Welcome to DoGently. My name is Marie Smith and I live in Illinois, west of Chicago in an area known locally as Chicagoland. I’m glad you’re here. Now, you might be wondering is DoGently pronounced Dog-ent-ly, or is it Do Gently? Actually, it’s both, so give yourself a pat on the back for getting it right. DoGently is about training our dogs gently, and using gentle dog training as springboard toward treating ourselves, and one another, more gently, too.
DoGently came about because I took Noelle, she’s my little red poodle over there, to the wrong training class. Noelle is my service dog in training. Her registered name is Gave Great Light, a lyric from the song The First Noel. She was my Christmas present in 2015, because my service dog, Honey, died in 2015 and I couldn’t face Christmas with my heart in darkness. Bringing home this tiny puppy gave me great light.
From the moment I first held Noelle, I recommitted myself to gentle dog training. Here was this tiny infant of a different species, depending on me to guide her and help her grow. For the first year of her life, I was successful, until I took her to the wrong training class. The trainer didn’t believe in clickers, or treats, or even praise. Instead, he put a prong collar on Noelle, who only weighed 18 pounds, and yanked her hard when she didn’t sit fast enough.
Noelle yelped. This trainer forced Noelle to heel, dragging her by the neck, popping the prong collar when she didn’t move with him, because she was staring at me in shock. She cried and yelped. It only took a moment before I had the leash back, but I saw the light go out in Noelle’s eyes. She lost her mojo. Noelle cowered on the floor and trembled.
The trainer praised her for cowering, saying Noelle was calm and submissive. No, my puppy was traumatized and shut down. I picked up my frightened dog, took off the prong collar, and carried her to the car. At home, we sat on the couch. It took both of us a few hours to stop shaking. Violence in the name of dog training is still violence.
Out of this experience, DoGently was born. I want to encourage you to do gently with your dog, and to do gently with yourself and the people around you, too. Sometimes it seems like this world is built on a foundation of violence. Turn on the news and misery fills the screen. So much of the world is broken. When this makes me sad, I remember Rev. Theodore Parker’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It’s not up to me to fix the world, just to help bend the arc. DoGently is my way of helping bend the arc, for our dogs, for ourselves, and for one another.