Source: CBC (Extract)
Posted: August 31, 2023

Some dog trainers are raising the alarm about a popular social media dog trainer ahead of his visit to Toronto this weekend. 

Augusto Deoliveira, known online as the Dog Daddy, is based in the U.S. and bills himself as a trainer of “reactive, aggressive, and high-strung dogs.” His YouTube channel has attracted 2.48 million subscribers.

Deoliveira, who is scheduled to offer classes in Toronto on Sept. 2 and 3, uses what many in the dog training community, including Andre Yeu, call “aversive conditioning” to stop a dog’s unwanted behaviour.

Aversive conditioning can include using physical force against a dog or using pronged, shock, or choke collars. In videos on his YouTube channel, Deoliveira can be seen using leashes to suspend dogs by the neck, which critics say would likely cut off their source of oxygen.

In a YouTube video earlier this year addressing some such critiques, Deoliveira pointed to dogs that he worked with behaving as proof of his success.

“You can see in many of my videos, the majority of the dogs have been trained using the wrong methods, the wrong techniques, that will actually help get a dog under control,” he said in a video dated March 2.

Yeu, the founder of When Hounds Fly, a dog training school in Toronto, told CBC Toronto Deoliveira’s training methods are “harmful.” And he’s not alone. An online petition aimed at keeping Deoliveira from offering classes in Toronto has almost 2,000 signatures to date

“I get really concerned when I see that kind of training,” Yeu said. “It produces a very provocative response … It doesn’t actually help them and, in some cases, can make dogs more aggressive and more dangerous.”

CBC Toronto reached out to Deoliveira to request an interview but did not receive a response.

Yeu advocates instead for positive reinforcement training.

Beverly McKee, manager of training and pet parenting support at the Toronto Humane Society (THS), says punishment-based training shouldn’t be completely off limits. But in general, positive reinforcement is the method most certified trainers, including the ones that work at THS, would choose first, McKee said.

Punishment-based training is usually reserved for managing an emergency situation, the humane society said.

“If you’ve got a dog that’s gonna run across the road in front of a streetcar to chase a cat, sure, you’re going to grab that that leash and give the leash a good yank,” said McKee. “Technically that’s punishment, it’s stopping the behaviour.”

But in general, the organization said, using punishment to train is not OK.

“Positive reinforcement training is evidence based. It works,” she said. “We actually teach the dog what we want it to do instead of the other behaviour. The dog gets a really great experience out of it. They become very compliant, very joyful. They become our willing partner.”

Aversive conditioning not inherently illegal in Ontario

The Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act outlaws abusive behaviour against animals in Ontario, but animal welfare lawyer Jennifer Friedman says the act is open to interpretation.

“There is a broad provision on distress, and one might argue that it creates a situation of distress, the way that trainers are interacting or handling dogs,” she said.

Friedman said the larger problem is that the dog training industry isn’t currently regulated in the province.

“It’s an industry that’s virtually devoid of any sort of regulation, ” she said. “And when we’re talking about trainers, this pertains to the methods of training that they use as well as the scope of their expertise.”

In an email to CBC Toronto,  the Ministry of the Solicitor General, said Animal Welfare Services would review and respond to any complaints they receive, including any about Deoliveira.

In a YouTube post two months ago, Deoliveira said he had never been arrested or charged with any crime. CBC Toronto has not been able to independently verify his claims.

The ministry did not respond to questions about whether his methods could be considered animal abuse or whether the province is looking to regulate the industry.

In the meantime, local dog trainers like Melanie Chin say they want dog owners to know there are alternatives available, even for the most aggressive dogs.

“Consider reaching out to a certified professional dog trainer,” she told CBC Toronto.”Every one of us has to agree to use the least invasive, minimally aversive training techniques. We all have to sign a code of ethics.”

Deoliviera does not advertise certification on his website or social media profiles.

When it comes to dog training videos online, trainers want owners to be critical about what they see.

“Real professional dog trainers don’t use techniques like this anymore,” Yeu said.

“It’s not as flashy as the stuff that you see on social media, but I just want to make sure that everybody in the public knows just because it’s exciting doesn’t mean it’s right.”