Agile Dog Blog

I have been thinking about starting a blog for a while now. I have many thoughts and ideas that I would like to get out of my head and put somewhere. This seems like a fine place to start. It’s going to be bare-bones basic but these are my thoughts so who cares?

Over the past 20 years I have been slowly making a transition from someone that doesn’t care about dogs at all to someone who cares for them and their feelings very deeply. I plan to cover a wide range of topics. Things I have learned over the last 20 years, stories of my experiences, new issues that are relavent today, etc.

One of the things that inspired me to start this blog is a post I read on Facebook about Veterinary Behaviorists. A friend posted a link to it and so I read it, as I do with many dog training things that get posted to Facebook. The gist of the article was that Veterinary Behaviorists are not really worth visiting because: 1. They only have book learning and no real experience, 2. They dish out book answers and don’t follow up, and 3: They espouse positive training methods that don’t actually work.

My own exerience with two different behaviorists was not really a positive one. My wife took one of our dogs to see a couple of behaviorists and the techniques they suggested seemed to be in opposition to my beliefs in how you should treat a dog. In addition, they just gave out advice without any real follow up or detailed information on how to execute their advice and no follow up training sessions suggested.

I certainly can see some of the points in this article. I can tell it was written by a trainer who was frustrated that his clients were getting unusable advice from someone that seemed to not really care about the dogs. Here are a few things that stuck out in my mind and made me want to write a response:

1. All professionals, be they a behaviorist, dog trainer, or even computer programmer, has to start somewhere. Those with only book learning have most likely just come right out of school. A good professional in their field will learn, grow and change their techniques as they gain experience. As in most professions, there will be poor, middling and excellent behaviorists. But anyone can hang out their shingle and open a practice. To be a Veterinay Behaviorist you have to have gone to school. That’s all. No experience required outside of school.

2. Dishing out answers and not following up is certainly a problem. This is one of the things I experienced. My wife received advice with very little directions and then was supposed to go home and put it into practice on her own. Well, that didn’t work. We didn’t even know where to begin. But, again, I believe this may be a sign of quality of service and not of the concept of the service being offered. I don’t know much about the field of Veterinary Behavior but I doubt we can assume that a poor quality of behaviorists in the local area indicates the field as a whole is invalid. It might be but the sample size is so small there is no way to tell.

3. Positive training is ineffective. Here’s the one that actually got me thinking. One premise of the article was that positive methods are ineffective and that the author’s methods (not positive) were much more effective because they have been using them successfully for years so they knew the best ways to do things. I am trying, as much as I can, to be a positive, force free, dog trainer as I feel this meets the needs of myself and my dogs emotionally. I see the benefits personally. 

Lets take away the discussion of “positive vs negative” or “force free vs coercive” and just focus on “that method doesn’t work and mine does because…”. 

This caused me to read other articles by the same author. What I found is that the author tended to spout great anger and hatred for all methods which weren’t their own. What’s interesting about this is that I have read similar articles by other trainers that dislike positive training. There is much anger. 

While I may not be a name-brand trainer and don’t have my own television show (probably never will), I am an active participant in the world around me. I read. A lot. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks. I watch videos. All about dog training, positive or not. I see what works and what doesn’t. I observe dog behavior and reactions. I pay attention. I try, sometimes unsuccessfully, to be consistent with my dogs and keep them happy.

So my personal feeling on any training method, positive, negative, somewhere in the middle, balanced or not, is that they all may work for some people in some situations. It all depends on your goals and the relationship you want to have with your dogs. What I see most often fail is when people are incosistent, don’t pay attention to their dog’s behavior, or want instant results. You aren’t going to get instant results with dog training. So to say that positive methods don’t work when someone hands you a list of things and says “good luck” is pretty presumptious. 

And saying you know what is best because you have been in the business for a long time is also presumptuous. It’s human nature but still presumptious. What if someone has a better idea? A new method that works better? What if someone were able to show you a side effect of your training that you were unaware of? I have found that the people all around me always have new things to teach me. I am amazed by what I read and hear and see every single day. I am always seeking a new technique. A new idea. A new way to train. I believe we need to give new things a try and see how they work and avoid making blanket statements. Also we need to evaluate what behaviorists and trainers are telling us. Dog training is not an exact science. It’s behavior modification with requires interaction with another living, thinking being. Each one is different. Each one is a unique individual.

Well, number three in my list is what got me thinking so it’s fitting that it have the longest discussion. 

If you are interested in more discussions of this type then stay tuned!

Mike

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