The Dark Side Doesn't Actually Have Cookies
We have thankfully entered a time in which the use of harsh, punishment based methods to train dogs is ever so slowly losing ground. These days, we often see a laundry list of justification for these methods being exclaimed by the people that use them. That or complete and utter white washing of the subject altogether. This is a step up from dominance theory and punishment being the default method used for training dogs, no questions asked.
There's even a trainer I know of whose marketing efforts would lead you to believe that they train using positive reinforcement based methods. They purport "training with kindness." If you dig a little deeper though, prong and shock collars abound. Dogs are sprayed with vinegar, yanked around and shouted at.
It's pretty easy to see how old school trainers are currently justifying their methods. We are usually able to keep up to date on what the shock jocks of the world are spouting by paying attention to what misled owners are parroting.
There are plenty of stock phrases folks use to justify hurting or scaring dogs in the name of training. Some of them involve diminishing the dog's capacity for feeling pain or fear. Most ignore facts entirely with the chant of "it doesn't hurt." The fact of the matter is, it wouldn't work if it didn't hurt.
One of the most egregious lies told to owners is that it's all about magical energy. This magical energy can also be referred to as leadership, aura, authority or most plainly, dominance.
This verbiage was conjured up by so-called dog trainers adhering to the idea of dominance theory. The modus operandi of most dominance trainers is to have the dog not doing much of anything, living in a sort of fugue state of "non-doing." This translates to not doing anything that bothers the humans.
Dominance theory has largely been popularized in the media by Cesar Millan, the self proclaimed dog whisperer. Cesar claims to rely on energy to submit dogs to his will. Which, if you think about it, would be really astonishing if it were real. However, Cesar is just among the ranks of all of the other reality TV stars out there, subject to little scrutiny and a lot of editing.
If a trainer is claiming to use energy to train your dog, ask to see their wand. Trust me, it wasn't purchased at Ollivander's. You'll be disappointed to find out it's actually just a big stick. Because in reality, all we've got are the carrot and the stick. If we want to train dogs, we have to choose one or the other. Although there are some trainers out there who choose both and market themselves as "balanced," as though the middle ground between violence and cookies is a good place to be.
All of this is particularly frustrating considering that the science in favor of positive reinforcement is out there and it has been for years. The trainers promoting the stick are not blind to it's consequences. And unlike at Ollivander's Wand Shop in Diagon Alley, the stick isn't choosing them. They are choosing the stick and continuing to choose it everyday.
Don't worry though, it's not all doom and gloom around here. The good news is the ranks of positive reinforcement based trainers continues to grow everyday. You don't have to do much searching to see the great work being done by the force free community - from helping dogs overcome their fears and aggressive behavior, to getting puppies ready for a big dog's world, and of course your average sit, stay and lie down.
The fact of the matter is that dogs deserve our best, and so do their people. Using positive reinforcement based methods isn't just about the dogs. It's also about how we learn to treat owners. We acknowledge what they are doing right, and teach them one step at a time how to learn new skills, rewarding them along the way. Naturally, this is a much more pleasant journey for everyone involved - dogs, owners and trainers alike.