My journey to positive training was a hard lesson learnt.
In early 1992, I decided to pursue horse riding/training (English/Dressage)as my new career path. I did a brief apprenticeship with Tex-Overfarms in Conroe, Texas and then hooked up with a crazy frenchman. These were my learning ‘schools’ on how to treat animals by handling techniques, riding techniques and the philosophies that went with them to justify the methods used. It was all about force, brawn, pain and fear to get the results from the horses. Whips, spurs, lip twitches, leg hobbles, using chains in a horses mouth to gain control, ear twitches, and it goes on. It was normal operating procedures. I didn’t realize that there was another way. It was like having a love/hate relationship with the horses. I was there because I was passionate about the sport and the horses yet at the same time I had to be “Master” at all times. There was no consideration for the animals emotional well-being or mental enrichment during those days.
Towards the end of my horse career, I had gotten our first Doberman puppy. Jazmine was smart and our breeder urged us to get a Companion Dog title on her. So naively, I started taking lessons from a kennel club that used choke chains and lots of yanking. It was my first experience formally training a dog. I placed my trust in the instructor and I was a very compliant student. I then moved from going to kennel clubs to hiring a private trainer to really get me ready for competition obedience. We used choke chains then on to the prong collar and then on to a shock collar over a period of time. Jazmine and I got great scores, so much so that we made it as Top 20 Obedience finalists in the Doberman Pinscher Club of America. We went through Companion Dog, then on to Companion Dog Excellent but things started falling apart during our Utlitiy training. Corrections were getting more intense and harsh and Jazmine’s behavior became more unpredictable. Competiting with her was no longer fun. It stressed me out because it felt like I had to ‘hold a gun to her head’ to get the level of performance. The more the corrections increased, the more her performance fell.
At the same time, we got another Doberman. I also started competiting with him and using the same private trainer. He was so easy to tain. I hardly had to use corrections on him. He was simply amazing. We titled with our Companion Dog and moved on to work on our Companion Dog Excellent. Echo also made it as a Top 20 finalist with DPCA. Interestling enough, it was at the same time I was having problems with Jazmine in Utility training that I started having issues with Echo. Then one day ,after I was told to hang him over the broad jump because he refused , I melted and stopped right there and then. Echo was the sweetest dog with the softest personality and it just broke me. Something deep inside me told me that this was wrong.
With traditional training, I never took into consideration my animals emotional well-being. The animals were always in the wrong and out to upset my control. I decided to stop taking private lessons. At that time I had to really evaluate what was more important: ribbons, titles, Top 20 or the happinest and well-being of my dogs. I stopped everything and learnt how to enjoy my dogs for who they were without all the dominance techniques. In early 2000, I decided to take up flyball as a fun activity to do with Jazmine. That is where I met Lisa Clifton-Bumpass. She was helping Gold Rush Flyball with some of the dogs taking their classes. I hired Lisa to help me with Echo and quickly learnt that there was a whole new world of animal training that I knew nothing about. She introduced me to clicker training.
Lisa helped me see behavior and training through new lenses. Even though I worked with Echo for a little bit on obedience exercises and decided that Jazmine and Echo were going to live the rest of their lives in peace and joy. Lisa encouraged me to attend the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers and I did. In the fall of 2002, I graduated and went on to intern in their dog aggression program. I graduated from that with honors. Lisa Clifton-Bumpass became my mentor and great friend. She opened the door to my knowledge and understanding and all the animals that I own and work with today are much happier and free because of it. I’m forever grateful for learning about positive training and will never go back to doing horrible things to animals in the name of “training”. The end don’t always justify the means.
Jazmine and Echo were my cross-over dogs.
Islencohn’s Jazmine Zela 1996-2005
died from Mast Cell Tumor (cancer)
Islencohn’s Echo of Foxfire 1998-2004
died suddenly of cardiomyopathy
I’m really thankful Daphne shared her story and that she mentioned the importance of a knowledgeable mentor throughout the crossover experience. R.I.P, Jazmine and Echo.