I’m not a dog trainer – I’m a well educated dog owner. Science is my mistress. I have a first class honours BSc in Animal Science to my name, which heavily included animal psychology and behaviour. I worked in dog rescue for 3 years. I’ve seen a lot, I’ve read a lot and I’ve applied a fair bit in practice with dogs in the rescue, and my own mare of a bullmastiff. I’m no expert, but I know what I know.
My views in training dogs are much like you would care for a 2 year old child. You manage unwanted behaviour by making sure there isn’t anything silly your dog can get into trouble with – it might be chewing inappropriate items, or it might be putting the dog behind a baby gate when visitors arrive so they don’t have the chance to chomp the guest. You teach the appropriate behaviour with clear instruction, kind words and plenty of rewards when they manage to make good choices thanks to your consistancy and patience when teaching the dog what you want it to do, rather than punishing it for what you don’t want it to do. If the dog isn’t getting it, you’re doing something wrong – it’s on the owner (or trainer) to make sure their teaching is appropriate for the dog.
We all learn through conditioning processes, classical and operant. Birds do, chimps do, dogs do, humans do. There’s no magic involved. A rottweiler doesn’t need any more of a ‘firm hand’ than a chihuahua. Motivations might vary though, but that’s a different article, for a different time maybe.
So, why is a dog trainer ruining my love life? The general public, even if they know very little about dogs, have almost all watched dog training TV programmes. Some are better than others, but sadly not a lot of people extol the virtues of Victoria Stillwell. It doesn’t always happen, but often when I’ve mentioned having an interest in dog behaviour and training, a certain celebrity dog trainer has come up.
It’s difficult, particularly when you’re so passionate about something to explain why (in the most sensitive terms) the person they learned everything they know about dog behaviour from is spouting absolute bullshit. And here comes the problem. How do you do it without alienating this shiny new person you want to get to know a bit better? Or do you even want to get to know them better if they watch this show for entertainment, or maybe even advice?
I get where the layman is coming from with this – before I learned what a stressed dog looks like, I thought the gleaming toothed trainer was alright. I didn’t understand that during filming dogs were wound up, pushed past their threshold to the point of ‘red zone’, and then punished for the actions of the trainer. Who would even think they would do that?
I came across this today. I tried to light heartedly mention that the trainer was a bug-bear of mine, and (semi) briefly, why I thought that way. I spoke about Mech* and his original article about wolves’ social structure and how it was dismissed by Mech himself because the study was inherantly flawed, and then how I would prefer dogs were treated. The guy must not have read what I had written and went on about how dogs form packs…like wolves. *keyboardface*
Now I’m in an interesting position. I don’t really know how to respond to that. Just brush over it like none of the conversation had happened? But, I won’t be happy in a relationship where the other person is happy to use punitive measures on a dog, my dog in particular. I could wind up doing that whole ‘talking at’ thing, as I discussed in my first post, Being Talked At: The Death of Conversation. I could presume he did in fact read my musings and he actually means that dogs form a family-centric ‘pack’ relationship with us, their owners, as I mentioned wolves do with their family unit.
Semantics is diffcult, when dealing with a layman. Different people, hell even different trainers have different ideas for what the term ‘pack’ means. For me, the term comes with baggage, especially when united with that celebrity trainer; if dogs form packs (they don’t), this means that they will try to climb the hierarchy (so many lols) and need to then be ‘put in their place’ with ‘calm assertive (punitive) energy’. That’s a lot of baggage for a simple term to hold, isn’t it?
So…when the short Mexican is mentioned, I tend to die a little inside, even though I was once that person who really didn’t know any better. I grew, I was educated by a fantastic lecturer, and I further educated myself.
I think I need to remember that with every interaction with another life-form be it dogs, people or anything with a brainstem for that matter, that Pavlov is always sitting on my shoulder so the saying goes.
If I go on a rant at this poor unsuspecting guy about the horrors that the self-educated, calm-assertive energy espousing micro-man imposes onto poor dogs who are afraid of going up the stairs, then the silver-coiffeured pseudo-trainer will definitely ruin my love life.
* Here’s a little article if you were wondering Who the Hell is Mech?!