What started as an adoption of a rescue dog turned into a life-changing decision for Lynn Gagnon, owner and trainer at Stoked Dogs Training & Behaviour – the first company in Revelstoke to be recognized with BC SPCA’s AnimalKind accreditation.
Gagnon’s dog trainer journey began nearly ten years ago when she discovered that her German Shepherd-cross rescue dog, Cody, was extremely fearful. Gagnon visited Cody at his foster home, and it was love at first sight. Gagnon says, “When I met him, he was immediately all over me. He acted like you would expect a puppy to act!” Two weeks later, it was time for Cody to come home. Gagnon recalls, “He was dropped off at my home by the rescue group, and he was officially mine…and terrified of everything. I had to carry him across street intersections because he was shaking so badly. Everything scared him.”
As a loving guardian, Gagnon knew they needed help. She says, “Being a new dog guardian, I had no idea about the lack of regulation in the industry, and I signed up for the first dog training class I could find since I figured that’s what my dog needed.”
Soon after, Gagnon was faced with the reality of receiving advice from a trainer who used aversive methods. The trainer put a prong collar on Gagnon’s dog and advised her to put the collar on every time her dog was scared. A few months passed without change in the behaviour of Gagnon’s dog. Gagnon recalls, “Cody didn’t seem any less frightened – he would just sit and shake when I popped the collar. The trainer said I was wrong, and he wasn’t afraid if he was sitting.”
Gagnon knew she was not helping her dog how she wanted to, so she stopped the training classes and looked for other options. Gagnon’s search paid off. She found an experienced trainer who taught using science-based, positive reinforcement methods. That decision led to her path to become a dog trainer. “I was hooked,” says Gagnon, “I figured if I couldn’t trust going to a random trainer to give me good advice, I would learn what I needed to know to help my dog.”
Gagnon acquired the knowledge and credentials to become a dog trainer fueled by her experience with Cody, her passion for humane training and her desire to help others. Gagnon says, “That decision launched me down a path of wanting to help other guardians and their dogs navigate the world of dog training and to help show them that we can modify behaviour and train dogs without fear and pain.” Gagnon worked with local science-based trainers before founding Stoked Dogs Training & Behaviour, and now her company is the first in Revelstoke to receive BC SPCA’s AnimalKind accreditation.
The BC SPCA created the AnimalKind program to provide information to dog guardians looking for skilled trainers who use humane training methods and to recognize companies for their commitment to promoting animal welfare.
For Gagnon, the BC SPCA’s program is an effective way to help people and their dogs in an unregulated industry. Gagnon says, “My experiences in the dog training realm before I became a dog trainer really opened my eyes as to how unregulated this industry is. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, and as a result, many dogs are hurt, and human-animal bonds are damaged. It honestly blows my mind that we allow people without experience and without regulation to work with living, sentient beings.”
The BC SPCA wants to encourage dog guardians to consider their options carefully when looking for a dog trainer. Nicole Fenwick, manager, research and standards for the BC SPCA, says, “To improve dog welfare, it is incredibly important that dog guardians connect with trainers who are committed to good welfare practices. With AnimalKind, we have developed evidence-based dog training standards and a third-party auditing program that ensures we only recommend trainers who use effective, humane training methods instead of outdated techniques that cause fear and pain to dogs.”
As for Cody, “Now he’s a fairly confident dog,” says Gagnon, “He’ll take a few seconds to warm up to new people, but for a dog who used to be scared of everything, his favourite thing to do is exploring new spaces and especially exploring new trails.”
The BC SPCA launched the first set of AnimalKind standards – for wildlife and rodent control companies – in 2018. Through a partnership with the UBC Animal Welfare Program, the BC SPCA, Vancouver Foundation, and the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies provided funding to establish the program. AnimalKind standards for dog training – the second set of standards developed, were launched in January 2019.