By Driving home from Skinner Park in the West Loop early last June, Greg Cumber heard a sound that made him abruptly pull over. “It was the sound of an animal getting hit by a car, or like a child’s shriek,” he says. Looking around, he located the source of the cry–a small Newfoundland dog being led around the park by a tall African-American woman with a large remote control in one hand. Cumber, who had just been playing in the park with his German shepherd, Chloe, recognized it as the remote for an electronic training collar.
He says what he saw sent shivers down his spine. “She was zapping it every few seconds. It kept kicking at the collar with its hind legs, making that noise over and over again.” He watched for a few more minutes, then drove away, dazed. “I couldn’t sleep that night,” he says. “I couldn’t get that sound out of my head. I’m just a normal guy–I’m no crusader or anything. But I knew I had to do something about what I saw.”
The next day Cumber made up a flyer and stuck it in mailboxes around the neighborhood. It described what he’d seen and asked anyone who’d seen something similar to contact him. Within a few days he’d learned that the woman he’d seen was Ami Moore, a professional trainer who’d recently opened a business called Doggie Do Right on Madison, and that several of his neighbors had also been disturbed by what they’d seen her doing in the park.
During Memorial Day weekend, Heather Davis had been walking her long-haired Chihuahua with her fiance in Skinner Park and saw Moore training a Bichon Frise, a tiny breed the American Kennel Club refers to as a “white powder puff of a dog.” She says she was surprised to see that it was wearing two electronic collars, one on the neck and one around the rearmost part of its waist. Moore, she recalls, was yelling at the Bichon to join a group of frolicking dogs in the middle of the park, repeatedly pressing a remote control and shoving the dog hard with her foot. “The dog was yelping, a lot. It was obviously scared–it just wanted to curl up in a ball,” she says. “It was even making my dog scared.” At one point, she says, the Bichon dashed across the park to cower under a stroller.
“I went up to Ami and I said, ‘Hey, your dog’s over there.’ She ignored that and started introducing herself to all of us as this great trainer and saying how she invented this training method, like she had forgotten all about the dog. I asked what was going on with the Bichon, and she said, really annoyed, ‘That dog has been nothing but a third tit on its owner, and I have to break it off and retrain it to be a dog.’ I just walked away, shocked.”
Diane Opresnik, a friend of Davis’s, says she saw Moore with the same dog that week. “The Bichon was literally lifted into the air, that’s how strong the shock was,” Opresnik says. “I’d never seen someone strap a collar around a dog’s genitals before, and when I confronted her, she said something like, ‘I’m just making sure this Bichon will never run into the street and get hit by a car. A live Bichon is better than a dead Bichon.’ . . . It was so disturbing. I still can’t get that sound out of my head.”
Opresnik had dinner with Davis not long after, and they exchanged stories. She learned about Cumber from a former neighbor, park regular John O’Malley, who’d seen Moore with the Newfoundland at the same time as Cumber and responded to the flyer. Cumber contacted the Anti-Cruelty Society, which eventually referred the group to the police, who interviewed each person individually. On July 14, officers from the CPD’s Animal Crimes Unit arrested Moore at her shop on two counts of cruelty to animals, a Class A misdemeanor.
The complaints allege that Moore “tormented a Newfoundland dog by repeatedly administering ‘shocks’ via an electronic collar causing the dog to cry out in pain, pant in distress and scratch at the collar in an attempt to stop the shocking sensation,” and that she “tormented a Bishon/Poodle mix dog by fastening multiple electronic collars . . . and repeatedly administering ‘shocks’ to the dog.” Assistant state’s attorney Ankur Srivastava told a judge in September that witnesses he intended to call had seen Moore using a collar on a nine-week-old puppy and three of them on a single dog, including one around the groin area. Stephanie Bell, a PETA rep who’s been following the case, says PETA gets lots of calls alleging cruelty by trainers, but she’d never before heard anyone accused of shocking an animal’s groin. Bell wrote a letter to the state’s attorney’s office before Moore’s first court date, urging jail time and counseling for Moore if she’s convicted.
The Doggie Do Right storefront window at 1041 W. Madison–which was covered over with heavy black paper after Moore’s first court date and early this week appeared deserted–advertised training, grooming, and day care. As of last month, Moore’s services were expensive: $999 for four individual sessions and $2,200 for a ten-day “boot camp,” where the dog stays at the facility for the duration. By comparison, Bark Avenue, also in the West Loop, charges $45 per half hour of private training; the South Loop’s Dogone Fun charges $85 an hour and $899 for a 16-day “intensive training” program.
Moore bills herself as “Chicago’s Dog Whisperer.” The term doesn’t have a strict definition, but thanks to the rise of Cesar Millan and his National Geographic Channel show, it’s generally understood to mean a trainer who adapts theories about pack dynamics to communicate to the dog in a language it can instinctively understand. Moore’s handle was one of the reasons that in the winter of 2006, when I was working on a story about pit bulls for the Reader, I arranged to observe her as she trained an abused and aggressive dog at a shelter in Deerfield.
I’d found Moore the way many of her clients do, through her Web site, dogdoright.com. When I plugged dog trainer and Chicago into Google, three or four hits from the site came up on the first page of results. The site is sprawling–about 70 different pages, crammed with factoids, mission statements, inspirational quotes, testimonials, lists of keywords, and exhortations to “CALL NOW!” One page announces that Doggie Do Right was voted best private training class by readers of Chicagoland Tails; one links to positive articles about Moore in the Sun-Times and Pioneer Press and to a Channel Two segment on her dog yoga class. On another Moore issues a “$10,000 Challenge,” in which she dares any “treat-slinging weenie” to face her in a training contest designed to “disprove the lies, half-truths, and emotionally driven propaganda of the far left/total positive/new age/cookie-pushing dog training movement.” Moore told me last winter that no one had ever taken her up on it. A page titled “Dog Training Collar” refers to an “e-clicker” or a “tapper,” but a Google search doesn’t turn up the phrase electronic collar anywhere on the domain.
Moore declined to discuss her methods, her training and education, or any certification she holds for this story and said she would advise colleagues and clients not to comment either. Stacy Goodman, a dog shelter volunteer whose own pit bulls were trained by Moore and who arranged for Moore to train the abused pit in Deerfield, did not return a call. Jim Morgan, a Chicago trainer who took a three-week private course in electronic-collar training with Moore in 2005, declined to comment about her.
Last winter Moore told me she’d been training dogs professionally for 12 years, and that before starting her own business she’d worked as a trainer at PetSmart. (A spokesperson says she was employed by the company from 1997 to 2005 and as a trainer starting in 2000.) But Moore took issue with PetSmart’s policy of using only positive-reinforcement techniques. “It’s like the same problem with badly behaved children in restaurants,” Moore said. “Everybody’s afraid to say, ‘No, you can’t do that’ because no one wants to be mean. So now we’ve got all these badly behaved kids and badly behaved dogs running around, and everyone wonders, How did this happen?”
The idea behind positive reinforcement training is to associate behaviors the owner wants the dog to perform with rewards, like treats, praise, or petting. This is simple enough when you’re teaching a dog to sit but requires a bit more thought when what you want is for a dog to stop doing something–pulling you down the sidewalk or barking at another dog on the street–and your first impulse is to yell or yank on the leash.
Positive reinforcement is the opposite of correction-based training–also called negative reinforcement, compulsion, or aversion training, and until pretty recently the dominant school of dog-training philosophy. In this method the dog is punished for unwanted behaviors or for ignoring commands, the idea being that it won’t choose to repeat actions it associates with pain or discomfort. Choke chains and prong collars are common correctional tools, and so are electronic collars, though some trainers say they don’t use them that way.
The literature on negative reinforcement goes back at least as far as 1910, when Prussian police commissioner Konrad Most published Training Dogs, a book on preparing dogs for police work. He used what he called “compulsive inducements,” like jerks on a choke collar or displeased-sounding shouts, timed to pinpoint the dog’s unwanted behavior. If the bad behavior is “separated in time and space from the disagreeable experience or ‘punishment,’ it will prove impossible to establish the required association,” he wrote.
But it was William Koehler, who trained dogs for the military and later for Disney, who wrote the book on correction-based training: The Koehler Method of Dog Training, originally published in 1962 and for decades one of the best-selling books on the subject. Day four of the method included a fundamental lesson for the dog about the consequences of bad choices: “Lock both hands tightly in the loop of the [long training leash] and offer him Godspeed and the full fifteen feet of slack. As he moves toward the gate, hold your line-grabbing hands to your chest like a ball-hugging halfback and drive hard in the opposite direction. You should be going at least eight miles an hour for the dog’s abrupt stop and complete reversal. . . . Let the unchallengeable force of your momentum carry the dog at least eight feet in your direction so that the lesson has the maximum significance as well as impact.”
Koehler felt that “to train a dog solely by means of positive reinforcement is to ask for trouble,” wrote the Reader’s Michael Lenehan in a 1986 feature on dog training for the Atlantic, “because the dog’s world is full of positive reinforcers–toy poodles, moving cars, and hundreds of others. A dog must learn to obey when no pleasure accrues from doing so; sometimes the only motivation that will work is respect for (some would say fear of) unpleasant consequences.”
Both positive- and negative-reinforcement trainers say that in the last decade positive-reinforcement has overtaken Koehler-based training as the fastest-growing approach. Trainers in the positive camp say that’s because it’s based on newer, better science about the way animals learn. Trainers in the compulsion camp say the surge is the by-product of a politically correct and litigious culture.
Stacey Hawk is a Chicago trainer who teaches at three locations around town. Her specialty is agility, a sport in which owners coach their dogs through an obstacle course in a race against the clock. Hawk helped create the city’s first official dog park, Wiggly Field, and cochairs the Dog Advisory Work Group, a nonprofit that works to promote responsible urban dog ownership. She’s one of the city’s most outspoken advocates of positive reinforcement training. But she started her career in the early 90s using the Koehler method.
“Anyone who’s been around for a while started with compulsion training,” she says. “Then a lot of us started studying learning theory, studying the science behind the way animals learn . . . and I never looked back. We know now that dogs don’t necessarily associate punishment with their own behavior, which can be very damaging to the trust relationship between the dog and the owner.” A dog that gets a shock from an electronic collar when it barks at another dog on the street, she says, is likely to associate the sensation with the other dog rather than its own barking. She says she’s had to retrain dogs that became aggressive toward other dogs after being outfitted with an electronic collar. “It amazes me that people are still so misinformed about correction training,” she says.
In the latter half of the 90s, a new strain of positive-reinforcement dog training began to gain ground, much of it based on B.F. Skinner’s theories of operant conditioning. Perhaps the most influential trainer of this period was Karen Pryor, an animal behaviorist and former dolphin trainer. Pryor’s method centers on the “clicker,” a handheld noisemaker that’s used just like the whistle in dolphin training: unlike a treat or praise, it marks the precise moment that the animal executed the behavior you’re about to reward. “Clicking is like taking a picture of the behavior the trainer wishes to reinforce,” Pryor’s Web site explains. “After ‘taking the picture,’ the trainer gives the animal something it likes, usually a small piece of food but sometimes play, petting, or other rewards. Very soon (sometimes within two or three clicks), an animal will associate the sound of the click with something it likes: the reward. Since it wishes to repeat that pleasurable experience, it will repeat the action it was doing when it heard the click.”
If this gentle approach works so well, why would anyone choose a controversial tool like the electronic collar? “People feel that it’s a quick fix,” says Hawk. “Positive reinforcement is time consuming.” Another north-side positive-reinforcement trainer, Jeff Millman, replies, “That’s the million-dollar question: what’s the attraction to the electronic collar? My feeling is it’s a fast-food nation. People like remote controls. They like fast, quick things with buttons on them.”
“If a dog can be trained by positive reinforcement in a reasonable time frame, to safe reliability, I say do it,” says Marc Goldberg, a trainer based in the northwest suburbs. He’s been training dogs for 25 years and gives seminars on what he prefers to call “remote-collar” training around the country. “But there are many occasions in which a problem will defy positive-reinforcement training. Or [in cases where the dog has a serious problem, like aggression] it will take so long that the owner will give the dog away to a shelter. Most of my practice is built on dogs who are all-positive washouts. Personally I like to specialize in the more challenging cases, because if I don’t help, those dogs will be put down or live their lives on lockdown.”
Goldberg speaks in a careful, calm voice that doesn’t vary when he interrupts our phone conversation to ask a dog to get off a counter. The electronic collar, he says, “touches an emotional chord in people, and it should. I am highly aware that I am wielding a tool that can easily be abused, or can be used to elevate training to an art form.” He’s of the opinion that it should not even be available to the public without instruction, and he’s turned away clients he thought might use it abusively. “I’m not going to give a powerful tool to someone who is unstable,” he says. “Some people enjoy the power trip, and they give the collar a bad name.”
Goldberg uses collars one at a time and only around the neck. Their primary purpose, he says, is to turn a dog’s attention away from distractions–a squirrel clambering up a tree, a car barreling down the street–and back to the task at hand. He compares the sensation to a “tap on the shoulder.”
“When I tell my clients to put the collar on their hand and feel for themselves, they’re like, ‘It’s not on. I can’t feel anything.’ Dogs have a much higher tactile sensitivity than we do,” he says. “If you were watching me train, you might not even know I was working the collar. You wouldn’t see the dog react violently, you wouldn’t hear a yelp. All you might see is a flick of an ear.”
Once he has the dog’s attention, he says, he doesn’t so much give it a “command” as “show” it, using obvious body language, what he wants it to do–come, for instance. If the dog is healthy and happy and Goldberg is sure it understands what he’s asking but it doesn’t comply, he might halt the dog’s wayward progress and simultaneously deliver another attention-getting shock–a term he says he’s comfortable with. “It’s poor sportsmanship to deliver a shock and call it something else,” he says. “When you touch a doorknob, you get a static shock. What I use is less intense than that, but yes, it is a shock.”
Goldberg says it would take a dog dashing into the path of a car for him to deliver a shock at the higher end of the dial. “Here’s the problem with totally positive training,” he says. “There’s no correction for bad behavior. Your dog is chasing a squirrel. You say ‘come,’ and you have a treat in hand. Problem is, the dog doesn’t want the treat, he wants the squirrel, and he doesn’t know about the car coming down the street.” But otherwise, even when working with a dog that’s less sensitive to discomfort–like most pit bulls, in his experience–Goldberg prefers not to increase the intensity. “We have two choices: we can turn it up until it hurts, or we can go low and slow. I don’t mind taking the extra time.”
On her Web site, Ami Moore touts the speed of negative reinforcement as a selling point. “We have found that by using . . . positive-reinforcement only techniques, it may take an owner years to train his dog,” she writes. On her boot camp page she promises, “Yes, just three days for the perfect dog! Check out our famous Rapid Rover Rehab Consult; we’ll change your Cujo into Lassie in just two hours!” And on the $10,000 Challenge page: “Remember the most humane training is the training method that makes the most sense to the dog in the shortest amount of time!”
About three years ago Moore took a three-week seminar at Sit Means Sit, a nationally known Nevada-based program run by a gruff, burly man named Fred Hassen. Hassen heavily promotes the use of electronic collars and has posted about a hundred videos on YouTube demonstrating their effectiveness. He says he often uses more than one collar on a dog, and he’ll use one on a dog of any age. In an article posted online at workingdogs.com, he writes, “Years ago electronic collars only had extremely high levels to stop hunting dogs from chasing undesirable game. They have come a long way since then. Modern technology has evolved in this field, just like it has with computers, stereos, cellular phones, fax machines etc. I find electronic collars to be the safest, most effective, and most humane way to both stop unwanted behavior, and to motivate wanted behavior.”
That said, he acknowledges that the collars can be misused: “People that abuse their dogs in training will find a way to do it no matter what method is used,” he writes. “As in all fields of endeavors, legislating idiots is extremely difficult.”
I asked Hassen how closely Moore’s methods resemble his. He replied, “We were a brick in the road along the way for her, but looking at her Web site it’s clear that she’s developed her own program.” One way they differ, he says, is that he never trains a dog without its owner present. Skinner Park witnesses say Moore was alone with the dogs during the incidents they reported, and owners are not permitted to visit their dogs during her boot camp.
Moore has adopted a philosophy based, like Cesar Millan’s, on showing the dog that the human is the pack leader. In an article that appears in many forms on the Web, she explains a concept she calls Alphatude: “It is the job of the human to lead, and thus put the dog in touch with his ‘inner wolf.’ Wolves in the wild are in harmony with themselves, their family members and their environment, and thus they are not neurotic, aren’t needlessly aggressive, don’t have separation anxiety, aren’t obese, aren’t hyperactive, and aren’t obsessive-compulsive. With the application of Alphatude, our own beloved dogs don’t need to be burdened with these afflictions anymore, either.”
After my story on pit bulls ran in the Reader, Moore sent a letter challenging a description of her use of an electronic collar as negative reinforcement and explaining how it fit with this philosophy:
“If the owner has enough of what I call the proper Alphatude then I can show the owner how to mimic my techniques,” she wrote. But “if the owner has more Losertude than Alphatude, I show the owner how to ‘train’ the dog. Dog training consists of training the dog to respond to commands, such as ‘sit,’ ‘down,’ and ‘come,’ as a means to increase appropriate dog behavior.
“The tool that I use for dog training is what I call an ‘electric clicker’ or ‘tapper.’ While my tool looks like a standard electric remote dog-training collar, I have the factory replace the standard interior circuits at my request with a special set of chips that reduces the intensity of the stimulation, so that the static tingle is so low, so benign, that the dog can barely feel the sensation. I explained to your reporter that I use a variety of ‘sensations’ with the e-clicker: tone, vibration, and a low-level static tingle.” (Tri-Tronics, a manufacturer Moore told me she ordered collars from, declined to comment on Moore or her collars.)
Marc Goldberg says that although the same sensation he uses to get a dog’s attention can be associated with a reward–a cookie, a kiss, a hug–he can’t conceive of a scenario in which the sensation would be rewarding in and of itself. “I wouldn’t call it pleasant,” he says, “because I don’t think the dog would push the button itself if it could.”
Goldberg knows Ami Moore professionally, but he declined to comment directly on her methods. He did say that dog professionals across the city are closely following her case. Daniel McElroy, a trainer who works with electronic collars at Bark Avenue, was more blunt: “I have never heard of such a vehement reaction against a single dog trainer in my life.”
At some point after completing Fred Hassen’s class, Moore set up her own business in Lake Forest, a town that doesn’t require dog trainers to have a business license. Moore offered boarding as well as training, which does require a license from the Illinois Department of Agriculture, but the department doesn’t have a record of a license for Doggie Do Right in Lake County. (There is one on file for when she moved to the West Loop.) Operating a kennel without a license is a Class C misdemeanor under the Illinois Animal Welfare Act.
In January 2006, Chicago residents Aram and Liz Manyan left their dog with Moore in Lake Forest. The couple were heading to a Caribbean island for eight days and thought that Ruby–a small year-old German shepherd mix they’d found about six months before as a stray in Michigan–could benefit from some basic obedience training while she was boarding. A friend who’d done a single training session with Moore recommended her, so they checked out the Web site. “We were impressed by all the dog-whispering stuff,” says Aram, who’d seen Cesar Millan’s show a few times.
The Manyans first visited Moore’s home, a modest ranch-style house with a small fenced-in backyard, the day before they left for vacation. He says he wasn’t exactly charmed by the trainer, finding her “headstrong and opinionated,” but he wasn’t bothered enough to cancel the arrangement. He gave Moore his e-mail address and asked her to send an update about Ruby every few days.
Early in the trip Liz Manyan got an e-mail from Moore saying she’d received the balance of their payment and that Ruby was doing fine. Liz asked if they could get another update on Wednesday or Thursday. Those days came and went, and then on Saturday they got a short e-mail from Moore: “There has been a terrible accident. Ruby ran away. I went looking for her in the car. These people saw her just hanging out on someone’s lawn down the block, and then went to get her. I called her and she tried to get to me, and the man tried to hold on to her to keep her in the house. Ruby bit the man.
“If they had just left her alone on the street I would have found her quickly, but because they took her inside I was driving all over looking for her, and she became frantic to get to me.”
The e-mail also said that Lake County Animal Control had quarantined the dog–on Thursday night–and that Moore was trying to “figure out if there is any wiggle room in the procedures” so she could get Ruby.
The Manyans called Moore immediately. “She said that Ruby had jumped an eight-foot-high fence–this was a 35-pound dog with a bad leg–and escaped from her yard,” Aram says. “She said, ‘Don’t come back, stay on your vacation, I’m taking care of it.'” They flew home the next day anyway, and Aram contacted the police, who put him in touch with Joan Babb and Fred Barecchia, the neighbors who’d found Ruby on the street.
The police report says that when the couple brought Ruby into their house, “the dog appeared to be getting shocked several times by an electric collar around its neck” that “shook the dog very violently. . . . Every time a shock was delivered to the dog, the dog lost all bodily function and defecated.” When they tried to take the dog back outside, the report continues, she bit Barecchia hard enough to draw blood. That’s when they called the police.
“She was very sweet, then all of a sudden she let out a giant scream,” says Babb. “She was shaking and was clearly in pain and agony.”
Before the police had responded to their call about the dog bite, Moore showed up at their house.
Babb had met Moore before. She told police that a few months earlier she’d taken in a different stray dog, then spotted Moore walking down the street as though she were looking for something. She says when she brought the dog to Moore, “he didn’t want to go back to her. When he was standing beside her, he suddenly howled and jumped in the air and fell down on the sidewalk, on his back.”
Babb told Moore that Ruby had destroyed some furnishings, defecated in the house, and bitten her husband and that she seemed to be in pain from the collar. “She made it seem like it was our fault for bringing her in,” she says. “She said the dog went crazy because she wanted to get back to her.” Babb turned Ruby over, and Moore left with the dog before the police arrived. When the responding officer contacted Moore, he noted in his report that she said “the owners of the dog were out of the country and could not be reached. She also stated that they would be back in a week or two, but was not sure.” The Lake County Health Department bite report says Moore “stated the owners are in a jungle in Costa Rica & cannot be reached.”
Aram points out that Moore knew their schedule and had already used e-mail to contact them twice. He couldn’t understand why Ruby was under rabies quarantine, since they’d provided her with the dog’s up-to-date vaccination records. And he was surprised to learn from the Lake Forest health department that Moore had been using an electronic collar on Ruby. “We thought [the training] would be a noninvasive methodology, going along with the whole dog-whispering thing,” he says.
Ruby had lost five pounds and was shedding profusely when she came home from quarantine. The Manyans confronted Moore, but she refused to refund the $1,500 the couple had paid for training and boarding. She did offer to finish training Ruby, but they didn’t take her up on it.
“It was a case of buyer beware,” Aram says. “I didn’t know what to ask about or what to look for when we picked her. I had no experience with kenneling, training, or dog trainers before this.” When he actually read the contract he’d signed before boarding Ruby, he says, he noted several clauses protecting Moore against liability and decided not to sue. “It simply wasn’t worth my time,” he says.
Ruby, Aram says, has since recovered and gone through some positive-reinforcement training. “Thankfully she was young enough that it didn’t have a lasting impact on her,” he says.
Moore declined to comment on the Manyans’ story.
No state in the U.S. requires any kind of official certification for dog trainers. One trainer told me, “You could hang up the phone right now, call yourself a trainer, and be in business tomorrow.” Marc Goldberg says dog owners looking for a trainer should ask their vet for references, interview the trainer to see if they are “spiritually compatible,” sit in on training sessions, and ask if the trainer is a member of any reputable professional organization before handing their pet over.
Most of the trainers I spoke with for this story were affiliated with one of two organizations: the International Association of Canine Professionals, an organization for trainers, sitters, groomers, vets, walkers, and the like, or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Goldberg is vice president of the IACP; Ami Moore is a member.
The APDT is older and bigger, and unlike the IACP it takes an unfavorable view of negative reinforcement, which it considers a method of “last resort” to be used primarily on dogs that would otherwise have to be put down for severe aggression. At last year’s APDT conference, one of the most anticipated speakers was Esther Schalke, who runs the animal behavior clinic at Germany’s University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover. Schalke is the coauthor of a 2005 study on stress symptoms caused by the use of electronic collars. The researchers measured the heart rate and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the saliva of 14 beagles trained with electronic collars. The report concluded, “The general use of electric shock collars is not consistent with animal welfare. . . . For professional dog trainers the use should be restricted: proof of theoretical and practical qualification should be required and the use of these devices should only be allowed in specific situations.”
The IACP, according to Goldberg, doesn’t reject any method out of hand. “Our code of ethics calls for all methods to be utilized in a humane manner,” he says. “We include all-positive trainers in our membership, if they are training humanely.”
In 2001 the APDT created the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers, which administers the first-ever national, independent certification test for dog trainers. Trainers who pass the test, which consists of 250 multiple-choice questions on animal husbandry, learning theory, canine ethology (the study of dog development in the wild), equipment (including electronic collars), and instruction skills, can use the title Certified Pet Dog Trainer, or CPDT. To take the test, a trainer must prove he or she has 300 hours of experience training over the last five years. Since it was created, 1,200 people have passed; about 15 percent fail, but they can retest.
Moore is not a CPDT; her Web site claims she’s a Certified Master Dog Trainer but doesn’t say who did the certifying. “That’s a self-awarded title that some dog trainers use,” says Goldberg. “It’s not terribly meaningful.”
“I’ve never heard of that,” says Stacey Hawk (who is not a CPDT either), “but it would look good on a resume to somebody who’s uninformed.”
The IACP has just rolled out its own certification program, and Goldberg says it’s more stringent than the APDT’s, which doesn’t include any hands-on training. The IACP’s test requires the candidate to train three dogs of different temperaments off-site and complete detailed case studies; the dogs’ owners must also send in evaluations. Unlike the APDT’s test, the IACP’s is open only to members.
IACP president Martin Deeley says an animal abuse conviction would mean revocation of membership from the IACP, but adds that it’s never happened in the organization’s history. “We are following Ms. Moore’s case very closely in the courts,” he says.
Moore told the Sun-Times in October that she thought the allegations against her were racially motivated. A Web site called chicagosupportsami.com, which is registered to Moore, claims that she is “the only Afro-American woman that has made dog training her profession in the entire United States of America” and then continues: “Ami Moore the Dog Whisperer of Chicago, is a modern American success story. Ami Moore stands out, stands up and shouts out for the welfare of dogs, so much so that PETA is trying to hound her out of business to serve its own anti-American, anti-business, anti-family, extremist agenda. Will you or your business be PETA’s next target?”
The site also warns against a “PETA sleeper cell in the West Loop.” When I asked Moore to elaborate, she suggested I visit the Web site petakillsanimals.com (registered to the Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington, D.C.) and said, “I am innocent of all charges. . . . I don’t know what [the West Loop dog owners] have to get out of all this, but evidently they are connected with PETA. There seems to be a whole network involved.” The site includes no reference to Ami Moore, and none of the Skinner Park regulars I interviewed for this story are PETA members, though Greg Cumber did contact the organization after his encounter with Moore.
Moore is currently free on bond; she’s allowed to train dogs but restricted from using more than one electronic collar at a time and from using any at all on dogs younger than four months. Her next court date is April 19, when a date is expected to be set for her trial. If convicted, she faces up to 364 days in jail and a $2,500 fine and could be ordered to undergo psychiatric or psychological treatment. The court could also order that she not be allowed to “harbor, or have custody or control of any other animals for a period of time that the court deems reasonable.”
The Dog Advisory Work Group spent eight years working with aldermen, vets, and dog day cares to create city legislation that as of this past Sunday requires day cares to apply for licenses. But DAWG cochair Stacey Hawk, the agility trainer, thinks it would be impossible to create a similar law for trainers because such a wide range of practices is considered acceptable. “Who would certify them? Who would be grading? What are the standards?” she says. “It would be way too hard to set this up.” But she says she thinks the city’s dog community has evolved, perhaps because of the absence of government regulation, to be self-policing. “The dog community here is so large and so close, when something happens the whole world knows about it,” she says. “It puts bad trainers out of business pretty fast.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Newberry.