"The only thing two dog trainers can agree on it is what a third dog trainer is doing wrong"
We've all seen the T-shirt. Heck, some of us may own it.
For dog trainers, civil discourse with one another often feels impossible. Opposing ideologies and passionate supporters of them butt heads with frequently ugly results. I am blessed (or cursed, depends on the day) to moderate a group for dog trainers and training enthusiasts where members of all camps are expected to respect one another, sit around the campfire and sing "Kumbaya", and try to not shank one another with a marshmallow roasting fork when the admins aren't looking.
In my experience, both my cozy corner of nearly five thousand members, and in other, less civilized forums, I found the same statements repeated over and over, by all sides. I would like us, collectively, to put these ridiculous phrases to rest, at least if you expect to have intelligent conversation with other dog trainers, and have even a glimmer of hope that they may see your point of view.
5. "Every dog I've seen trained that way is horrible." Please get out with anecdotal evidence. The sample size you have experience is directly related to how many dogs you're exposed to, and your geographical location. Some areas are hurting for any kind of decent dog trainer, so when your area is over or under represented in a certain style, of course the quality (or lack thereof) will representative of your area. Just because you don't see it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Here's another mind bender for my fellow professionals- maybe you're only seeing the poor examples of the opposite style because the excellent ones are happy with the trainer they have, and don't need to come see you?
4. "Well, maybe some trainers can do that method well, but no pet owner can."Any veteran professional will tell you just about every pet owner struggles with darn near every method in the beginning. If you're a trainer, it's not only your job to train the dog, but to also teach the owners. Really, you've never had a handler that was just awful at following instructions, that you had to really put effort into, but you can't believe that would happen to other trainers?
3. "Those dogs only listen because of (insert tool here)" or, alternately, "The dog will never listen without (insert tool here)."Training is a long, ongoing process. You know this. I know this. So why do we demand the finished product or nothing from those we disagree with? Why do we not consider the fact that some owners, due to time constraints, ability, or overall commitment may always need a tool to get a performance from their dog? Plenty of trainers who compete, or coach clients who do, set foot in rings and fields without their clickers, treats, prongs, e-collars, you name it- and still qualify. And win.
2. "That's method/style/tool is abuse"Alright, I tried to keep this list method-neutral, but this really deserves a spot. Dragging a dog behind a truck is abuse. Putting a kitten on a barbecue grill is abuse. Dog fighting is abuse. And may I remind you, animal abuse is a felony crime in all 50 states. Yet, accusing people who disagree with you of felony crime is somehow perfectly normal when discussing training ideology. Of course, some training is abusive. When I see videos of a dog jabbed through a crate with a broom handle, kicked in the head repeatedly, and other heinous acts, I will speak up, and so should you. But remember, we are all dog lovers, to haul off and accuse someone of the most abhorrent crime a dog trainer can be accused of, without ever seeing them train a single dog, is not only ignorant, it makes you look like the bully, not them.
1. "That method kills dogs" This is my #1 right here. STOP IT. Yes, I'm yelling now. STOP IT. Start putting blame where it belongs. A clicker and a cookie do not kill dogs. An e-collar does not kill dogs. Failure to take responsibility for the education and actions of dogs- that kills dogs. Every method has successfully rehabbed dogs, and every method has failed dogs. Dogs end up euthanized because somewhere, a person failed them.
I don't expect dog trainers across the board to start agreeing with one another. I don't expect them to abandon their passionate ideals. I'm only saying, if we want to help the most dogs, if we want to not only grow ourselves, but help one another grow, our debate should be based on logic and fact, not rhetoric and overemotional reactions.
Most of us know a title doesn't necessarily make the dog, but does it make the trainer? Why should a trainer, especially one who works mostly with pets, title their dog? Why should a pet owner title their dog?
If you're like me, for fun and shiny things, obviously, but not everyone has a passion to compete, and that's ok. For a moment, however, consider what it means to earn one.
A common concern for owners and a common debate amongst trainers is "Will the dog still perform with out the tools?" Set foot in a ring, and you are stripped of everything. Correction, reward, lures, training collars, clickers, and in most cases, even verbal encouragement. It's just you and your dog, and the mutual respect and teamwork between you, in an unfamiliar environment, with many distractions, and a pair of unbiased eyes judging your performance.
For the professional, a title is the means to put their money where their mouth is, to prove that their skills are enough to get the job done, that their work can stand alone without any extra help. I truly believe every dog trainer owes it to themselves to set foot on a ring or a field, and really see what their skills will yield, even just for one title. Consider your clients. Think of that elderly gentleman who struggles to stay on his feet on icy winter pavement, or think of that busy mom with a child in arms much of her day. They need a dog who will respond, ultimately, without the tools. In an emergency, or simply the bustle of daily life, our clients can't always reach for a lead or a reward. The dog must simply respond. Can you achieve that without earning a title on your personal dog? Sure you can- but why not test yourself?
For the pet owner, it gives them a goal. Something to work toward, a reason to work their dog every single day, even when they're tired, even when they think, "what's one day off?" If a client can walk into that brand new place, step in the ring, and their dog stands perfectly still for a stand for exam, I'd say the chances of that dog sitting still while the neighbors say hello is quite high. The goals in performance rings are a more finely tuned, realized version of the goals most clients will come to you with in the first place.
Now, let me pick apart some excuses I hear frequently from fellow trainers:
"I can, but I just don't want to." Can you? How do you know? The truth is, you don't. Give it a whirl. When you're teaching a client your training methods, don't you expect them to have an open mind?
"I'm not into showing." You might as well say you aren't into taking your dog anywhere and working with them. Training titles are not about grooming products, walking in circles, and/or hideous polyester suits.
"It's too expensive." Entry fees can be as low as $25 each. If you can afford dog food, you can afford an entry fee every now and again.
"My clients aren't interested in showing." Neither were mine, until I told them about how fun it was, and how they could do it, too. Eventually those successes brought competition clients to my door. Grow your business while you grow yourself.
"I don't know how to get started." You're already on the internet, aren't you? Get ye to Google, friend!
Expanding your repertoire really can help you see your current knowledge in a new light, and inspire you to push yourself toward a defined goal. Titling will help you develop an eye for detail that will serve you and your clients incredibly well. Performance and companion events should be supported and encouraged, particularly by those of us who make a living training dogs.