P.E.I. dog trainer advocates force-free training

Sadie takes a break from Fearless Fido puppy class taught by Bethany Coles on March 17, 2018. Beth Atkinson photo

Bethany Coles wants to teach owners that training a dog doesn’t require force, fear or pain.

Coles created Fearless Fido in 2015 after becoming a certified professional dog trainer with Delicia Maynard as her mentor.

It was Maynard who showed Coles that force wasn’t needed to train dogs, she said.

“She opened up a whole world of knowledge for me.”

Over the years Coles has attended numerous Association of Professional Dog Trainers conference, which is where she saw Karen Overall, a celebrity in her field as an animal behaviourist and vet.

Scotland recently banned shock collars but that law has yet to come to Canada. Coles offers her training at a cheaper price because she wants to change as many minds as she can.

“My No. 1 priority is the dog.”

When they do something right they only need a small reward. Yelling at a dog should only happen in an emergency, said Coles.

“Everybody screws up.”

Overall said it’s on the trainers to teach both dog and owner.

Only in emergency cases that require the animal’s well-being (eg, restraint after being hit by a car) should an owner use force.

“Knowledge is a slow process.”

She believes animals are very smart creatures, which is why there is no reason to use force to get them to do what you want.

Overall was raised by Canadian parents in NYC. She now lives in Pennsylvania and works at Penn University. Last year she bought a summer home in Point Prim, P.E.I. where she’ll be moving back to this May.

She often sees dogs that have problems that the owner has shrugged off as being normal.

During the beginning of her career she saw a vet patient she’ll never forget.

A dog walked in the door and couldn’t stop spinning in circles. Eventually it would fall, rest for a few minutes and then get up only to spin again.

She discovered it was when the dog looked at its feet that it would begin to spin. Overall had the owner teach the dog to put its head on the floor if it looked at its feet to stop it from spinning.

That dog opened a whole new understanding of just how profound the needs were for these patients, said Overall.

“I suddenly realized that there were animals out there with problems just as complex as human psychiatric problems.”

You should look into getting your dog help if there’s a noticeable issue. A normal dog can learn to sit when you train it to in a fairly short amount of time, she said.

“No matter how well trained they have their human.”

Her line of work is focused on medicinal solutions for animal behaviour issues. Although over 90 per cent of her patients require medication, there always has to be behavioural and environmental intervention, she said.

“It’s not like they can just give a dog a pill.”

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