Dear PetCo, Thank you! And...
I have to be honest, I avoid going to PetCo. This has little to do with the company - I think they are continually trying to support dogs and the communities they live in. The biggest reason I avoid the store is I end up having a front-row seat for all the reactive dogs who are walked in under the guise of socialization. FYI: You can not work on socializing a reactive dog if they are in an environment that elicits reactivity. These kinds of retail environments are things you work toward. They are not (typically) where you start.
One day a couple of weeks ago I was completely out of treats and needed to grab some on my way to a session. I was reminded of PetCo's commitment to "Stop the Shock” - an initiative banning the sale of human-operated and bark-activated electrified collars for training. I was feeling pretty good about my decision to roll the dice and go into the store. That turned out to be very short-lived.
"We’re removing human-operated and bark-activated shock collars from our shelves because they are in direct opposition to our long-standing commitment to positive reinforcement-based training methods. While we recognize there may be unique circumstances that lead pet parents to seek this kind of training tool, we feel these particular items (human-activated and bark-activated shock collars) present the biggest risk of human error and misuse, even by pet parents with the best of intentions.
As we continue on our journey to support the overall health & wellness of pets, we will continue to review our assortment of products and solutions to help ensure it aligns with our broader mission and values.
I was not in the store for 3 minutes when I turned to see a 6 to 8-month-old, fearful and reactive, female Great Dane being walked into the store on a prong collar. F@#! - the prong collars. They can’t still be selling those right? Surely, they are in the same bucket with the shock collars.
Sure enough, the Dane looked at me and I averted my eyes, looking down and away. She boofed, and boofed again. I breathed deeply as she sniffed the ground about 6’ from the end cap where I was standing. The breath was not out of fear that she would lunge, but because I wanted to signal nothing but calm. I thought, “Good girl, you’re ok.” I did not say this out loud nor did I actually believe it. "You are not ok and you should not be here and you should most definitely not be wearing that collar.” Her handler walked forward without any cue for the dog to follow. As the distance increased so did the tension of the prongs. A friendly PetCo staff member engaged and asked, “Can I give your dog a treat?” The Dane came apart at the seams, fear spilling out everywhere - she was backing up, or trying, and barking in a loud, deep, bass. I am sure it did not actually cause the store to shudder but it felt like that to me.
My head was spinning. Can I help the Great Dane? Can I help the woman walking her? Do I check out the collar aisle? How about I just run for it? "Get out of the store with you can still breathe.” I felt like a squirrel in traffic unable to make a decision that would help me avoid being run over.
Then I heard something far more concerning. “She is friendly. She just gets really excited to meet people and doesn’t know what to do. I know she sounds really ferocious.” Color me stuck. Frozen in the aisle, I really didn’t know what to do. If I approached, that baby girl is going to come undone. I didn’t have any damn cards on me and didn't know how to get them in the handler's hands even if I did. I was there for another 5 minutes and so was the Dane. I got a chance to peek at her as I walked by the aisle head. Barking, twitching, scanning, staring, vigilant, her feet tapping the floor like it was hot.
In that 5 minutes, I made it to register by way of the collar and leash aisle. What about the prong collars? If they were not accessible that would definitely remove one problem. Shit. There they were, ironically displayed right across from the “Stop the Shock” campaign cabinet and posters. I snapped some pics and got out of Dodge.
I want to thank you for taking a stand on shock collars. I would also like to implore you to include prong collars in that initiative. Let’s #ditchtheprong, let’s abandon confrontation and aversive-based methods anywhere and everywhere we can so we can protect the emotional and behavioral health of our pet dogs.