This morning as Shiva and I were cuddling together on the couch in typical Sunday fashion, a thought occurred to me. (Startling, I realize.) There are people out there in the world who don’t get to experience the simple joy of dozing with their dogs. This is primarily because some trainers out there, in my opinion, are unfriendly when it comes to dog/human interaction.
A few months ago I read a book. Surreptitiously – I took the jacket off. This book was entitled Unleashed and it was written by the same man who hosts the television show At the End of My Leash. I’m not going to link to either because I’m sure everyone has decent enough googling skills to find these things themselves. The reason I felt guilty about reading, and purchasing, this book was the fact that I totally do not support the author’s training methods. The last thing I wanted to do was advertise to my fellow bus riders. But I admit to being human and therefore curious about that which I dislike.
This is just my opinion. I am not a dog trainer. My university degree is in history, not animal behaviour. I am speaking as someone who didn’t know the difference between Cesar Millan and Karen Pryor not too long ago. However, I have learned a lot since working with my instructors at Fetch, Inc. and Sublime Canine, enough to know what dog training methods will never work for me. The methods portrayed by the author of the aforementioned book are not for me. The methods of this author, in my opinion after reading the book, do not foster a warm relationship between dog and owner. Instead, they seem to drive a gulf between the two. With one acting as lord and master and the other as subservient slave. Is that really why we bring dogs into our lives? To dominate and control their every move?
Ultimately, that’s the crux of why I feel the need to talk about it. I think it’s a shame that there are people out there following these training methods, people who will never feel as close to their animals as I do with Shiva. They are missing out on something wonderful. It makes me sad. Sad for the people and even sadder for the dog.
Fortunately, there are some wicked trainers on television promoting the kind of relationship I’m talking about. Trainers like Zak George and Victoria Stilwell, both who seem to work to understand the dog mind. They strive to achieve free communication between dog and human. Both Zak and Victoria use positive reinforcement to teach dogs how to live in our current society. Their shows are incredibly entertaining but they are also worth emulating. This is not something I can say about all dog-related shows on my television today. I wish it was. Or at least, I wish the ones I like best were more popular than the ones I don’t like at all. Tragically, this is not the case.
A few years ago, before we moved to the East Coast and before we adopted a dog of our own, I was not aware of other training methods. All I knew was what I had easy access to on television. Back then, having no reason to look further, I figured these big-name celebrities knew about which they were talking. Why else would they be so famous? Corrections, positive punishment, and negative reinforcement must be the best way to control a dog. I feel so silly now for thinking that, but I honestly didn’t know any different. Back then, I didn’t understand why some groups of dog trainers seemed to be so angry with other groups. Why couldn’t they all agree to disagree?
Now I get it. Dog trainers like the author of that book I felt guilty about paying money for, are hostile to the human/dog relationship. In my opinion they do not help the average owner achieve the best results possible. Their methods are not user-friendly. They focus entirely on the negative. Instead of rewarding good behaviour, instead of teaching the dog what to do, they inhibit natural behaviour. In my opinion, this encourages an antagonistic relationship between dog and owner – not exactly to what I think most people are striving.
This morning, as I lazed about the chesterfield with my puppy curled up in a ball by my side, I thought about all this. And I mourned for those who will never know the same feeling of peace.