If you’re a dog trainer your social media feeds are likely laden with heroic proclamations from other trainers. Proclamations about what they don’t do. Whether it’s a training tool or a type of dog food, they’d like to be very clear about what they would never use on a dog. Entire professional organizations have been founded on the common ground of omission; and trainers have flocked in that direction. The force free/shock free/choke free/prong free/movement is an attractive one for trainers of diverse backgrounds and techniques; they want to band together but they only find space to do so in the declaration of “we don’t use _____.”
I am not arguing that all tools have their place in dog training, and I didn’t sit down to write about what tools I find unacceptable. The reality is, it doesn’t matter what I don’t use or do in my work with dogs. Dog trainers are all quite excited to stand up and say what they never do; few of them are being transparent about what they are actually doing. The problem here is that the public is then left to decide which trainer to work with based on what the trainer leaves out, rather than what the trainer will do for them. When Joe Public is looking for someone to help his Fluffy stop barking and lunging at other dogs on walks he is not hiring the person who says she doesn’t use a prong collar. He is hiring the person who says she can help. The dogs we work with deserve effective treatment that takes their experience of the training into account and our human clients deserve clarity. Stating you never use (fill in the blank) achieves neither.
Clients aren’t the only ones who deserve a clearer picture of the dog training industry. Our colleagues (and we) also benefit when talk abut what we do rather than what we don’t do. If you, as a trainer, are going to stand up and say you never use (crates, head collars, fill-in-the-blank generally accepted but often controversial tool) then please, say what you use instead. Talk about what you have found to work better. Our industry thrives on growth through discussion, and discussions only become arguments when they start with “I never.”
The toxic culture I see amongst the dog training world is built on the pillars of supposed higher ground; one that reeks of exclusivity founded in what its members don’t do, rather than what they are doing.
In an effort to be the change, here is what I do, as a dog trainer:
I honor the dog and client’s right to effective behavior change, and I honor both of their experiences during the behavior change process. I prioritize overall health and wellness for dogs above all, and I manipulate the environment to foster success before any other measures are taken. The motivating factor for the dogs I work with is positive reinforcement whenever possible (and it is almost always possible). I use differential reinforcement procedures, and in doing so I will always be sure that the function of the dog’s original behavior (the behavior of concern) is respected and taken into account.
If you’re a dog trainer, stand up. Stop preaching about what you omit from your training and talk about what your training is actually made of. Next time you feel the urge to talk about why a certain tool or procedure is wrong, try talking about what’s right instead. You might be amazed at how your world changes.