My Commitment To You

I’m a bit bothered that I even have to write this but I’ve both witnessed and heard an increasing number of stories about other positive reinforcement trainers being… less than positive when dealing with colleagues, with the public, and with students. It makes me feel really uncomfortable to think people who are so committed to positive learning with canines can also be so intentionally negative when working with people.

Yes, of course, I am occasionally short with people when I’m not feeling great. Sometimes I get a snarky attitude when I’m asked the same question for the umpteenth time by the same person at the end of the long day (mostly in my personal life). Sure, if during a debate someone else is not being respectful, my emotions may take control and result in me mirroring their respect level. I am human and as such I am an emotional creature who sometimes doesn’t think before I act. I make mistakes but try to make sure those moments of “human-ness” are few and far between.

It is my goal as a human, as an educator, and as an instructor of canine parents to treat everyone with respect and compassion. Even if I disagree with someone, my goal is to always remain respectful and remain compassionate about the situation (I won’t claim to be perfect, sometimes my frustrations get the better of me). Publicly belittling, embarrassing, bullying, putting down, or attacking people because the believe differently or simply ask a question is absolutely unacceptable. Just as I hate seeing dogs shocked, popped, hit, or rolled in the name of training, I hate seeing people verbally assaulted, belittled, or ridiculed in the name of “defending” clicker/positive training. I absolutely understand the frustration/anger/shock/ that motivates the exaggerated responses to the use of physical aversives or physical punishments but that doesn’t make it right or appropriate.

I wish that more clicker/positive reinforcement/force-free trainers would have that approach when working with colleagues and with students–positive and force free. Attacking someone for using methods you don’t agree with does nothing to make that person want to change or what to learn about new methods–it simply alienates them and make them more reluctant to learn. One can educate without belittling and one can passionately debate without verbally assaulting.

I know of a couple who nearly stopped going to training classes because of an incident that happened. It was the very first week of training class and they brought their dog wearing a prong collar after it had been suggested by a friend that had experience with their dog’s breed. On the way into the classroom they were accosted by someone who verbally attacked them and started belittling them and pretty much verbally assaulting them. The handlers were caught off guard and were understandably upset and bothered by the way they were treated by this person. I have no doubt the person had good intentions of getting the dog off the prong collar, but that intention is not what they expressed to the dog handlers. The handlers quickly became defensive and withdrawn because of the onslaught and were rather upset during that first class. This person’s verbal attack on the couple almost caused them to stop attending classes in general.

The handlers were not “dog abusers” simply because they had a prong on their dog. They were first time dog owners who were having problems with the dog pulling and choking on a flat collar and a friend recommended the prong collar and it had been working so they used it. They didn’t know there was another way. In class, they were such great students who were so open to new ideas, new techniques and new equipment but it took a few weeks to really gain back their trust that they weren’t going to be verbally attacked. During that first class they tried out, and purchased, a front hook harness to use instead of the prong collar. When they were educated about the prong collar, instead of verbally assaulted about it, they understood why the prong worked and were more than happy to change to another tool.

Approaching this family with kindness and compassion made all the difference in the world to them… and in turn their dog. Just like approaching dogs with kindness and respect can make all the difference in the world.

Here is my commitment to you–my students, my friends, my readers.

I will make it my goal to always treat you with respect as a person, as a dog guardian, and as a learner. My goal will always be to educate, not humiliate. I will not use language for the purpose of hurting, personally attacking, belittling, or humiliating. My commitment to positive reinforcement with dogs will extend to working with people as well. I will remember that at the heart of everything we are people who love dogs and our goals are often the same–keeping dogs safe, keeping dogs with their families, and keeping people safe with their dogs.

Now I am not perfect, misunderstandings can happen easily with written exchanges on the internet, and I am an emotional being but this is my commitment and these are my goals.

  1. YEEESSS!!! You are setting a great example for other trainers and everyone in general!

    • I am not perfect by any means but I’ve seen and heard through the grape-vine some really disheartening things recently and it really bothers me and I wanted to respond a bit but in a positive manner.

  2. Thank you for this.

    Regardless of my personal feelings on techniques being used, when I’m talking to people about them I do try to be as judicious and levelheaded as possible. I definitely would not have unhinged on people using a prong (and using it appropriately). It is a tool, to be used or not, and I’m glad that those people were able to keep going to class.

    Different training methods, and philosophies, and tools often bring out very, very strong feelings in people. It’s sometimes hard to remember to be as positive with other humans as we strive to be with dogs.

    (well, that and my fiance realize that I was using markers with him and rebelled).

    • Training is up there with religion and politics. It can get just as nasty as them as well.

      I’m really glad that they were trusting enough to stick it out and I think they really enjoyed it and had an overall positive experience.

  3. I was consistently put out by the agility trainer in a foundations class I went to with Elli. It got so irksome that I quit going. I found that the more often I was humiliated or talked down to, the less fun training was. Training should always be fun. I made the same commitment that you did after experiencing that.

    I guess it also helps that I haven’t come close to trainer-burn-out because of the uphill battle that it sometimes can be with people.

    • I’m really sorry to hear that. I think the very best compliment I got from a colleague who was taking a class of mine was that it was fun. I went at a pace where everyone was successful and that from her perspective everyone was having fun–even when things were challenging for a particular team.

      I ask at the end of ever class if everyone had fun… it’s incredibly important to me because, like you experienced, if training isn’t fun it doesn’t get done… and ultimately the dog may end up back in a shelter.

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