Opposition Reflex-When Dog Training Methodologies Collide

Dog trainer wars are as old as dogs themselves. But they MUST stop. For the sake of the dogs who need our help. Dog parents are confused and rightly so. They hear insults thrown at and by each camp, with no good results from these wars other than to further confuse them. This can cause distrust with the dog training field as a whole. And who could blame people?

It’s a given to those who know me well that I am very direct about my opinions. Some would say too direct and others would say spot on. So pretending to have an opinion other than I have would be so far from my style, that it would garner me the title of hypocrite. So I will not insult anyone by doing so. My opinion on training methods is and always will remain firmly in the position that modern science supported reward based methods provide the best learning environment, with learning happening must faster than other methods and with little fallout.

But that in no way means that those of us in that particular camp and with that particular stance, should be waging an all out war against those who practice more old fashioned techniques. And vice versa. I admit that it is a fine line to stand on, with just one improperly worded comment, potentially causing the tipping point into a judgement. Misunderstandings are rampant and arguments on this subject are far too common. In my opinion, the best option for both camps is to promote what they believe in without targeting hate at what they don’t believe in.

It’s imperative that we as remain as professional as possible when educating the public at large, in order to have the best chance at helping dogs in need. Polarizing the dog owners, who are the caretakers of the dogs, is not helpful nor is it productive. Using facts to dispel myths and fallacies is the best solution, even in the face of not so factual comments tossed in one’s direction. Name calling is hardly helpful yet that is what I have been seeing happen with the spotlight recently shined on not one but two well known names in the training world. It is ironic that these people are on opposite ends of the training world. Some might say that the second instance was karma for the positions taken by the “positive” camp on the first instance. I strongly disagree but I can see where that thought process might arise. So we come back to facts and facts are what needs focused on in any scenario such as this.

There are clearly times when the voice of reason must be heard so that the truth can be shared, such as in the recent case of Cesar Millan and the pig killing dog video. There isn’t a credentialed professional on this planet, who subscribes to modern methods, who would have chosen to handle this issue in that manner. That information needed shared with the portion of the public who did not understand that there are better ways to go about fixing such an issue. But it needed shared in a far more professional manner than it sometimes appeared. There are many trainers who chose to educate appropriately and to those professionals, I issue my utmost thanks. Facts and alternate protocols were offered. However, there were many people who were using that incident as a sort of personal vendetta against CM. I’m not sure that such hate is ever a good idea as again evidenced by the second scenario that I will reference. Education is one thing, name calling is quite another.

Name calling was no more evident, ugly and extremely unproductive than it was with the other incident in the spotlight, where trainer Victoria Stilwell was badly bitten while observing a training exercise. When an unfortunately worded pain-filled rant on her Facebook page was initially posted and then subsequently deleted, many members of the more traditional training community chose to use that incident as an opportunity to make false statements about what transpired that included their not very flattering opinions on modern rewards based training methods as a whole. The fallout from that action resulted in many heated exchanges that could have been avoided. Impulse control is something that most dog trainers teach dogs on a regular basis but that trait is often lacking in those who teach it to others. Name calling sways no one and education from such an exchange is unlikely. All that transpires is a defensive response, even among those who strive hard to avoid such.

War is never going to be the answer. To anything. Promoting what you do and why you do it, along with facts that support those actions will not sway some people but it may sway others. No one who promotes modern rewards based training should be making a name for themselves by trashing others. Even if those others use methods different than a modern dog trainer would support. To support that kind of promotion and message is contrary to what we believe at heart. The world of dog training is at an important crux. The dogs that we want to help need the world to hear our message in such a way that it is most understand, not on the backs of those who disagree with us. We have to stick together and be professional instead of divisive. It cannot be acceptable to attack others, regardless of their methods.

New trainers armed with the knowledge about modern training are very enthusiastic and although that enthusiasm can be admirable, it also comes off as obnoxious when put forth without professionalism. Few people listen to a warrior who wants to stand alone as the sole expert on any subject. I painfully remember when I first crossed over to positive training. The urge to educate on this subject was strong. Everyone HAD to know RIGHT NOW how awful the “dark side” really was, having pulled myself out of it’s depths. I am sure that I made several enemies of people I could have educated instead. It took years to subdue this urge, and in increments that I still sometimes struggle with.

We all think that people will understand the message when it so urgent. But we must understand that it’s urgent to US. Everyone has to learn when they are ready to learn. You cannot force people to change when they are not ready. There is a process that takes place and when and if any given person is ready for that process, they will hear what they need to hear. All you can do in the meantime is to place yourself out there as an example of how and why what you believe in, is the better option. This is how I crossed over to modern methods. Seeing is believing. Arguing and name calling isn’t.

Am I saying that those of us with a belief in modern science supported dog behavior knowledge should keep silent when presented with attacks from an opposing believer? Absolutely not. Defend yourself and your methods with facts when necessary and appropriate. Support each other. Do you best to avoid counter attacks. Stick with the facts. Speak out against attacks to and from either side, but as professionally as possible. No one is in a position of being all knowing. Even the most stable person out there has the potential to lose it when attacked. It is not a flaw. It’s reality. We are hard wired to protect ourselves. I know I have been guilty of this very thing in the past. I strive every day to improve on that.

What I find very frustrating and ironic as well as a bit hypocritical, are the statements and articles to the effect that we should be better than this because we need to be professional about others, while in said articles, are statements bashing others. I guess this article might even be included in that. But that is absolutely not my goal. My goal is to bring to light that bringing facts out in the open to educate does not need to include bringing someone else down to stomp on.

How you promote what you love matters. Be the change. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. My utmost gratefulness to any training professional on EITHER side of the methodology debate who doesn’t initiate an attack on the other side for self promotion. Kudos to you. You ARE the change.

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