Always in the pursuit of knowledge and trying to find ways to improve skills, I took Robert, Marie Claire, and Lilly with me to a 2-day handling and dog grooming workshop in the next state over. We learned some new tips such as how to save some money by using homemade solutions for maintaining a great coat (versus the outrageously expensive shampoos and conditioners sold at dog shows), tips on how to use bait (treats) properly in the show ring, and activities to help teach proper gaiting on a loose leash. Many aspects of taking care of, training, and showing a show dog were addressed and we will be utilizing much of what we learned.
While this post is more of a venting and doesn't apply to pugs per se, it still seems important for me to share our experiences at the workshop because ALL dog owners need to be willing to stand up and advocate for their pets. Even if the Queen of England herself asks you to do something questionable, trust your instinct and, if you feel it might be harmful, don't do it. There are a lot of experts out there who claim to know the best approach, but always question and do your research and, if you have any doubts at all, don't do it, or don't do it until you have researched more.
I first encountered this with a puppy class at Petco with our pug puppy, Sebastian. He was young, spirited, (brilliant) … and, yes, a PUPPY. During the "off leash playtime" section, he played with a nearby puppy. He was not aggressive, but he was definitely wanting to play. He did not mount, did not threaten, did not do anything inappropriate for a puppy but, in the teacher's mind, he needed correcting because he was overly excited. (Guess what? The dachshund didn't show up the next week … she was in heat!) At any rate, the teacher said "with these types of dogs (she obviously didn't like pugs) you need to always let them know whose boss". So she put Sebastian on his back and held him there. (A puppy!) While I didn't know much about dog training at this point (serious training), I did know that, in my gut, this felt very wrong. I should have taken Sebastian away from her at that very second. Sadly, I waited a few minutes. After she started belittling an elderly man who was in the class, that was when my stomach was really boiling and I literally felt nauseous, giving me the courage to pick up Sebastian and walk out of that store (with the honest excuse that "I wasn't feeling well.") Yes, I lost about 4 classes worth of money, but I ended up finding a teacher who used positive approaches to training and a dog who loves learning and is still happily sleeping at my side now even as a senior dog. A dog who earned his CGC, Rally Obedience, and other titles. A dog who loves life, and loves me. And respects me. Who knows what would have happened had I subjected him more to that "dominance" trainer who obviously did not like pugs, and who had no right teaching humans or dogs?!
This story is largely why I'm making the post here about the workshop. The clinician was definitely NOT like this Petco teacher and he seemed to truly love dogs, had accumulated a vast knowledge from a lifetime of handling show dogs. However, there was a point in the workshop where my "gut" was challenged, just like it was at Petco, and I stood up for my puppy. And that's where I feel this venting blog post is applicable to the site because I hope and pray that everyone out there with one of our Pickwick Pugs will have the courage to stand up for their pup at all times and never feel pressured to do something that is not in your or the pug's best interest.
It has been a long, long time since I've dealt with a "Drink the Koolaid and ask NO questions" teacher. That's why I was taken aback at the workshop with the clinician's reaction when I asked a question and shared a (serious in my mind) concern.
I shared my considerable concern over allowing the 6 foot lead to drag the ground with this young puppy (who had only worn ANY kind of a lead or collar a few times, since we just got him), and who was wearing a CHAIN CHOKE COLLAR the clinician wanted him to use (these kill SO many dogs, and they are never advisable for pugs ...... since I had never used them I was honestly concerned that I was using it correctly and had "a P" not "a Q" .... and the clinician had put this on my pug puppy just seconds before. The puppy was still unpredictable and I was afraid I would trip and fall and kill him, or that the lead would get tangled up around his leg and injure him (you weren't allowed to look at the dog at all, even if/when it was lagging behind you etc., so you had NO idea what the puppy was up to). With so many concerns, I asked the clinician before the down and back if I could hold the lead so it didn't drag the ground as much ... but still have a loose leash etc.
So, with all these concerns, I asked the clinician (very politely mind you) if it was absolutely necessary to hold the lead at the end, necessitating it to drag on the ground and possibly trip us. I shared my concern that I didn't think my puppy was ready for this yet, and asked if I could continue, for now, to use the techniques we had used the day before, which were safer and much more appropriate for Robert's level of experience and training.
(The clinician himself kept saying over and over "you guys aren't ready for this yet", and I was seeing dogs being flipped over because they had been tangled up in lead but clinician kept saying "keep walking don't stop" or another person wrenched her knee because she tripped on the lead and other dogs being dragged for short distances .... with a CHOKE CHAIN on!)
So, to me, this was a fair an honest question and I was hoping for a responsible and kind response to address my fears with explanations of why there should be no concern.
Instead? The clinician proceeded to dramatically throw his hands up in the air, then walk over to the wall and pretend to bang his head. This drama caused the Price is Right audience to collectively gasp (How dare a student do anything but blindly follow his instructions!!) I guess they served Koolaid during the break when I was out in my car.
In retrospect, perhaps the clinician didn't offer a responsible response because there wasn't one. He knew the risks but felt they were worth it. As my puppy's guardian, I did not feel the risks were worth it.
The clinician wanted NO student input, however. He only wanted all the participants to blindly follow all of his directives no matter what. "Don't you trust me?" Well, honestly, no. Not yet at least. You haven't earned that trust yet.
The final straw was with the final go around. Being a puppy, Robert decided to stop walking. So I stopped walking too because, had I continued walking, it would have caused me to drag a young PUG puppy who was wearing a chain collar. Yes, the clinician pretty much insisted that everyone wear a chain choke collar. To those of us using a Resco, "we would never be successful" in training loose leash walking. (Mind you, chains are NEVER recommended for pugs and definitely not for pugs who have a handler who is inexperienced using choke chains.) So, here I am, with the clinician having put this foreign collar on my puppy just seconds before, worried (petrified) that I might have a "Q" and not a "P" and might choke my puppy to death. (I've never been good at arts and crafts and such, mimicking the teacher. And, even though my dad and both grand dads were engineers, I'm absolutely horrid at figuring out how things work, mechanically speaking.)
(While on this subject of choke chains, I've heard of so many pugs who have either damaged their throats or been choked to death. And, since the workshop, I've learned of a young, small dog (terrier) who attended one of these workshops previously and ended up with a damaged throat which even surgery couldn't correct. Simply because this owner blindly followed this clinician instead of trusting his/her guts, that poor puppy is now ruined for life and, probably a very exceptional show dog's career down the drain before it ever began.)
So, yes, I stopped walking when Robert stopped, despite the clinician (and audience) chanting "keep walking! keep walking! don't stop". My refusal, and my questions, caused the clinician to say "pick up your dog and sit down" … (he benched us!) … and the money we paid for the remaining 4 hours of a working spot was washed down the drain.
I don't think I would have had the courage to refuse to keep walking had I not remembered something I learned years ago at workshop presented by Norma Smith. She said, no matter how important someone is, no matter how many people tell you to do something, ALWAYS advocate for your dog, and if you EVER feel anything is not safe or to your dog's best advantage, don't do it. Always trust your gut. So, if the Queen of England herself tells us to do something we don't feel is to our dogs' best advantage, we will not do it. Our dogs come first. Always. Always. Always.
So, sadly, a lot of money was washed down the drain as I had to simply observe the remaining 4 hours of the workshop, when I had paid for a working spot participant. Also, most of the $250 I paid for a private lesson (in addition to the very expensive workshop itself) was lost since the clinician only gave us about 10 minutes of the hour lesson. He actually cut part of Lilly's coat (I have only ever lightly trimmed the back side and tail like most pug people do ... never the coat itself!) using a tool he invented which is not available for public sale. He is a master groomer so there is NO way I could replicate his work and finish her coat on my own. So, because she was half-groomed and looked ridiculous, I had to miss the show the following weekend we had entered. More money down the drain as we can't get the entry fees refunded.
When I registered for the workshop, I thought it was a bit odd that it stated the clinician had the right to excuse anyone or any dog for any reason with absolutely NO refund. That should have been the clue right there that he was a Koolaid teacher.
But, you know what? If I had it to do all over again, I would STILL choose to stop walking, disregarding the clinician's directives, even if it meant being kicked out of the class. Why? Because I would go home with a dog whose throat was not damaged like the terrier puppy, or with a knee that was not wrenched like another participant in the workshop.
So, while this very cynical post is a bit atypical from my usual posts (sorry for venting), I shared it in hopes that future Pickwick Puppy owners will have the courage to always trust their gut when it comes to their dog's safety and happiness. If you think something might harm your dog, or have any concerns at all, don't do it. They'll probably try to make you feel foolish and stupid, but don't do it. You might have to lose some money and just walk away, but don't do it.
Remember, you are your dog's champion. You are the only one who truly cares about his or her safety and happiness. Don't let anyone, no matter how famous or important or "knowledgeable" an expert they seem to be, ever force you or your dog to do anything you don't feel is in your or your dog's best interest. You are your dog's only true champion.
Amy Aberg McLelland, owner Pickwick Pugs