Let’s Talk About Kuma
This is Kuma the Akita. Here he is happy, confident and thriving with his handlers in public places:) Prior to training with RYP he was given multiple death sentence evaluations from “Certified Behavioralists”…
WHOA SHOTS FIRED haha. Sorry for the dramatic click bait headline…but this issue plaguing the dog industry is very important to discuss. First things first, at RYP we are not magicians. We are not trying to oversell that we can sprinkle trainer dust on any dog and handler and they will *poof* be fixed. That’s just not how training works. That being said, we are a team of dog psychologists/trainers with extensive tool kits and many years of working dogs with human aggression. We also regularly encourage working K9s to channel and express controlled aggression (sport dogs, law enforcement k9s etc). Understanding ‘aggression’ in all its forms is paramount to successfully rehabbing dogs that exhibit reactive responses to situations that are not appropriate. What I want to draw MAJOR attention to is a trend we have been seeing grow recently in the pet industry. Individuals with a variety of labels and acronyms behind their names make very serious recommendations like euthanasia or heavy medications to fix issues that good training culture could remedy in a healthy (non dead) way. The unfortunate reality is some dogs may need euthanasia. For a variety of reasons the most compassionate course of action may be to allow the dog’s energy to take another form in this world. This option should ONLY be discussed once all other avenues have been exhausted…a major one is subscribing to a good, logical training program (with a track record of rehabilitating reactive dogs) that considers the psychology of the dog.
The fact these handlers had multiple ‘trainers/behavioralists’ (from Washington not Montana) confidently tell them euthanasia is the only option is infuriating. And Kuma’s handlers are not an isolated incident. This is happening regularly around the US right now. Kuma is an amazing dog. There is absolutely nothing ‘wrong’ with him. He is a sweet natured, easily trainable Akita. He was happily eating his meals through training from our hands (a sign of feeling secure) in almost no time. At one point in Kuma’s life he was alone and put into a defensive position by a human and did what any beast (including humans) would do - he pushed the threat away by any means necessary because he had no idea what else to do.
Look at the 2 photos of him here a month after our board and train OUT IN PUBLIC. He’s happy, he’s stable and most important, his handlers are confident in how to apply all these concepts and manage Kuma to make him feel secure and rational in situations that might have otherwise made him nervous/reactive. This is called behavior modification, dog rehab, manners adjustment…whatever you want to call it. It’s dog training. And anyone daring to hang their hat on the term “Certified Behavioralist” should live and breathe modern training before confidently handing out a diagnosis like euthanasia to a perfectly healthy young Akita like Kuma.Dogs are beasts. Just because they act like the animal they are does not always mean they should be removed from existence. On the flip side, training should not be an attempt to make a dog a mindless robot drone that never gets to think for themselves. Training culture, is understanding the balance. Its understanding the roll you play as the handler of a beast in a modern world and making sure you have clear languages developed to direct the dog when it matters most to them…while also allowing the dog’s freak flag to fly when it is appropriate to do so!
I write this post as a cautionary tale to those out there needing help with aggression/reactivity of any variety. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE shop around for trainers and do your research. The dog industry is beautifully unregulated haha. Formal education from a reputable school is a plus for sure but I have met some outstanding individuals in this industry that are self taught. In this same vein you may find many (often well meaning) individuals who are just WAY out of their league with a particular dog training project and are either naive or just not willing to admit they have no idea how to approach the issue. Anyone you seek advice from should have a track record of working and rehabbing dogs with these issues. They should be able to EASILY explain the process and it should come from a place of logic and psychology. Be wary of those that baffle with bullsh*t like over flowery titles and acronyms with their names without the track record to back it up. Also be aware of those selling gimmicks or quick fixes with training tools. Good dog trainers ARE behavioralists. They should thoroughly understand dog psychology, learning languages and ideally have many different tools in their tool kit to deploy to give the dog the best shot at realistic rehab. They should also be HONEST with you about the journey you may need to take. What a day might look like once new habits are built so you, the handler, can manage expectations and prepare to put in the work necessary to help your dog…and keep others safe.
There are so many things that fill my bucket as a trainer. Seeing updates like these are definitely one of them. That being said, it’s troubling to see the bread trail of bad advice from ‘professionals’ that could have easily robbed these amazing clients of their GREAT dog. The only weapon against this misinformation is education. Both for handlers and trainers.
Handlers - do your research.
Trainers - never stop learning.