San Francisco SPCA speaks out against animal abuse

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Dear SF SPCA community,

Earlier this week a Vacaville police officer was filmed pinning down and punching his K-9 partner in response to the dog not giving up a reward during a training session. The video was shocking, created a public outcry, and yesterday the K-9 was placed in the care of a third-party handler.

We wanted to take this opportunity to reach out to our community and the public to say that we are against physical abuse of any kind to punish any animal during training sessions or at any other time. Physically threatening or harming an animal is never acceptable, regardless of the animal’s behavior.

The misguided belief that dogs need to be “dominated” to be trained, and that a person must assume the “alpha” position, pervades our society. The theory of dominance is that animals will behave if they receive force/aggression and thereby submit to their owner. In the recent past this dominance theory has significantly damaged the welfare of our canine companions and put many handlers at risk for serious injuries. This popular belief is causing serious harm to the relationships of pet guardians and their pets and working dogs alike.  Dominance training damages the relationship with our dogs and causes more problems than it solves — being aggressive toward your dog will often cause your dog to become more fearful, anxious, and potentially aggressive.

In fact, “dominance theory” has been debunked by the scientific community for many years, and a proper training approach of “learning theory” has replaced it.  The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and the Association of Professional Dog trainers have both made statements supporting positive reinforcement training as the correct and desired methodology yielding better results for pet owners. It is well established that dogs respond better and learn more quickly with positive reinforcement training, which rewards a dog for desired behaviors. Any dog can be trained through positive reinforcement; in fact, this is how many working dogs (including many military dogs) are successfully trained.

When training your pet, you should know that non-confrontational training is the best practice and will yield the successful results of a happy, healthy, and successfully trained pet. Please visit for training tips or register for the upcoming Fear Free Pet Behavior Symposium Hosted by the SF SPCA. Do you need a bit more guidance? Remember animal training “experience” is not the same as a certification and training in the field.  Interview potential trainers and if they are educated, they should be more than happy to discuss their practices regarding dominance or use of physical force and intimidation to train a dog for behavior or obedience purposes. Look for trainers that hold the Certification for Professional Dog Trainers and Behavior Consultants.

When selecting a trainer, the San Francisco SPCA recommends using humane and ethical methods that allow the animal to learn and bond with you, their owner.

Click here to receive our list of certified trainers. If your pet has a difficult behavior issue, the San Francisco SPCA has two certified veterinary behaviorists and a behavior clinic for more challenging cases.  You can make an appointment by calling 415-554-3030 or clicking here.

As I watch this video of the violence against this dog in Vacaville, I wanted to reinforce that physical violent behavior is never OK in the name of training. Owners and handlers everywhere can build a much more successful and rewarding relationship with their dogs through mutual respect and reward.

This dominance myth will take time to overcome. Please join us in spreading the word to improve the welfare of our canine companions, through rewards and positive training methods.   It is vitally important that we continue to educate about the importance of positive reinforcement and the harm that can be caused by using physical punishment in training.


Dr. Jeannine Berger DVM, DACVB, DACAW, CAWA,

Senior Vice President, Rescue and Animal Welfare

San Francisco SPCA


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