Being a good trainer requires that we deal with our emotions and not let them get in the way of our decision making and planning. It requires we keep a cool head when faced with setbacks or challenges. Our emotions and expectations can be the biggest hurdles for pet owners and trainers.
But they can also be our greatest strength. The best teachers, the best therapists, are those who can build strong relationships with the people they work with.
We also need to question why we denigrate emotions as a whole.
Two of the earliest novels that espoused ethical treatment of animals, Beautiful Joe by Margaret Marshall Saunders and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, are deeply emotional works. They both effected real change, and continue to be politicising texts.
The idea of humans being rational is rooted in contrast with the irrationality of animals (and non-white people, but that’s a whole rabbit hole we don’t have time to go down). You and I know this to be untrue. Animals behave in irrational AND rational ways, just as we do. What we view as rational or irrational is coloured by our own cultural views and socio-political leanings (looking at you, Brett Kavanaugh)
And arguably, rationality and emotion are not mutually exclusive.
Seminal feminist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde wrote “our feelings are our most genuine path to knowledge”. We are inherently emotional beings, as are our dogs. For many of us, myself included, we found our way to science based training because the methods we had been using, or were being asked to use, felt wrong. I vividly remember watching my dogs suffer through traumatizing nail trims, it was an experience that deeply affected how I chose to handle dogs in the years that followed.
Our ability to empathize with another species is what incited us to find new sources of information in the first place. It gave us the power to shake off the safety of tradition and find new ways of teaching and living with dogs.
Where we run into trouble is when emotion stops informing our judgement and starts to cloud it instead. Our motivations behind training are emotional. For all of us, regardless of what methods we use.
But the implementation of science based training techniques, the research behind them, the skill they require, these things are not emotional or irrational.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.