Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Share Your Pieces

I'm going to let everyone in on a secret. When I was in my early 20s, and of course knew everything there was to know about dog training, I had a lot of opinions and a big mouth to shout them with. I was derisive of other methods, often pretentious and sometimes condescending.

Now, I'm pushing 40 and my greatest piece of knowledge is that I really know very little. Dog training is a like a giant puzzle, the kind your parents made you do on rainy days before there was xbox and the internet, and we all have a handful of pieces. We can put together our corners, and see that the picture can be beautiful, but we jealously hoard our pieces and glare across the table at those who hold other pieces, rather than put them together. 

This is a growing trend in our industy. Not just a trend to keep the pieces to ourselves, not just a trend to be content with our own little pretty corner, but a trend to dump gasoline on the table and burn the puzzle to ashes.

This trend comes in the form of youtube wars between trainers, of groups that sic a pitchfork mob on an unsuspecting professional, of hashtags and bash pages and vicious insults slung back and forth that no reasonable adult would offer face to face, emboldened by anonymity or thousands of miles between parties. 

Here is the truth, whether you like it or not. We lump trainers into two types: those who use an aversive, and those who do not, but within each type is a vast difference from one to another. Of course in each style there are people who it "right" and people who do it "wrong", whatever that means to you. However, the overwhelming majority of highly successful trainers are taking pages from both books, and doing great things while the extreme fringes clutch their pieces to their chest and insist they know what the picture must be, although they've never laid on eyes on most of the rest.

True change can still come, from the trainers who are working together, the ones who show the same level of kindness, patience, and consistency with one another that they show for dogs; they have the entire middle of the picture. And they're sharing their pieces. 

I'll tell you what they aren't doing. They aren't turning around and pointing to the trainers in  the corners and shouting, "They're wrong! They hate each other! They don't know what the middle is and they aren't sharing!" Nope, no time for that and no tolerance for it, either. 

Here's another truth of dog training, a hard one to swallow and I'm sure I'll take some heat for it. Food is popular because it works. Clickers are popular because they work. Prong collars are popular because they work and e-collars are popular because they work.

Twenty year old me would be appalled to hear it. 

Each of those tools can also fail utterly, but I'm not getting into that. There's a myriad of articles and videos out there describing what everyone else is doing wrong. I'm tired of the vitriol. I have so much more to do with this life, so much more to see and learn and do, so much more good training to spread around and dogs' lives to improve. I'm not saying use a tool you don't want to use. If you aren't committed to your tools, I can guarantee your use of them will be lacking. I am suggesting you take the time to learn about them. Each style has huge followings because they bring something useful and effective to the table. 

Isn't it time to focus on that, on the great things you can do? Rather than shout that Your Way is the Only Way, show it? Share your techniques and ideas, and try the techniques and ideas of others. You may be surprised with how little some of them actually conflict with one another. You may not like them at all, they may not work for you, but now you understand them better, and that can only improve you.

For those you with your pieces in a death grip in one hand, and a lighter in the other, this probably isn't for you. You probably aren't ready to let go. You might never be, but the rest of us can learn from one another, help and respect one another, we will all show the world a beautiful and complete picture, and no one will notice the now restrictive, angry little corners are gone. Turns out hostility isn't part of the picture.

Make dog training better. 

Share your pieces.