Trolls, Bullies, & Keyboard Warriors, Oh My!

by | Dec 14, 2019 | Uncategorized | 20 comments

Trolls, Bullies, & Keyboard Warriors, Oh My!

There will be a slight departure from my typical focus on dog training with this blog post.  Instead, I’m going to delve into human behavior. Don’t worry, I’m a psychologist. Though I must admit, I often find human behavior utterly mystifying and incomprehensible.  That doesn’t stop me from exploring it further though. And in the end, this all circles back around to dogs; as does pretty much everything in my life.

As many people are aware, several years ago I had a terrible experience where my much-loved young Border Collie killed one of his housemates; a much loved Sheltie.  The incident was horrendous on pretty much every level imaginable. Trust me, you really don’t even want to imagine finding one of your dogs in the process of killing another.  The images of that moment will never fade. Quest (the sheltie) was injured so severely that he had to be euthanized immediately and I made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize Helo (the border collie) the next day.  Everything about that event still haunts me, and it always will.  

Photo of Judy & Quest by Barb Cerrito

I am not alone in finding myself in this type of situation and having to make this terrible choice.  It happens more regularly than you think, and most people never talk about it. I can certainly understand that.  The secondary trauma of being villainized and attacked both online and in real life is serious and horrible. The problem with keeping secrets, though, is that they tend to fester alone in the dark.  By talking about these situations people can find support and community. We discover that we are very far from alone. I remember clearly making the decision to go public and thinking that it could only be damaging.  I could not imagine anything good coming out of my telling the truth. I was wrong about that.  

Almost a year ago, another well-known trainer and friend of mine found herself in a similar situation.  A dog she fostered for over a year attempted to kill one of her housemates. My friend euthanized the foster dog that evening and faced the same sort of hateful backlash that I, and so many others, have experienced.  The level of anger and fury directed towards her was horrifying.  

More recently another professional trainer posted about a dog she had chosen to euthanize.  Again, the trolls, bullies, and keyboard warriors came out in force. They called her names, threatened her with explicit physical harm, and attempted to ruin her business.  Why? Because they disagreed with her decision. Keep in mind that these are strangers for the most part who don’t even know the specific situation or circumstances. Yet they feel totally justified in attempting to ruin another person’s life.  

This nonsense needs to stop!  It is not acceptable on any level.  You don’t get to decide whether or not someone else made the “right” decision.  You, the person sitting behind the keyboard reading about a terrible tragedy, do not have the right to add to the suffering and misery.  Your lack of empathy is stunning. Your hubris in thinking that you know more and could do better is clearly  evident. And your inability to see the complex factors that go into such a decision highlight your simplistic black and white world view. Basically, you are a sad excuse for a mature human being, in my opinion.  I am angry on behalf of myself and for all the loving pet owners who have made euthanasia decisions and then been attacked by trolls, bullies, and keyboard warriors. We don’t deserve that and it is not okay.  

Most people who make the decision to euthanize a dog due to dangerous behavior are loving and caring pet owners.  I’ve heard their stories and they are heartbreaking. They have spent an enormous amount of time, energy, and money trying to make a terrible situation work.  In the end they felt forced to admit there was nothing more to be done to make their much loved dog safe in this world. Nobody wants to make that decision.  

To look at a person who is in tremendous pain and to purposely pile more pain on top of that is never ever justified.  You do not have the moral high ground here; just the opposite. You show your inferiority and small minded hatefulness when you behave this way.  There are a lot of psychological concepts that can explain this totally inappropriate and unacceptable behavior, and those fascinate me. Let me discuss a few here.

One concept is that of ‘deindividuation’; that being anonymous allows us to act in ways we would not if we could be clearly identified.  Anonymity releases inhibitions. Sitting behind a screen, possibly behind a fake identity, seems to release the worst in some people. They no longer act as they might in person or even if they could be identified.  The group aspect is also an issue. Once a handful of people attack, others, who may not have acted otherwise, feel emboldened to join in. They feel supported by the crowd, even though the crowd is behaving in a socially unacceptable manner.  

A couple of related concepts are ‘blaming the victim’ and the ‘just world hypothesis’.  As humans we want to assign blame. We want to identify the cause, particularly when something bad happens.  So what is more obvious than blaming the owner? It must have been their fault! This actually allows us to feel better, because we can then decide that we would never behave as they did, so that bad thing will never happen to us.  Bad things only happen to people who deserve it, right? This is faulty logic but that doesn’t stop people. If you can allow yourself to believe that people always get exactly what they deserve then you are displaying a belief in a just world.  The problem though, is that a just world doesn’t seem to exist for us. This minor detail doesn’t seem to stop people from casting blame on those they believe deserve it. People find it hard (or even impossible) to accept that random bad things happen to good people.  If you admit that then you open up to the possibility of random bad things happening to you.

I see a lot of ‘unrealistic optimism’ in posts from strangers who are certain they could have avoided or fixed the problem.  It’s easy to sit back and imagine that you have the magic solution. That doesn’t mean that you actually do. One of the more common attacks on me centered around the fact that I am a primarily positive reinforcement trainer.  If I would have only used some aversive techniques, they stated, none of this would have happened. My dog’s life could have been saved if only I’d been willing to punish him. The keyboard warriors out there were positive that their theoretical punishment could have saved my dog’s life.  I see a lot of faulty logic in this line of thinking. It is based on unknowable assumptions and the belief that the person is such an amazing trainer that they would always be successful.  

Unknowable assumptions are very common in attacks against people who have euthanized their dogs.  Total strangers suddenly think they know everything they need to about your situation, and that they would definitely make better choices.  This is partially due to what we call a ‘hindsight bias’. After an event it’s easy to look back and try to make connections that seem logical and reasonable.  Those connections are not obvious in real time moving forward though. What an outsider sees in retrospect is not what is actually happening in life. It’s a ‘Monday morning quarterback’ situation.  It’s only clear because you know the outcome and you can then cherry pick back through events to make your narrative work. That’s not how real life happens.

I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg with this discussion.  There is so much from social and behavioral psychology that explains the totally unacceptable behavior of trolls, bullies, and keyboard warriors.  Just because we can explain it doesn’t mean that we can accept it. Just because there are reasons that it occurs; that doesn’t make it okay. People are better than their base urges and have the capacity to control them.  We are capable of stepping back, thinking with a clear head, and displaying kindness and empathy rather than spouting hate and judgment.  

We have a Facebook group called Losing Lulu that is focused on grief support for those who have euthanized their dogs due to behavioral issues.  In addition we are open to animal professionals who want to understand and support others in this situation. We have a rigorous screening process in order to keep it as a safe space.  If you want to join, answer the questions we ask you as fully and completely as possible.  

Why am I writing about this topic yet again?  Because it’s necessary. Trust me, I never wanted to be in the position of being an expert on this topic, but that’s where life took me.  I cannot bring back my dogs but I can offer support to others who find themselves in similar situations. I can try to help people understand.  I’m doing what I can with what I have. It’s all any of us can do. 

Subscribe To Our Blog by Email!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest blog posts in your inbox! You may also receive the occasional extra email about new classes, seminars, or webinars that Deb has on the schedule!


  1. Adrianne Mock

    I’m so sorry you had to go through this. We see this very commonly with “rescues” who will sell (under the thin guise of ‘adoption’) a known dangerous dog with bite histories to new owners with NO disclosure of the danger.
    Then when the dog mauls or kills another dog or (tragically) a person, they want to ‘save it’ because ‘it must have been the other person/animal at fault’.
    Some dogs just are not ‘built’ right… euthanasia is a release from whatever physical or mental pain they are in.
    thank you for this blog…

  2. Vickie Soejoto

    Thank you. Every word of this rings true.

  3. Ann

    Here here. Though I have never been put in the position of euthanasia because of dog dog aggression, I did euthanize my dog for attacking a child. Had I not been there, he would have killed the child. I know the pain. I know the blame, believing it was my fault for not recognizing. There is never a time that we should attack anyone for their decision to euthanize for their heart knowledge that it is the right thing. As you said, no one knows the situation or the dog as you do. Shame on arrogance and self important judgement.

    • Mary Hardt

      Thank you for having the courage to help those who are faced with this heart-wrenching decision. Thanks to you, they need never feel that they are the only ones who chose to put their beloved pets out of their misery and to protect their other pets and other humans.

  4. Jill Campain

    Thank you. I totally understand your pain.

  5. Renee Tekotte

    So sorry Deb you and Judy once again has to relive that tragedy. I’ve been there also. Stay strong–knowing you both made the right choice.

    • Deb Jones

      Thank you Renee.

  6. Blanche

    As the person who most often has to make this decision for the dogs in the rescue I coordinate, I hear, feel and know every word you wrote. And if you choose to euthanize a dog that isn’t actually dangerous to life and limb, but who is still suffering and miserable …..heaven help you…..all the wraths of the demons will be unleashed upon you.

    This is a subject I write about a fair bit. Sometimes the writing just helps me to work through the pain, the sorrow, the guilt….and not the guilt for euthanizing a suffering animal, but the guilt at the relief I often feel after the fact.

    Dog love you.

  7. Ives

    There’s a lot of crap happening in the dog training world. (pun not intended)

    P.S.- “Don’t worry, I’m a psychologist.” made me chuckle a little, thanks.

  8. Ann Ronayne

    I am a human and canine mental health professional. The latter is a direct result of having ignorantly purchased a puppy from an unethical breeder. That dog climbed a 6 foot fence to get to the elderly dog next door, and I absolutely believe that she intended to kill him. She was euthanized the next day. Today, 26 years of experience and education later, I would make the same decision. I became acquainted with you because of the event with Quest and Helo, and I am so grateful that you continue to speak out on the topic!

  9. Lil Gilbert

    Sadly, every word you’ve written is true. As a public shelter volunteer and foster, I see this behavior very often.
    I’m so sorry for you and all those who have gone through this. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Robin G

    Thank you for being willing to be the voice for kindness.

    I find i can often turn the tide to a more supportive conversation if I step up with kindness, empathy and support for the person that is the target of the bullies.

  11. Constance DeCoud

    Empathy and understanding is a must for a good human. Thank you for this blog.

  12. Stephanie Barber

    I remember when this happened. My heart broke for you. I
    Your blog rings true. This could happen to any of us at any time.

  13. Sandy Beichler

    Thank you Deb. Your kindness to animals radiates through your work and words.

  14. Shari

    Thank you for this thoughtful and heartfelt piece…you are trying to encourage kindness and mindfulness in an increasingly unkind and mindless world. I am so sorry for your losses and for having been forced into such a painful (but brave!) decision. Thank you for your ongoing courage and determination to help people consider the consequences of their cruel and/or thoughtless comments.

  15. Shelley

    I think I originally found your blog as a result of reading a post by one of the people you’re speaking about, the trainer who made the choice to euthanize a dog after concluding it was only a matter of time before he did something really drastic (and posted about the story five years later.) One of the people who attacked for for the decision did so on the basis of a single posed photograph of herself and the dog. Apparently that one photo told this person all they needed to know, and more than the actual person involved knew, about the dog and the situation.

    I agree there’s a strong tendency to blame the victims because that makes it easier to believe it will never be us in that awful situation. Thank you for being brave enough to keep talking about this issue, and reminding all of we potential keyboard warriors that there are actual living individuals behind each story, and nobody feels worse or cried more about the situation than the ones it in.

  16. Pat

    Exact circumstances, however the trainer was a well known compulsive trainer — how many here would not judge them without mercy or compassion.

    You have my sympathies, and you did what was right.

  17. Vougeot

    Nous avons un dicton : “les bons conseilleurs ne sont jamais les payeurs !”. Il est trop facile de refaire l’histoire rétrospectivement et y aller de son jugement sans appel. C’est pitoyable !
    J’admire la décision que vous avez prise et, comme je vous le disais à l’époque, je partage votre douleur. J’admire aussi votre décision de le rendre public et d’y revenir. Cela sera une aide précieuse pour ceux qui seront face à un dilemme aussi déchirant.

Subscribe To Our Blog by Email!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest blog posts in your inbox along with occasional email from Deb on what she’s up to!

Visit Fenzi Dog Sports Academy