What is wrong with you people?
Sometimes it seems to me like this is the motto of the dog trainer. Whether it’s using shock collars, not using shock collars, using food, not using food, using clickers, not using clickers — whatever it is — there’s a reason to be angry. And of course that means there’s a reason to be sharply critical, maybe even abusive, toward other people. After all people should know better shouldn’t they?
When it comes to dogs we advocate compassion. We advocate the use of positive reinforcement to get the behavior that we want. We advocate the use of the most gentle possible method we can find in order to help dogs to choose the behavior we want and to stop displaying the behaviors we don’t.
Humans, it seems, don’t deserve this benefit of the doubt. If you have a bunch of "dog people" as friends on Facebook go take a look at your news feed. What do you see? People are stupid. People are animal abusers. People shouldn’t be allowed to have dogs. People deserve to be left at the pound. And of course that perennial favorite: "The more I see of people the more I like dogs."
Don’t get me wrong I’ve been guilty of this kind of negativity myself. Many people are aware of this blog only because I’ve been very very critical of Cesar Milan. But I’ve made an honest effort to turn over a new leaf and have always believed that if you are going to criticize one thing, offer an alternative.
This post is about my alternative.
Helping dogs and people live happily together is my passion. I started out with my goal being to help dogs, but over time I realized that I can’t do a good job if I am not willing to help humans too. I also, oddly enough, started to like people the more I helped them with their dogs. (People who have known me for a long time still find this change in my attitude a bit surprising.) Rescuers, walkers, shelter workers, and dog trainers, enter this field because of their love of dogs. But it’s my belief that the people that are truly successful and truly help dogs either start out wanting to work with humans too or over time learn to appreciate them and the importance of working with and respecting them in order to be successful.
One of the most fundamental tools in a so-called “positive trainers “toolbox is DRI. As I’ve explained in the space before, DRI is replacing an undesired behavior with a desirable one. Why on earth would somebody who fancies themselves a skillful trainer forgo an opportunity to help somebody learn something new by, well, teaching them something new?
One answer of course is that nothing brings people together and nothing fires up a crowd better than a common enemy. That common enemy might be a famous TV trainer, the trainer across town, or even just an unfortunate dog owner doesn’t really know what she’s doing. And when one surrounds oneself only with people that share your beliefs, whether they be colleagues or fans, it’s really easy to find enemies to single out. (That would be everyone else.)
I’m not the first person to say that dogs are easy and people are hard. It’s easy to assume that people should know better. After all, it’s what many people assume about dogs, right? It’s easy to say we’re supposed to be the smart species while we make fun of "clueless trainers" and "stupid dog owners." It’s hard to get them to do the right thing. That’s when our work becomes real work.
I am a dog trainer, but I’m not just responsible for dogs – I am responsible for both ends of the leash. If I can’t reach a person in order to change their behavior or even just to help them get along better with their dog, I have failed. Snarky blog posts and Facebook pontificating doesn’t fix it.