Tuesday, September 29, 2015

5 Things Dog Trainers Should Stop Saying to Each Other

"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.


  1. Kelly, THANK YOU! I am a trainer and when I began this adventure I was taken aback by some of these comments directed to me. I actually have started a monthly lunch group of trainers in my area. We don't agree, and I am learning so much and the group is wonderful. Thanks for this superb article which will be going on my YAYdog FB page.

  2. Yes! We all have our favorite methods that work the best for us and our dogs. But as an instructor the goal is to find what works best for that owner. I don't care how golden the method is, if the owner can't do it it isn't worth poop for them. Keep your bag of tools full, learn about methods that don't appeal to you, because someday you'll have to use them. Maybe only once, but that one time will make all the difference in the world to that owner and dog.

  3. Awesome blog post very well said And I even learned a new word :)