ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: Two dog deaths spark concern about lack of regulations for dog trainers

ByMichael Finney and Randall Yip KGO logo
Monday, July 8, 2019
EXCLUSIVE: Little oversight of dog trainers despite canine deaths
EMBED <>More Videos

Two Bay Area men are scheduled to answer charges Monday in Contra Costa County Superior Court on charges of eight felony counts of animal abuse and neglect.

SAN RAMON, Calif. (KGO) -- Two Bay Area men are scheduled to appear in Contra Costa County Superior Court on charges of eight felony counts of animal abuse and neglect.

Defendant Gary Reynolds is the owner of NorCal K-9. Devon Ashby is a co-defendant in this case. He worked as a trainer for NorCal K-9.

Prosecutors say a dog named Gunnar died while under the care of NorCal K-9. They also say seven other dogs under the company's care were found to be under extreme duress and presenting health problems.

A judge also ordered Reynolds not to train or take care of animals during this trial.

This is one of at least two recent incidents in Contra Costa County in which a dog allegedly died under a trainer's care. The other case involves not only the death of a dog, but accusations of breach of contract and failure to provide services for two other owners. With an estimated 89 million pet dogs in this country, concerned pet lovers and professionals are calling for more regulation of the dog training industry.

RELATED: Santa Clara couple says dog died in care of local trainer

"Dolly, Dolly, whoa. Go get it." Jane Creswell plays with her dog Dolly at her home in San Ramon.

She says Dolly hasn't been the same since being attacked by a dog's trainer's own dog a year ago. Jane's other dog Kenzie died in the same attack.

The San Ramon woman and her husband went on vacation and left their dogs in the care of a woman by the name of Dawn Smith.

"Almost two days later I received a call back from her frantic, telling me that she had been walking my dogs and a pit bull came and killed Kenzie and she saved Dolly," Creswell said.

Creswell said Smith later admitted it was her dog, and not a pitbull, which killed Kenzie and severely injured Dolly. She believes Kenzie died at an apartment where Smith was believed to have lived at the time.

A lawsuit filed last year by another dog owner against Smith accused her of breach of contract and fraud for failing to provide the services paid for. The attorney dropped the case when process servers could not locate Smith to serve her the necessary legal papers.

7 On Your Side too attempted to contact Smith for this story, but we were unsuccessful.

Last summer Smith did speak by phone to ABC7 News about the death of Kenzie. She said her dog must have escaped his kennel while she was out shopping. Smith told ABC7 News at the time she was no longer in the dog training business and had no income to pay for Creswell's expenses. However, she pledged to pay Creswell back for the $26,000 in vet bills for Kenzie's care.

To date, Jane says she hasn't received a single payment.

7 On Your Side learned of at least two other pet owners who also have had complaints about Smith. Lucy Alvarez sent her dog, Princess, to Smith to learn better social skills with plans to send a second dog for training as well. Lucy says she reluctantly allowed Smith to use a shock collar on Princess after Smith convinced her the shock would be minimal. She regretted the decision.

"The second time was worse," said Alvarez. "The first time she was a very nervous little dog, but the second time she was a very scared little dog."

Alvarez said she signed a one year contract, but training abruptly ended after less than five months when she says Smith no longer returned any calls or emails.

Angela Maxwell also hired Smith to train her dog Kona to teach her how to better socialize with other dogs. She paid for six sessions and also allowed the use of a shock collar. Several months later the two exchanged emails during which Smith apologized saying she had been out of town and offered to complete the classes with Maxwell's dog.

Maxwell says she gave up on scheduling after Smith didn't get back to her again after that.

At the SPCA in San Francisco, dog trainers are both accredited and certified by credible dog training associations. That's not always the case.

"Unfortunately your dogs have to be licensed, but your dog trainers do not," said Ariel Stephens of the SPCA.

The SPCA has a strong stance against the use of shock, prong and e-collars.

"Dogs learn better with things that motivate them to reinforce the behavior you want to see more and things that cause pain and fear have the opposite effect and don't build new behaviors," said Stephens.

A board member with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers believes shock collars should only be used when other training methods have failed. His group is calling for more oversight of its industry.

"I believe the majority of dog trainers are looking for regulations, but what that looks like is still up in the air," said Nic Hof.

7 On Your Side checked with nine schools and organizations which the SPCA or Association of Professional Dog Trainers say offer respected certifications for dog trainers. Eight of the nine have gotten back to us, and none have any record of Smith being credentialed.

This, as Creswell's dog Dolly lives with a breathing tube in her neck and is still recovering from her injuries from one year ago.

"We need to bring some kind of legislation or something in the state of California that has some kind of parameters for what kind of qualifications a dog trainer got to have," said Creswell.

We have a list of reputable accreditations and organizations from both the SPCA and Associations of Professional Dog trainers, plus a list of questions you should ask a dog trainer before hiring one at

These groups offer respected certifications for dog trainers. This list compiled from recommendations of the San Francisco SPCA and Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

  • Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers
  • Animal Behavior College
  • Animal Behavior Institute
  • Bergin University of Canine Studies
  • Canine Behavior Associates
  • Academy of Dog Trainers
  • Pet Professional Guild
  • The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
  • Pet Professional Accreditation Board

Here are questions you should ask before hiring a dog trainer

  • What kind of equipment will you be using on my dog?
  • What will happen when my dog does something well?
  • What will happen if my dog doesn't do something well?
  • How will you know when my dog is stressed?
  • How will you handle my dog's stress?
  • Can I be present during the entire class?
  • What education does your dog trainer have?
  • Where did they learn to become a dog trainer?
  • What additional training does your dog trainer have?
  • What exactly will they be doing when training your dog?
  • Does your dog trainer have any dog training certifications?

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.