This is how a Petco store manager and dog trainer could have ruined a young dog’s socialization and possibly his life.
We have a 16-week-old puppy we had been taking to the Bremerton, Washington Petco for about four weeks for their free puppy play sessions on the weekends. The first few weeks it was fine, but in the last two weeks it unfortunately became clear that the trainer doesn’t seem to understand the purpose of these sessions. Our puppy has progressively been getting better about being calmer during play because we have specifically asked the trainer to interrupt his play more often, to have him sit and get a treat before continuing play. This is a proven and standard method used by world-class trainers such as Dr. Ian Dunbar, used to teach a puppy that the owner stopping play or asking for a recall or sit is not the end of the play session--rather, the puppy gets rewarded with play for a good sit and a calm moment. It also, of course, helps bring the dog's energy down.
The Petco trainer began punishing our puppy for typical excited puppy play (simple/common things like pawing or jumping--no inappropriate biting or anything else concerning) by asking us to sit outside the pen for 15-20 minutes and watch the other puppies play. She said he needed to “be calmer,” but how are you supposed to teach a 16-week-old puppy puppy to be calmer by forcing him out of play sessions for a long period of time so he can become frustrated? This isn’t a class where puppies are learning obedience or how to walk on leash. This is a play session, supposedly intended to teach young puppies good bite inhibition and appropriate play with other dogs. But that’s not how Petco is using it, and it would easily have led to our puppy developing frustration and reactivity toward other dogs because of her negative methods. The training method she used on our puppy is called negative punishment, as defined by professional dog trainers. Not a method any reasonable person should be using on a 16-week-old puppy.
You have to teach puppies impulse control in stages, progressively making the little breaks longer over time. You can’t suddenly ask for a 10 minute-plus break and expect the puppy to learn anything (except frustration). It’s ridiculous that Petco's trainers don't know this, and are punishing a puppy for normal puppy behavior--excitement--with frustration. This trainer doesn’t seem to understand the basic tenet of animal training: reward for good behavior.
We tried talking to the store manager, whose response was completely unhelpful and inappropriate. He didn’t attempt to understand what we were saying or where we were coming from. Instead, all he did was defend the trainer without even trying to understand the circumstances. He suggested that “maybe she did this because of a safety issue.” How could there be a safety issue with a 16-year-old puppy? (Besides, she specifically said there was no safety issue, that it was purely about "excitement.") Even if there was a safety concern, negatively punishing a puppy will hardly rectify any problem. It will cause one. The manager also said outright that he would not be speaking with the trainer about our complaint, so offered absolutely no help to us and no attempt to understand or figure out a solution. On top of all that, he argued that Betsy hadn’t had any prior complaints, yet in the short time we’ve been going here we’ve seen multiple people leave seemingly confused or disgruntled and haven’t returned. Regardless, it was clear from his behavior that he couldn’t care less about customer satisfaction.
I also spoke with the regional manager by phone, and he said that the trainer at this location was following Petco's policies. I clarified that their policies could be causing long-term behavioral damage to puppies being brought here, and he didn't seem concerned. He said he'd spoken with the trainer in question and she didn't dispute anything I'd said in my complaint. So the real issue here is that Petco is okay with their trainers utilizing negative and potentially highly damaging methods with the dogs being brought there.
The regional manager said he would take my issue to the trainer policy-makers at Petco, but specifically said he doubted they would change anything. I also had to ask again about the store manager and his lack of customer service or concern, and the regional manager said he would look into it. Whatever that means.
I'm hoping that by sharing our experience, we can try to protect other peoples’ puppies who may be experiencing some of Petco's negative training methods. I highly recommend you take your puppy elsewhere for socialization and training, as Petco clearly doesn't care about your puppy so much as they care about protecting themselves.