There are two minds lurking in the world of dog training. Two opposing views with an immense divide between them.
Those that believe you can train and live happily with your dog through relationship building combined with peaceful and positive methods of handling and training, and those that assert that discipline and obedience (often achieved through forceful and strong-armed tactics) come before relationship.
One side defines a good pet parent as a person who provides guidance and instruction by establishing trust and open communication and the other side views a parent as a person who should be Patton-like in their approach. Compliance from the dog at all times and at almost any cost becomes of primary importance.
As an example, one side approaches training with the understanding that the dog is part of the process and thus guides and engages the dog in fun interactive sessions. The other will likely resort to punishment, shock collars, intimidation, and threats to get results.
So who is right and who is wrong?
The field and study of animal behavior in general, and dog training specifically, has evolved tremendously within the past 15 to 20 years alone.
While each individual case is unique, science has largely proven the intelligent capacity of dogs and a humans ability to achieve desired behavior by applying gentler and more humane methods. No whips and chains and tough guy antics necessary.
The crucial difference that a strong relationship with their human plays in a dogs overall behavior has long been understood by some owners and trainers but is only now making headways in the publics mind.
Unfortunately, some folks hold on to very old and outdated modes of thinking. Ways that no longer prove valid and that do not serve them or the dog well.
So if the trend is towards improving our understanding of dogs and dealing with them at a more humane level, why is this concept so slow to catch on with some people? The answer may lie in a few areas.
First, certain concepts, such as the belief in the dominance theory, the almost pervasive notion that, due to his genetic disposition, a dog is primarily concerned with attaining the upper hand in most interactions with humans and other dogs, resonate strongly with some people.
When dealing with a species different than ourselves it helps to have one underlying premise that explains their behavior easily. The idea that most dogs live to assert dominance over us, thus the best approach is that we must therefore thwart their efforts by beating them to it, is a very easy concept for dog owners to wrap their heads around. When this notion is popularized in books and television it becomes widespread among the public and is commonly accepted as truth.
Second, aversives work. Yes, you read that right, punishment works. There is no denying that. Create the right mixture of threat, fear, and intimidation and you can get most any dog, and any human for that matter, to do as you please.
When you’re able to get a dog to give you the behavior you demand through fear and intimidation in a fraction of the time it takes you to achieve the same through patience and gentle prodding you tend to stick with what works best in your mind. People generally desire the fast and easy way to get what they want and you can’t argue with results. Most don’t.
Third, while there is abundant information out there that can set a dog owner on the right track the sad truth is that the vast majority don’t bother to educate themselves. This unfortunate aside makes them increasingly vulnerable to all of the misinformation that circulates and also makes one prone to take the easy route which usually involves harsher methods.
Education makes all the difference.
There is no substitute for education when it comes to gaining a deeper understanding of how dogs work and how to best communicate with them. Many trainers who at one point trained using aversive methods have since crossed over once they gained comprehension of the science behind training.
The process of disseminating information to the public can appear slow and gradual but I’m confident we’ll make progress and a new era on dog ownership will arise.