’s is this and that and they bark a lot and they dig the garden but when you tell them they have to add structure to the dog’s life exercise them adequately train them etc. Than it is like oh but I do not have the time, I am too busy, I am working late, it is dark by the time I get home, it is cold it is too hot on and on and on.

      No this woman should never get a dog because she will do exactly the same thing as she did now if she ever runs into any difficulties.

      1. Jean Strong says:

        “…give you one of his own.” Really?!? What, his dogs are disposable? I would NEVER give away one of my dogs in a situation like that. That is patently ridiculous. I can only hope you have faulty information. Dogs aren’t consolation prizes! Aarrgghh!

      2. Mark says:

        Ok will try to keep this as civilized as possible as I can not believe that taking to some of you is like explaining something to a 5 year old. In one case a couple had a dog that was not suited for their life style and the dog developed some aggression issues so so Cesar Millan took their dog and gave them one that was calmer and suited the familys much better. End result happy dogs and owners all around. Oh by the way another word for this is ‘adoption’ people do it all the time all Cesar did in this case is take a dog that was not suitable for the family and gave them one that was. I believe he did that a few times with others as well it is definitely an infinitely better solution than the needle.

      3. Laura says:

        And what kind of quality of life does the dog that he “takes” have???? Living in a cement jungle with 50 other dogs?? What kind of life is that? That’s not a life, that is PRISON and that is NOT fair to the dog.

        We KNOW what Cesar Milan does, we are well educated in his methods and that is precisely WHY we can make the comments that we make.

        You can “rehabilitate” a dog. Jesus, you can’t even “rehabilitate” a human. Over 60% of felons repeat offend upon release from prison. It doesn’t work. He doesn’t “rehabilitate” them, he shuts them down completely until they can’t function because of learned helplessness. Again, NOT FAIR to the dog.

        Anybody that is knowledgeable in dog behavior knows that AGGRESSION CAN NOT BE CURED…..AGGRESSION IS MANAGED FOR THE LIFE OF THE DOG.

        I suggest you do some reading on current behavior theories from people that have actual education and science behind them rather than an illegal immigrant who scammed his way to a TV show and has no education on dog behavior. (And no, the farm in Mexico does not count.)

        Much like you can’t ‘cure’ the Ted Bundy’s of the world.

        While nobody likes to euthanize it is often more humane than the hell the dog is currently living in.

  25. Sheila E says:

    I totally agree with Curious and TessN. Good Grief. The destruction did not happen overnight. They continued even though they weren’t seeing any positive results. I left my “professional” dog trainer because of her ego and inabilitiy to step outside her “training box” and explore other training methods. It was one way, her way, or it was somthing I was doing, but I recognized something was WRONG when my reactive dog was not improving. They tortured their dog then killed it and are now hoping for sympathy and redemption. It was aways all about them and NOT about the dog.

  26. Dsoir says:

    What I want to know is why Nancy never followed up on this dog? Obviously what Nancy offered didn’t help them at all. As far as I’m concerned Nancy gave them the wrong tools too. This letter is not a good reflection on Nancy’s training skills.

    1. Nancy Bonner says:

      Whoa. Nancy is an exceptional trainer. She is always willing to help and cares deeply about the animals and the success of their families. She also has hundreds of clients to whom she dedicates herself entirely, and I’m sure hundreds more who come to consult with her and then never call again. I can tell you that as a trainer all you can do is give the best information and do the absolute best you can for the dog and the people while you can. People walk away. They want to try something else, or they don’t care as much as you do and don’t want to put the work it. You *have* to focus on the ones you can help, the ones who show up and try, the ones who care. If you spend all of your time obsessing over the ones who got away you won’t be any good to the ones who remain. You also, incidentally, won’t stay in the business long. When I was training I saw a number of dogs ruined because the owner would not do what needed to be done, and it tore me up. It’s one of the reasons I don’t train anymore. Personally, I think Nancy’s a super hero. But even a super hero can’t save them all.

  27. KW says:

    Wait a minute. They euthanized the dog? That makes no more sense than any of the other stupid things they did. They could have given her up for adoption by someone who would have taken the time to help her. These people should never, ever have another dog. Or a child, for that matter.

  28. APH says:

    Like others, I am deeply ambivalent about these owners. I feel so much sorrow for their poor dog, but I can’t honestly understand how they let it escalate to the point that it did – even when they saw that the “method” taught by the so-called trainer was clearly not working.

    At the end, did they bother consulting with a real expert, say a veterinary behaviorist with actual credentials – before deciding to euthanize their tormented dog? They acknowledged that they themselves had become her abusers – does that mean that no humans could possibly help this dog find a way out of her suffering? Or did they, in the end, just choose what was most convenient for them – just as they admit they did at when they decided right away that changing their lives for their special-needs dog was just too inconvenient.

    I can say I’m glad they know better now – but I don’t believe this poor dog had to die for them to learn that lesson.

  29. Darcie says:

    This letter pisses me off. They didn’t want to change their lives…they wanted the easy way out and in the process, their dog was tormented. Then, to make it even easier on their schedule, they killed their dog and now want all of our tears of sympathy. The dog was getting noticably worse and they kept going with the “training”. Their training with Nancy wasn’t good enough either since they didn’t see any change. I’m sure there wasn’t any followup from either trainer, as most trainers don’t followup…they expect you to call them and ask for their help (hence all the egos trainers have). So sad this dog had to pay with its life because of its lazy owners. Don’t expect any tears from me at least not tears of sadness but tears of anger.

  30. Kim says:

    Wow Nancy. People can be so ugly. It’s amazing how reading a few words on paper can lead some people to believe they know the whole story, every detail, every moment, every decision and all the emotions behind it. It’s amazing that people are so happy to dive in and be judgmental, especially online where their words are easy to hide behind.

    For those of you who jumped in to rabidly dole out your judgement…I hope the person who wrote the letter, or anyone like him/her, never comes to any of you for help in the future. Because clearly you know all the answers to everything, just like the “trainer” in the letter did.

  31. TMB says:

    Even though no one is born with the tools of dog training, one would hope compassion and empathy for another creature would be the common driving force. At the end (and beginning) of the day you are your dog’s best advocate . . . . if anyone, no matter how experienced, no matter what their resume, asks you to do something that puts your dog in distress, suggests stress and discomfort are the path to anything better . . . .for dog’s sake, run!

    1. Robin says:

      These people wanted a quick fix and saw it was getting worse did they stop it no. They did not want to change their lives one iota to help the dog, too much of an inconvenience. They knew they were damaging the dog further but kept the trainer. Disregarded everything Nancy told them. Then they write a letter I guess trying to alleviate their guilt. She stated more than once they did not want to change or try too hard. So why all the sympathies and empathy for this family the dog is the one who paid the ultimate price. I own a rescue who has issues and I have changed my life to make his better because after 4 years he has not gotten a lot better but I love him and make it work he does not deserve to die because I cannot fix him nor the numerous trainers we have worked with and one even suggest just that euthanize him. We work everyday at making his life better. So no, a letter saying how guilty you feel does not cut it because you did not do everything you could have. You should have given the dog up in the beginning when you realized you were not willing to do what was required. Please don’t get another dog sponsor one in a rescue or get a stuffed animal.

    2. Jean Strong says:

      Well said.

      1. Jean Strong says:

        That comment was directed to TMB, just to clarify.

  32. Such a sad case. I shared this on my blog about choosing the right trainer and training methods. People are misled by all the hype and need to educate themselves before they choose.

  33. Nancy r says:

    Everyone failed here…both trainers (that includes the infallible nancy) and the owners and the innocent dog paid the price for lazy, ignorant people all around. Judgemental? Yes, but so are the comments of those of you supporting the owner…it is just judgement from the other side if the fence.

  34. Charlotte says:

    It is awful how many judgments are going on in the comments here. The situation is sad all around. People are saying they didnt want to help their dog, they are lazy, or that they have no compassion…really? To me, it looks like they did try to follow first the advice of the original trainer, and when it wasnt showing the results that they wanted (to cure the dog) which was not something they could do, they looked elsewhere for more advice. Yes they made a mistake, and they regret it, but if you loved something or someone can you say that you wouldn’t want to cure them too? I agree that they should have researched further, but when you go to a professional you go because you cannot figure it out on your own and are looking for help be it to the vet, or a trainer, or whatever. You put your trust in them to know what they are doing. While this is an extreme example of what happens (euthanizing) it’s not uncommon in general terms. If you search about training advice, commonly the first thing that comes up is Cesar Millan, who many here know has some of the worst methods…but, if you are “in the know” you can look past that to find much more advice on positive methods. Things have changed but the information is still somewhat hard to come by. For those of you who are saying euthanasia isn’t the answer don’t even know what this dog was going through fully. Of course I don’t either, but we shouldn’t judge. Maybe the dog was so frightened and damaged that was the most humane course of action. At least they weren’t taken to a shelter in hopes of rehoming only to be frightened out of their wits daily, or deemed unadoptable only to be alone in their last hours. I think the writer of the letter feels it important to get this message out because they are hoping to further educate people who may choose the easy route, or may not do their research. It takes courage to admit your mistakes, and it takes more to actually make the public aware. I’m sure they know they messed up bigtime and I’m sure they regret it. It doesn’t change that they were trying to do what was best for their dog. They just chose the wrong method and it cost them and their pup dearly.

  35. Nancy, you have truly touched these people in a way you never expected. Please pass on to them how grateful many of us are that they were so brave as to share their very much hard-earned lesson. Their vulnerability in sharing their heart-break and how they came to make their choices helps all of us who try to persuade clients of the *process* that rehabilitation is.

    My heart breaks for your clients that had to go through this in such a painful manner. Their story will surely save others from buying into the miracle cure as seen on TV.

    I am re-blogging this into my blog.

    Helix Fairweather, KPA CTP

  36. Nancy Tanner says:

    Hi Everyone, I have been thinking about he comments and thoughts all last night and today. Here is the link to what I have to say. I thought this was better than an individual reply to each post … Nancy Tanner https://nancytanner.com/2013/07/28/thoughts-on-cautionary-letter/

  37. Carla says:

    We too tried a trainer for our 3 yr old rescue with issues of no socialization that could not be reversed sometimes she acted like she did not trust us. The so called trainer told me she advised us to put her down as she was dangerous and nothing could help her. That was in 2007 when I had just put my 14 yr old weiner dog rescue down. I cried and my husband were upset and I decided to prove her wrong! I worked with her learned that repetition made her better and she listens well and is kept away from strangers as the vet feels she may bite due to extreme fear of other people. She still has issues but is not put in situations that we feel are bad for her. She was so scared of this so called trainer that she released feces and urine all over the room we were training in that is when I ended it! So sad for these people but yes there are people out there that can give bad advice. I like your way of thinking better.

  38. Deri says:

    This situation is heartbreaking. I have a beagle that has been terrified of his own shadow since birth. Literally. No one that came to see his litter would take him because he was terrified to even move. I was the first person he came to, and I took him home knowing he had a rough road ahead. And he has had one. Sounds, other dogs, new experiences, all terrify him. I have not always known the right way to handle it, and sometimes I still mess up. Fortunately, I found a trainer that helped me with the most troubling aspect it, his fear of other dogs which led to severe leash aggression. He will always be scared of strange dogs, and the smoke detector, and thunder, or even if I get up too fast. I accept that. But it is not always easy to live with. I could see how if I had never done anything he would have declined into a dog that had no quality of life. I don’t agree that a dog should be put down for this. Another owner, another training, something, but we don’t know the full story or the extent of what his fears had gone to in terms of his behavior.

    HOWEVER, you people saying such horrible things about these owners is just reprehensible. Just dismiss them, they have no value, can’t learn or improve from their mistakes? Seriously? Do you NOT see how you are being EXACTLY like they were before they realized what they had done? Dogs can change, but people can’t? Get over yourselves. Quick like.

  39. Deri says:

    This situation is heartbreaking. I have a beagle that has been terrified of his own shadow since birth. Literally. No one that came to see his litter would take him because he was terrified to even move. I was the first person he came to, and I took him home knowing he had a rough road ahead. And he has had one. Sounds, other dogs, new experiences, all terrify him. I have not always known the right way to handle it, and sometimes I still mess up. Fortunately, I found a trainer that helped me with the most troubling aspect it, his fear of other dogs which led to severe leash aggression. He will always be scared of strange dogs, and the smoke detector, and thunder, or even if I get up too fast. I accept that. But it is not always easy to live with. I could see how if I had never done anything he would have declined into a dog that had no quality of life. I don’t agree that a dog should be put down for this. Another owner, another trainer, something, but we don’t know the full story or the extent of what his fears had gone to in terms of his behavior.

    HOWEVER, you people saying such horrible things about these owners is just reprehensible. Just dismiss them, they have no value, can’t learn or improve from their mistakes? Seriously? Do you NOT see how you are being EXACTLY like they were before they realized what they had done? Dogs can change, but people can’t? Get over yourselves. Quick like.

  40. Thank you so much for sharing this. And bravo to the owner for writing it. My heart goes out to them. I know this type of situation plays out again and again in the small town where I live. We have one local trainer who is a professionally-educated certified behavior consultant and therapy animal consultant in our town who offers the exact same guidance that you do, and another individual who has zero professional knowledge or preparation and misleads uninformed and trusting owners with bogus information and dangerous training approaches. It is so depressing sometimes I can barely stand to think about it.

  41. derrycats says:

    Reblogged this on The Blessing of Animal Companions and commented:
    The author of the letter in this post has a lot of courage –admitting that you are this wrong is very hard. Don’t know if I could do it. But the story is so important. How we train dogs makes a difference–a life and death difference. I’m glad this person had the courage to tell her story.

  42. Jake says:

    The quick fix was to put the dog down. How sad. People need to learn how to fix there mistakes.

  43. Lynda says:

    The letter and comments are sad on so many levels. I agree that the trainer should be held accountable. And I agree that the people should have been more cognizant of the dogs behavior and saw that the dog was getting worse not better. At that point they should have called Nancy or another trainer or even bought a book. But, you don’t continue with what you’re doing if it’s not working. That’s the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing and expecting a different result. That they did is a travesty.

    Many of the comments come from arm-chair generals, who give advice without knowing everything and anything. You are verbally beating a person for following what she thought was good advice. Will she know for the next? I am certain she will.

    I have a rescue dog who has always been fearful of thunder and the blasting underground that was done under my building for the 2nd Ave. subway. He would shake uncontrollably, pant, and drool. The first thing he dose is jump on my lap or get as close to me as he can. As much as we like to think of our dogs as human, they are not. You can’t rationalize with them. Yelling or telling them not to be fearful is not dealing with the dogs fear; it is reenforcing it.

    I hold BJ, talk softly to him, and pet him. I gave him Bach Flower, which didn’t work, neither did a thundersuit. If I know it’s going to thunder and I need to go out, I leave my closet door open so he go in there. Am I doing everything every person thinks I should I do. I don’t know. I have BJ for 13 years and he is none the worse for my method.

    All those negative comments, are written by people who are not trainers or dog psychologists (it you believe in that.) They advocate “tough love” and in essence are doing the same thing that turned the dog into what he became.

  44. Mary Haak says:

    I ran across this post several days ago and have been thinking it since. My heart breaks for the dog and for the writer of this letter who put aside shame and guilt to try to help others who might find themselves in a similar situation. Surely the author knew that there would be plenty of criticism and anger. He or she tried to do right by this dog. Twice. Taking your dog to a trainer or behaviorist to address a problem or issue implies a level of commitment of time and money and concern that many would not make. And while Nancy offered her best advice, that resulted in the dog being “no worse.” They wanted to make the dog better, to heal or cure her of her fears. And who wouldn’t? Going to someone who promises results and a “100% cure” is certainly an understandable action. In a world where TV personalities solve complex dog behavioral issues on TV in 30 minutes, this doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities for a novice dog owner. If only it were true.
    To criticize and condemn this individual, when we do not know the full history, is both unfair and unproductive. If we are ever to be a true “No Kill Nation” (and by the way, I really LOATH that expression), then as dog lovers and advocates, we all have a lot of work to do. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, this individual is probably better than many people or families we are counting on to help us to reach the “No Kill” goal. Adopters have jobs and friends and families and other interests, but still choose to share their lives and homes with a dog, and that is to be applauded and accepted with gratitude, however mis- or uninformed they may be. It is our job, as animal advocates to teach them with kindness and understanding, not condescension.
    Breeders, rescues and shelters all have a huge responsibility. We need to be honest about a dog’s physical condition, temperament, and behavioral issues when offering a dog for adoption. With good screening processes for both animals and potential adopters, we can do a better job of matching animals with adopters so that these types of situations are avoided as much as possible. We need to be selective in finding adopters for dogs with behavioral, health, or other challenges that have the time, money, patience, skill and experience and ongoing support to meet the dogs’ needs. We need to let adopters know that we are there for any questions they might have and any issues that might come up. And stand behind that promise. 100%. We need to follow-up on each and every adoption and ask probing questions to be certain that there are no issues or problems, and to work with adopters until any such issues or problems have been resolved. Not just provide a name or an email address or a phone number. And we need to keep following up on a regular basis for at least the first year. And we need to be willing to take the dog back without criticizing or passing judgment on a person who is willing to admit that they’ve taken on more than they can handle. To do otherwise, places us firmly in the category of “part of the problem,” not “part of the solution.” I’ve been there once. Never again.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Thank you Mary. This was so thoughtful for you to take the time to add tot his conversation.Happy New Year, Nancy

  45. Sometimes we learn easily but sometimes we learn from experiences which are not easy to live through. Hats off the these owners for trying to prevent others from making the mistakes they made. I think they were brave to acknowledge where they feel they went wrong and use that knowledge, although heart breaking for them, to help others. So very brave! I wish them only the best and I am sure they will go on to be the most dedicated owners of another dog somewhere in the future. I have trained dogs and their people for over thirty years and still make mistakes. None of us is perfect but it does not mean we don’t care. I wish them well.

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