On my trek to annoy people and plant the seeds of discontent- early morning ramblings brought to you by pre-coffee. A long dissertation on the state of the dog trainer’s trade.
Oh yeah, and if you don’t like reading long posts- dip out now.
Every day I receive inquiries from potential clients for dog training. The conversations are relatively simple; inquirer points out issues, I suggest potential solutions.
Over the course of an epoch, I have developed a mental shorthand for the unspoken words “between the lines”, whether I am speaking to them or responding to an electronic inquiry.
Our whole industry is underwritten with the expressed understanding that we supply a service, and that this service has a deliverable, quantifiable ‘product’. We, as providers, have created a system that at least tries to address client needs and balance that against what *we* as professionals, know about dog behavior.
Pair that with ego, pride, basic human nature, and you start to see where our lives can quickly spiral into a maze of reflective soul searching through a minefield of traps that we must navigate carefully in order to meet our obligations, and still survive without killing ourselves or inflicting bodily harm on others.
I honestly don’t believe there is a trade as divisive or contentious as the dog trainer’s trade.
Compound that with basic human greed, ignorance and the willful manipulation of facts to drive agendas, and you are burdened with an industry that eats its own young at a rate that has us on the path of extinction before I take my last breath, and I’m well into my 60’s.
At the root of it all?
Media fuels the dog trainer’s trade, although owners are the ones that need us.
Flash has replaced substance in the dog trainer’s trade.
Years ago, dog trainers were a pretty exclusive lot. Trainers existed at obedience clubs where folks interested in showing their dogs in performance events went to learn; at hunt clubs where folks trained their dogs to augment hunting, which led to the occasional organized and sanctioned field trial to finally put the question of “whose dog is best” to rest.
Police and military dog trainers are historically fairly new as well, although they have existed in some form for thousands of years. In this country, only in earnest since post WWII.
The current political climate and push for vigorous security has every “operator” calling themselves a dog trainer. It’s been my experience that the vast majority of them are neither operators nor dog trainers.
The pet dog training trade was borne from working dog parents and exploded with the debut of television celebrity trainers in the mid-2000s. Although Margolis and others had existed on PBS for eons, the popularity of Animal Planet and Nat Geo created a war of dubious ‘experts’, and being the clannish, tribal animals we have always been, lines were drawn in the sand, and sides were taken.
You were “positive” or you were “compulsion based”.
You were a “clicker trainer” or you were a “shock collar trainer”.
You were a “science based trainer” or you were a “old school” trainer.
A more recent add to the mix is you are either a “working dog” trainer, or a “pet dog” trainer.
I am a dog trainer. I see the divisiveness in the dog trainer’s trade as destructive and polarizing. It hurts everyone. It helps no one.
And in the interim, the social signaling of the oblivious worked in unison with well-intended but largely ignorant, socialite, empty nester, often wealthy, lonely middle aged women who had time on their hands and holes in their hearts, but not a lot in the way of experience with animals, that decided their pet cause would be “rescue” or volunteering at shelters.
Now, before anyone gets their panties in a wad about my comments on animal “rescue” and shelters in general- bear in mind that I have spent a LOT of personal time working for, working with, and working the actual end-product of the industrial rescue complex for DECADES.
I am entitled to my opinions, and trust me, I have been pilloried for them since long before most of you ever even held a damn leash. The first article in retribution to my position about rescues appeared in WITF Central Pennsylvania magazine in the early 90’s. Yes, there was a time before the internet was new and not accessible to everyone. People still read news printed on paper products. Cell phones were the size of cinderblocks and were considered an extravagance of the rich.
Your righteous indignation doesn’t trump my decades in the actual, you know… trenches.
Couple that with an industry that refuses to collaborate effectively on every facet of husbandry or training, and voila! Here we are!
People who claim to be trainers are deliberately deceiving consumers that “they too, can have a dog trained to reliable off leash control in a week or 2!” Never mind the e-collar, or reliance on it for probably close to forever.
And don’t get me started with “positive only” training. It’s a great training modality for many things, but reliable obedience isn’t one of them. Because survival isn’t contingent on an organism’s success. It’s contingent upon an organism’s ability to survive FAILURE.
The ability to overcome failure drives survival.
The dog in that picture is a “rescue” that had to overcome a major surgery and a lot of emotional baggage bestowed upon her by “dog lovers” who thought holding her accountable for her behavior was crueler than allowing her to live a life of perpetual fear. He new owner thought otherwise and actively sought training that would improve her dog’s life. She found it. Not only did she find it, she overcame a lot of opposition in order to accomplish this small feat of achievement.
Because to the dog and the owner, it’s a lot. The dog no longer walks in fear, and the owner has experienced a great deal of growth as a result of the effort she has put into this dog.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I often ask myself if these nonces ever critically observe a dog that frustrates itself -wanting- a prey item, food, companionship, whatever. Are they even aware that punishing during certain behaviors actually strengthens them?
If you are vapor-locked into the 4 quadrants to the point of implosion, don’t create a black hole on my account. I have tons of examples for you, and that’s just from any day I spend working with
Like the one in the picture. Who trained with me remotely.
But again, people have been swindled into believing that the Peaceable Kingdom is a thing, and that you should never even tell your children NO!
Looky what that lame ass piece of advice has won us!
One of my favorite questions to ask a potential client to help pave the way to becoming just slightly more introspective, is a query about how long they took to finish high school. Most are quick to quip “oh! 4 years!”
Nope. Try again. At least 13. And that’s JUST formal school. Let’s not forget the first 5 years of your life, where you learned how to walk, talk, communicate, and the basic rudiments of functional behavior in a larger society. Like how to use a spoon, and not chew with your mouth open.
So, why then, do you expect your dog to learn all of the canine equivalent in 2 weeks?
When I am approached by someone with an 8 or 10 week old puppy that wants it off leash trained in 2 weeks, don’t be surprised if I laugh in your face, after I leave a few choice words in your ear.
I am patiently explaining to first-time owners every day that their wonder-breed designer puppy is still a dog first, and subject to the same principles of learning as every other dog, including the mature adult shelter dog or “rescue”.
The fact that they paid thousands of dollars for a dog doesn’t exonerate their acquisition from the basic tenets of canine conduct, and a pedigree or fictitious origin story doesn’t endow that animal with any superior knowledge or behavior. Training does, however.
Nor is the “adopted” or “rescued” excuse the exception for shitty behavior. That “rescue” you have housed, fed and tolerated for the last 8 years is a product of your efforts, not because of it’s form of acquisition, so knock that bullshit right off.
Since we know that the average human is incapable of rational thought when it comes to animals, I am skeptical when an applicant refers to themselves as a “fur parent” and leads the conversation with “adopt” or “rescue” which pretty much tell me everything I need to know about that applicant.
As Mark Connolly of K9 Command in North Carolina recently stated; “Rescue is not a breed”.
I would also contend that it isn’t a behavioral condition, nor an excuse for a behavioral condition. Same with “adoption”. This grates on me. I am the product of adoption. I developed into a normal, functioning adult. I was not exempt from the pain of my experiences, but I learned to adapt. To grow mentally and emotionally stronger.
I work with dogs every day from every stripe and flavor. They are capable of tremendous personal growth. They do not need excuses. They do not need exemptions because some over-emoting human’s common sense has gone astray.
For years I have watched the evolution of the animal trades decay into an abyss of ignorance and bloodletting.
It’s no longer about the animals. It hasn’t been for a very long time. I doubt it’s been about dogs since training became something you could do after watching a few episodes of the controversial show on Nat Geo, or that crazy bint on Animal Planet, or since the pandemic kept people locked in terror in their homes, where they emerged, fully formed from their cocoons as *professional* dog trainers, armed with 2 years of watching YouTube videos when they realized that doggie they adopted to assuage their loneliness and fear wasn’t the cake walk they expected.
I do hope the folks who are sincerely interested in doing what’s not only best, but right and fair and honest and proven.
The rest of ya?
Thank you for coming, there’s the door.