Commentary On a Dog Who Was Starved to Death - McCann Professional Dog Trainers

Commentary On a Dog Who Was Starved to Death

You've likely watched the videos and read the stories surrounding the death of Dallas, a dog who allegedly starved to death at a Board and Train facility in Tennesee. After the story initially broke, I purposely didn't share it because I believe people are sometimes wrongly accused of horrible things through quickfire reactions online. We are an emotional species and often react first with our hearts instead of our heads. When I first read this story, I thought it was so disturbing that every ounce of my being wanted the facts to be wrong. I looked for the story for all of the days following hoping that I would see this as just another overreaction and nothing more. I was so hopeful that there would be some other crazy, but understandable explanation for the dog passing. When I saw the necropsy report however, I knew that this truly was the work of cruel people. There was no other explanation. I gave up hope when I read that the dog had died with 0% body fat.

Now, I'm not going to hold back in this post because I'm furious!

Beyond furious!

Furious at the owner of this facility for being so removed from her business that this was supposedly going on without her knowledge.

Furious with the people I REFUSE to call trainers. A trainer builds a dog up and helps them find their footing in the world. A trainer cares about the dogs they are training and the people who love them. A trainer does NOT starve an animal to death. If you think starvation is a tool, you know nothing about training dogs and I will NOT share a name with you.

I'm furious at the other staff who chose to ignore what was happening to this dog.

Furious to the boiling point at the man who did this. A monster who, day after day, facilitated and watched as a living creature, whom he was charged with the care of starved to death. 0% body fat is almost beyond comprehension.  

I'm also upset with the owners of the dog..... 

I want to shake them.....

I want to know what they were thinking having so much blind trust.....

But, I truly want to rally with them to ensure this never happens to another soul.....

I also want to hug them, cry with them and tell them how sorry I am that they have had to endure this..... 

As I said, we are complex, emotional creatures.

Obviously, the owners thought they were making the right choice in seeking out training and there are loads of great Board and Train programs out there. When you find yourself confused about how to help your dog, they can be a good option to clarify rules and get fast results at the hands of someone who has done it many, many times before, but how do you know which ones are safe?

It's actually quite simple. We have to hold them accountable!

That means that this "behind closed doors" crap has to end.... PERIOD!

How is it possible that we can leave our dogs in the care of strangers and ask so little from them in terms of accountability? The dog was at the facility for 6 weeks in total. According to news reports, the owners were told that they could not see the dog as it would interfere with his training. At his drop off on March 18th, he weighed 32 pounds. When they picked up his body on May 2nd, his body weighed half that at 16 pounds. I will not post the pictures here as they are too upsetting, but I have included a link to the news article with pictures here.

The facility offered to cremate the dog at their expense, obviously to avoid anyone seeing the body. This would have been covered up completely had the owners of the dog allowed that instead of requesting the body be returned to their care. They were told the dog had become lodged in his kennel and died from those injuries.

While I understand that visiting the dog isn't always the right thing, there are many ways aside from a visit to confirm the dog is still alive and well and not being abused or neglected.

Think about this: ONE weekly progress video could have saved this dog's life. One picture at the mid-way point of his stay would have shown the dramatic weight loss and would have started the alarm bells.

ONE PICTURE could have changed everything....

So, here is my advice for anyone entering into the world of dog training: Learn about it! Don't simply hand your dog over to someone who claims to be a professional. In 1982 when we opened our doors at McCann Professional Dog Trainers, there were really only a handful of dog trainers in the area. Since then, we've seen thousands of dog trainers open up shop in North America and here's a fact: one does not need to have or prove any credentials or knowledge to do so. That means you could get a gem who will help and will have a dramatic effect on your relationship with your dog or you could find someone who relies on cruel and abusive methods. Both are out there.


Ask questions!

What kind of methods do they use? What is their background in dogs? What makes them qualified to care for and teach your dog? 

Ask to audit!

We have always maintained an open door policy. We want people to know how we do things and why. We are proud of The McCann Method and all of the dogs it has helped over our 37 years in the industry. We have nothing to hide. We welcome spectators and potential students with open arms. Come and watch classes anytime and see if you think ours will be a good fit for you and your 4-legged family member.

If a school or trainer will not let you audit a class or a lesson they're giving, run! Truly, ask yourself why. Ask them why. What are they trying to hide?

Ask for references!

Read reviews, but also ask for a reference or two. Find out how the training went for others. Did it work? Did the dog seem worried about the trainer or were they happy to be with them? Training should NOT be scary. Yes, sometimes we need to fix big problems that require correction to do so, but correction is not meant to hurt, it's meant to fix. Effective correction gives direction, not punishment - learn the difference, it's a very confused point in the dog training world. 


Make them keep you in the loop on what happened that week. Whether it's a video or pictures and text, demand to be a part of the process somehow. You are absolutely within your rights to require something to show progress during your dog's Board and Train. I've seen programs as expensive as $3000 for a few weeks of training. Surely, they can afford a cheap camera to email you videos of progress and give you information and lessons that will be pertinent in keeping up with what your dog has learned.

Do not put blind faith in any trainer. Sadly, there are cruel people in the world and we owe our dogs the benefit of a bit of research and follow through.

Hi! I'm Shannon Viljasoo and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.

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