Warning: This story contains details that may be disturbing to some readers.
A Vancouver dog trainer has lost his appeal to get four dogs back after they were seized by the BC SPCA, and could still face animal cruelty charges.
Glen Affenzeller, also known as Glen Zeller, operates DogTalk Ventures Ltd, and describes himself as a “natural born animal communicator.”
According to his website, his training regime involves impressing a pack mentality on dogs, along with a respect for pack hierarchy.
Affenzeller’s four dogs, along with two belonging to his clients, were seized on Aug. 3, after the BC SPCA viewed a video that showed him picking up a dog by the head, slamming it onto concrete and punching it multiple times, according to the appeal decision.
“They had concerns that he would not be able to change his practices in the future. This is independent of charges which the BC SPCA will be recommending to Crown counsel very shortly.“
According to the appeal decision, the punching incident happened on Aug. 1. Affenzeller was walking six dogs when an altercation with two dogs behind a fence led to a fight among his pack.
One of Affenzeller’s dogs, Dawson, bit Carebear, a client’s dog, on the ear. Affenzeller testified he reacted by disciplining Dawson as a “necessary emergency response.”
According to testimony by veterinarian Dr. Ian Welch, who viewed the video, the discipline involved the dog first being lifted, then thrown to the ground.
“Forcefully driving the left side of the dog’s skull into the street, followed by the left shoulder, chest and hip hitting the street,” states the ruling.
“The individual then strikes the dog on the right side of his face twice in rapid succession and five seconds later strikes the dog again in the face with a closed fist.”
About 12 seconds later, the man then strikes the dog in the face once again.
Affenzeller said he believed his action was necessary, but that he might handle the situation differently if it happened again, according to the decision.
He said he’d learned not to tether those two dogs together, and that his clients were happy with the way he handled the situation.
‘Old school’ training style
Affenzeller went on to describe his self-taught training approach, which he said involves integrating his clients dogs into his own pack.
“His belief is that this shows the dog that it is safe to respect pack hierarchy. It also shows the dog who the master is. He believes his training methods are good and he ‘has a gift,'” states the decision.
Affenzeller produced more than a dozen character witnesses, including clients and one veterinarian who said he had improved the behaviour of their dogs and that they trusted him with their animals’ care.
“I do not punish dogs. Hitting a dog will take away its trust for you,” Affenzeller told Global News.
“There’s people out there that really have a hate for me but not one of them really knows what I do or how I do it. If you talk to the clients of the dogs, they hear everything.”
However the SPCA said it had a record of 42 complaints Affenzeller lodged against between 2006 and 2019 from around Vancouver.
Those included shoving a dog’s face into the ground and spitting at it, stepping on a dog’s foot, kicking a dog in the head, and throwing a dog to the ground and punching it multiple times.
In his testimony, Dr. Welch described negative punishment techniques as “old school.”
Welch said most trainers prefer positive reinforcement, and that even with negative reinforcement, corrections must be made within one to two seconds of poor behaviour; the punching incident lasted for approximately 36 seconds.
Animal behaviour and welfare expert Dr. Rebecca Ledger said Affenzeller’s techniques are not supported by research, describing them as “abusive and counterproductive.”
She also said the other dogs’ body posture indicated anxiety and distress.
The appeal also heard that a veterinary examination of the seized dogs by Dr. Karen Harvey found them to be suffering from chronic conditions, including disease processes of the eyes, skin, joints, along with severe dental disease and abscessation.
Several of the dogs had also accumulated a high level of scarring, she said.
“I have no doubts that the animals I have examined today have been experiencing chronic ongoing pain and discomfort in addition to blatant neglect and untreated medical conditions,” testified veterinarian Dr. Karen Harvey.
“For the younger dogs especially, I do find it unusual for them to have accumulated as many scars as they did in their short lives.”
The review board has ordered that the dogs to stay in SPCA’s care and for Affenzeller to pay the $7,400 cost of their medical treatment.