There is this myth that I really really loathe. So much so, and in so many ways, that this is going to be a two parter!
It’s the idea that positive, science based training is “emotional”, that people (especially women) who use science based methods are “bleeding hearts” who need to “get back to the real world”.
Us “cookie pushers” anthropomorphize and infantilize dogs, and tug on the heartstrings of owners in order to get them to sign up for training.
Not only is this insulting and thinly veiled misogyny (or internalized misogyny), it’s just not true.
(it’s important to note that this really is misogyny, internalized or otherwise. Things Women Do, i.e science based training, a field dominated by women, are almost without fail labeled as insignificant, frivolous and over emotional. See therapy and pop music)
It’s not true because modern positive training is based on science. We have decades of research showing us that these training methods change behaviour faster and more effectively than punishment based techniques. We know that they work across species (including humans) and that they are utilized by zoos on a variety of animals that are far less domesticated and far more dangerous than dogs. We know that they present less risk than traditional methods, both for the dog’s emotional and mental health and for public safety. These things are no longer up for debate.
It’s also not true because implementing science based training takes a lot of planning and dedication. It demands that people remain in a thinking, rational state of mind at all times when with the dog. It requires technical skills and a lot of problem solving.
On the flip side, I can’t even begin to count the number of “traditional” trainers who are reactive, not self controlled. The blame for a technique failing falls on the dog instead of the trainer. They label dogs as “stubborn” or “spoiled” when their methods don’t work, often doubling down and using force to iron out their own mistakes as a trainer.
Hardly dispassionate or rational.
There’s another component of this, the idea that it is both possible and desirable to be emotionless. The myth of pure rationality runs deep in our political and social discourse, and dog training does not escape that.
We’re going to dive into that in part 2.
What if I told you (now hang tight, this is going to be pretty controversial) that your dog doesn’t need a walk every day.
I’m completely serious.
There are things that are infinitely more valuable to your dog than a daily walk.
We have this cultural story about what good dog ownership looks like, and what the dog's days should look like. It includes walks in the neighbourhood, and maybe a weekly visit to the dog park or daycare.
Those of you with high energy dogs might be rolling your eyes now. A jaunt around the neighbourhood just won’t cut it for your dog!
But what if I told you that even your high energy, high drive dog doesn’t need a walk every day!
Dogs need rest, and they need adequate exercise so that they can build muscle and stay fit. A daily walk does not allow for rest days, and frequently does not include the right kind of exercise. For reactive or fearful dogs, they can make the problem worse.
Dogs need variety. Daily walks become rote and routine. They send us a message that we’ve done “enough”. They keep the dog just tired enough that we don’t need to do more.
Or, they just increase the dog’s exercise tolerance until we are relying on friends and family members, or dog walkers and daycares to keep our dogs from bouncing off the walls.
A good exercise routine for your dog involves designated rest days. It involves mental enrichment, including but not limited to food enrichment and complex problem solving. It involves safe, high intensity exercise, and relaxed, free exercise.
It involves taking them new places (as long as they feel safe) and finding them friends they can play safely.
So yes, your dog does not need a daily walk. They need less AND more.
I’m going to say it again - If someone is making you feel like shit, do not continue to employ that person.
I keep getting this from clients.
🚩“We came to you because the other trainer made me cry”
🚩“We spoke to a trainer and they made us feel so ashamed.”
🚩“I wasn’t expecting you to be so nice.”
❓How come we are SO good at positive reinforcement for the dogs, and so woefully terrible at it for the people? How does anyone think it’s okay to be cruel or judgemental to someone who is coming to you for help?
You can be the most amazing trainer in the world, but if you can’t be kind and compassionate towards the people as well as the dogs, you need a new job.
❕Dog training shouldn’t suck.
❕You shouldn’t dread training class.
❕Your dog trainer should lift you up, not put you down.
Here’s the thing; I don’t train dogs. That’s not actually my job. My job is to teach people to understand their dog, enrich their dog’s life, and train their dog new behaviours. My job is to listen to people’s concerns and empathize with their fears.
Some dog trainers are just jerks. They feel that their way is the only way, and everyone else is inadequate.
Others are wrapped up in their own trauma and stress that they can’t be effective teachers. They started working with dogs because working with people was too hard and then, surprise surprise, the dogs come attached to people.
And some are just so tuned into the dog that they get blinders on and forget to pay attention to what the people are learning.
I promise you, there are kind, compassionate dog trainers out there who actually have people skills. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable or judged, get out.
And dog trainers; up your game