I'm tired of dog trainers. I'm one of them, and let me tell you something, my industry is LAME-O. I do not say this out of some bizarre sense of self-loathing, I say it because it's true. And maybe because I've had a bad week. I can even go so far as to say that the pet care industry itself is LAME-O.
Why would I write such a thing? Because at times it all appears to be bursting at the seams with hokum, smoke and mirrors and down right deliberate consumer deception. My friends, I am tired of it.
I am tired of veterinary practices that send a few of their staff through the Fear Free course, for the sake of getting a sticker on their door and a listing on the FF website. Once this appeal to consumers is satisfied, it's back to business as usual. And business means mediocrity, scaring dogs and "getting the job done."
I am tired of dog trainers who pretend to be dog trainers. They read one book, go to one seminar, or watch every episode of Cesar Milan, and now call themselves a professional.
I am tired of dog trainers who profit off the sale of choke chains and prong collars.
I am tired of companies who profit off the sale of choke chains and prong collars. Not to mention shock collars.
I am tired of slick marketing campaigns by supposed experts, whose only real contribution to the consumer's plight is to make their dog MORE fearful and aggressive.
I am tired of seeing stressed out puppies whose owners have been lead to believe that they somehow wound up with a bad dog.
If they tell you to use a prong collar, please move on.
If they tell you to use a shock collar, please move on.
If they tell you to use a choke collar, please move on.
If they tell you to yell at, hit, or spray your dog, please move on.
If they talk about dominance or leadership, please move on.
I'm saying this for dogs because I love them. Their fear breaks my heart. I'm also saying this for all the frustrated owners out there. I know you want answers, I know living with behavior problems is difficult. I also know you're in for a lot of confusion, heartbreak and self blame. Why? Because the crap that trainer is telling you to do will not work. When it doesn't work, because it isn't designed to, you will be blamed for your lack of leadership skills (whatever that means). When it doesn't work, because it isn't designed to, your dog will be blamed for her "bad genetics." When it doesn't work, you know why, your dog will be diagnosed (non-medically, of course) with a brain tumor.
It is past time to end the debate of how to train animals. Find me a dog trainer who uses energy and leadership (and probably something involving metal) to train a dolphin and I'll bet you $1,000 that they can't do it. Find me a dog trainer who uses food and good, solid mechanics to train a dolphin and I'll bet you $1,000 that they can. You know why? I'll let Karen Pryor explain:
"I first learned about training with positive reinforcement in Hawaii, where in 1963 I signed on as head dolphin trainer at an oceanarium, Sea Life Park. I had trained dogs and horses by traditional methods, but dolphins were a different proposition; you cannot use a leash or a bridle or even your fist on an animal that just swims away. Positive reinforcers—primarily a bucket of fish—were the only tools we had."
- From her classic book "Don't Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training"
Karen took this experience and applied it to dogs. Know better, do better.
If you love your dog, and I know you do, please find the trainer with the bucket of fish. Don't let anyone waste your money and time for the sake of harming your dear companion. We expect 5 year old children not to scream and hit, let's start expecting the same of our dog trainers.
We get dogs to enhance our lives. Their joy is infectious, their presence a comfort. Don't let anyone take that joy away from either of you.