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Dog Trainers Playing in the Sandbox


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The dog training industry is not regulated in any way, so currently, anyone who wants to call themselves a trainer and hang out a shingle can do so (which is why I wrote a previous blog post on how to find the right trainer).

Sadly, even if the industry were regulated tomorrow, there would likely be a grandfather clause which would allow anyone currently practicing dog training to continue doing so.  So, consumers would still not be protected against those who have insufficient skills, no background in behavioral science, or who use force in training dogs.

On the Internet, there are many dog-related forums, blogs, and Facebook groups.  These groups are populated by everyone from average pet owners to nationally known trainers and everyone in between, including some of those force trainer people who would get grandfathered, much to my chagrin.  Just as with any other subject matter, there are as many opinions on those groups as there are…well, you get it.  Arguments ensue over almost everything. Should you feed raw food or kibble?  Should you train using food as a reinforcement or not?  Should you crate your dog or not?  Should you spay or neuter your dog, and at what age?  Should we identify the quadrant of operant conditioning that we are using or abandon thinking about quadrants altogether (I don’t think we should – I want to use the quadrants that are force free whenever I can)?

These issues, if you look at the rancor they cause, are akin to the ones that cause nations to go to war.  They involve “no compromise” types of choices. Pro choice or pro life?  Gay marriage OK or not OK?  Republican or Democrat? Dog aficionados are just NOT going to agree on some matters.

The problem isn’t the disagreements.  Most adults can handle disagreement or debate, and they can even handle the tough debates.  What is disconcerting, however, is the departure from debate into tantrums.  It represents devolution, if you will, to a form of benign or not so benign name calling that is designed to deflect any attempt at pressing for answers to hard questions, so that people can hide from uncomfortable scrutiny. I’ve been called everything from “cookie tosser” (I like that one) to “queen of mean” to “crone” and everything in between. People have suggested to others that they rant privately about people like me because we are just so mean. The word “mean” is now tossed into the mix any time someone loses the ability to debate using facts and citations, versus “my way or the highway.”

If we are to elevate the profession of dog training, we must go beyond doing what is effective, and move toward doing what is effective AND ethical. We must treat dogs the way we would want to be treated if we were the dogs. It is our obligation, as force free trainers, to expose practices that cannot be supported with research, ethics, experience, and efficacy.

Elie Weisel once said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Many dogs lead lives that are not ideal, where even supposedly loving owners cannot see the fear or distrust in them. Sometimes, knowing that requires turning the other cheek when someone elects to call you a “hater” because you disagree. It requires you to smile to yourself when you find out that someone has encouraged ranting about you on some closed clique or Facebook group, or even on an open one. If no one hates you, you’ve probably never stood up for a difficult or unpopular position in your life.

Remember, it is not MEAN to ask for evidence, to question why a practitioner wants to do something to YOUR dog, or to stand up for the oppressed, the weak, the defenseless, or the misunderstood.

“Being ‘nice’ doesn’t convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced. And being ‘mean’ doesn’t impede someone who wants to learn.” –Melissa McEwan

So, stop telling me to be nice every time I give you information. Stop telling me to be nice when you are frustrated by your own misunderstanding of an issue that I’m trying my best to explain in scientifically accepted language (in order to level the playing field so ALL can understand), and stop telling me to be nice because I refuse to drink the guru-of-the-week’s Kool-aid. I’m not being mean, just persistent.

I haven’t called you any names, or told you you’re stupid (even when I think you are), and I haven’t called you incapable of learning. I’ve simply given you an opinion, hopefully with some reasoning behind it. Put on your big boy or big girl pants and engage in adult debate, if you can. But, if you can’t, stop ranting about the meanies and go do some more research so that you can enter the debate constructively. Either that or, if you are going to run away on every Facebook page or Yahoo group from the hard questions posed to you, stay gone and let the rest of us learn together.

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About pawsforpraise

I own and operate Paws for Praise. We offer group dog training classes and behavior consultations in a dog and human friendly environment. We think training should be fun for you and your dog. Go ahead - make a tail wag! http://wp.me/P1hBuR-2

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