Megan’s Musings – It’s Not Just the Training

I have been thinking about this concept for awhile. This whole positive vs aversive or treats vs corrections and how it always just points at the dog training industry. I do understand why it has become more of a hot topic within the dog training field, but after some recent conversations, I think we really need to start looking at it as more of how we choose to interact and live with our dogs. Yes, dog trainers are there to help you understand how to make your dog into a good canine companion and help you to learn how to modify unwanted behaviours, but this does not mean that this is the only area where our approach matters.

When I watch a person hang their dog in the air from a collar to get them to sit or give them a leash correction for stepping ahead of them, I have a hard time understanding why someone would choose this approach. I think about if this person would find it acceptable to take such a harsh approach against a child, a family member, a co-worker or even another pet, such as a cat. Why do we find it acceptable to do this to dogs and what are we teaching them about the world?

I understand that dog trainers are the ones that teach people how to interact with their dogs. A good trainer will be certified, take continuing education seriously and have a solid understanding of canine communication. We are responsible for teaching dog owners and to educate them about their dog. But, it is not just our responsibility as every interaction matters. Dog walkers, groomers, vets, rescue groups, pet retail workers and anyone involved with dogs need to also take on this responsibility. How we interact with dogs will determine their success integrating and coexisting in the human world.

For example, if I have my dog that is scared of people and I am working them through that, one scary interaction with a person could really set back their progress. Let’s say I take them to the vet and a worker there does not understand how to approach the dog correctly. Instead, they muzzle the dog and handle it roughly just to get through the exam. This is scary for my dog and my dog will now have reason to be even more fearful of people, and especially people at the vet clinic. Or, I have a social dog who likes to wrestle and play. We go to the off-leash park and they run up to another dog and paw at them. The other owner incorrectly views this as dominance and slams my dog on its side to submit it. The risk is then that my dog becomes fearful around other dogs/people. Or, I rescue a dog from a reserve and bring it into the city. The city is terrifying and full of new, potentially dangerous things that the dog has never been exposed to before. The dog becomes reactive, as it is scared of everything, and it is physically corrected for showing signs of fear. These are just a few examples of many, but all of these situations are detrimental to the dog’s overall well-being and behaviour. Step back and think about each interaction a dog has and what it may be learning.

So, for now, I want us to start thinking about it differently. It is not just about dog training. Every time our dogs interact with people, other dogs, animals and are exposed to new situations they are learning about the world and just responding to that. So all of us need to be responsible for this. Show them patience and understanding, but above all, let’s demonstrate some compassion.

8 Comments to "Megan’s Musings – It’s Not Just the Training"

  1. March 1, 2012 - 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Lovely post Megan.

  2. March 1, 2012 - 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Great information for everyone to think about Megan.

  3. March 1, 2012 - 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Love this! Very well said, Megan.

  4. Sue Sargent's Gravatar Sue Sargent
    March 2, 2012 - 11:31 am | Permalink

    Right on Megan!

  5. Karen Davison's Gravatar Karen Davison
    June 8, 2012 - 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Hi Megan.
    I only just found this post and, though a bit of time has passed, I hope that it is not too late and that it is okay for me to weigh in and share my thoughts that, sort of, relate to this topic. When we first found Dogma, we had researched many training facilities in our attempt to find one that shares the same training beliefs that we have. With the fear and confidence issues that our little Seamus has had, even the kind, gentle techniques we learned while attending classes with him, were stressful enough to tax his immune system and cause him some temporary health issues. It is our firm belief that if we had been irresponsible enough to take him to a facility that engaged in aversive training techniques, it would have literally killed him. Instead he has flourished, continuing to overcome his fears, gain confidence and good health, and constantly surprises us with what he is now capable of. People need to remember that, though the law states otherwise (some laws are archaic and, well, it’s my opinion that some lawmakers cannot be accused of being smart!), dogs are NOT our property. They are living creatures that have chosen to share their lives with us and, in return, deserve to be treated the same as all living creatures – with courtesy and respect. We consider ourselves fortunate that our 2 boys chose to be a part of our family and to repay that with anything other than kindness and gratitude is not acceptable. We tell everyone who will listen to us what great things you do and then gently guide them your way if they are looking for help. It’s the least we can do for their 4-legged family members!

  6. Shawna's Gravatar Shawna
    July 10, 2012 - 9:16 am | Permalink

    Like Karen, I just came across your blog and this post and I am finding myself compelled to comment too. In fact I would love to engage in more dialogue with you sometime on this very matter because whenever I can I do my best to educate people on the different training methods and I especially do everything I can to sway people away from the training method that I engaged in.

    Here is my story and I will try to keep it brief because I know I could go on and on. I went through a very intense training program that’s run here is Calgary. They claim that they are the foremost dog training company in the city and that their training program will exceed anything else out there, BUT little did I know, they use aversive methods which are cloaked in euphemisms. It’s essentially all correction-based with very minimal and one very specific reward for good behaviour. What’s even worse, in the very beginning of the program, everyone is required to basically starve their dog of any human touch and connection for 2 weeks.

    What’s really problematic is that most people going through this program don’t know any better (like myself) and speaking for myself only, I know I clung to every word they said and believed everything they preached. They had reasons for everything and could explain their aversive methods using theory, logic and stories that I now know are seriously flawed. I came out of this program believing that it was THE only way to train a dog and I wondered why everyone in the world wasn’t doing it this way. Thankfully, I wanted a career in dog training so THAT is was what lead me to do my research and as I read more and more, I started to realize how wrong all of this was. Also at the same time, I got a job with this company for a very brief period and that’s when my eyes really opened up!!! I was sick to my stomach for what I had done to my dog and I was sick to my stomach for what I was seeing people (and children!!!) do to their dog.

    Anyway as I said, I could go on and on so I’ll stop there. Oh that hindsight, if only I had known better and had fallen into your hands first. So now, even though I have not done any training with you, I always recommend people to you and your company and I tell people to stay away from the other.

    I admire the work that you and your team are doing and I was especially happy and hopeful when I saw your pain-free campaign. Keep up the great work! And one of these days I will actually engage in one of your training programs or seminars. :)

Leave a Reply