Apr 08, 2021
5 mins read
Every day I receive inquiries from potential clients for dog training. The conversations are relatively simple; the inquirer points out issues, I suggest potential solutions.
Over the course of an epoch, I have developed a mental shorthand for the unspoken things, the lines between the lines; whether I am speaking to an individual directly or responding to an electronic inquiry.
While this whole industry is underwritten with the implicit understanding that we supply a service, and that this service has a deliverable, quantifiable 'product'. We, as providers, should be developing a system that at least tries to address client needs and balance that against what we as professionals, know about dog behavior. We navigate a minefield of traps that we must pick our way through carefully in order to meet our obligations, and still survive without killing ourselves or inflicting bodily harm on others.
Compound that with basic human greed, ignorance, and the willful manipulation of facts to drive agendas, and you are burdened with an industry that eats its own young at a rate that has us on the path of extinction before I take my last breath, and I'm only 60.
At the root of it all? Owners.
Owners drive our trade. They are the ones that call us. The dogs certainly don't, but they are the ones we end up serving or failing.
Years ago, we dog trainers were a pretty exclusive lot. We resided at obedience clubs where folks interested in showing their dogs in performance events went to learn; at hunt clubs where folks trained their dogs to accompany them while hunting, which led to the occasional organized and sanctioned field trial to finally put the question of "whose dog is best" to rest. Police and military dog trainers are actually pretty new. Although they have existed in some form for hundreds of years, only since post WWII has there been an effort to standardize, relatively speaking.
The pet dog training trade was borne from working dog parents all the same. It exploded with the debut of television celebrity trainers in the early to mid 2000s. Although Margolis and others had existed on PBS for eons, the popularity of Animal Planet and Nat Geo created a 'war of experts' of sorts, and being the clannish, tribal animals we have always been, lines were drawn in the sand, and sides were taken.
You were "positive" or you were "compulsion based".
You were a "clicker trainer" or you were a "shock collar trainer".
You were a "science based trainer" or you were a "old school" trainer.
I honestly don't believe there is a trade as divisive or contentious as the dog trainer trade.
And in the interim, the social signaling of the oblivious worked in unison with well-intended but largely ignorant, socialite, empty nester, often wealthy, lonely middle aged women who had time on their hands and holes in their hearts, but not a lot in the way of experience with animals, that decided their pet cause would be to "rescue" animals or volunteer at shelters.
Now, before anyone gets their panties in a wad about my comments on "rescue" and shelters- bear in mind that I have spent a LOT of personal time working for, working with, and working the actual byproduct of the industrial rescue complex for DECADES. I am entitled to my opinions, and trust me, I have been pilloried for them since long before the internet was a thing.
Your righteous indignation doesn't trump my decades in the actual, you know… trenches.
Couple that with an industry that is unwilling to identify what constitutes a trained dog, and voila! Here we are!
People calling themselves trainers openly and willfully deceive the consumer public that they can have a dog trained to reliable off leash control in a week or two. Never mind the reliance on the electronic collar for probably close to forever.
And don't get me started with "positive only" training. It's a great strategy for many things, but reliable obedience isn't one of them. Because survival isn't contingent on an organism's success. It's contingent upon an organisms ability to survive failure.
CONSEQUENCES DRIVE SURVIVAL.
How many species would have gone extinct if the organism wasn't driven by the desire to eat, mate and defend it's turf?
If you are vapor-locked into the 4 quadrants to the point of implosion, don't create a black hole on my account. I have tons of examples for you, and that's just from any day I spend working with REAL. LIVE. DOGS.
A question I frequently ask in my private lessons just to help owners become slightly more introspective, is a query about how long they took to finish high school. Most are quick to quip "Oh! 4 years!"
Nope. Try again. At least 12. Thirteen, if you are younger than 40. And that's JUST formal school. Let's not forget the first 5 years of your life, where you learned how to walk, talk, communicate, and the basic rudiments of functional behavior in a larger society.
But you expect your dog to learn all of the canine equivalent in 2 weeks?
When I am contacted by someone with an 8 or 10 week old puppy that wants it off leash trained in 2 weeks, don't be surprised if I laugh in your ear, after I leave a few choice words there, first.
Since we know that the average human is incapable of rational thought when it comes to animals, I am developing a screening process that starts with whether or not an applicant refers to themselves as a 'fur parent', and automatically screens for the terms "adopt" or "rescue" which pretty much tell me everything I need to know about that applicant.
I have no desire to denude them from that fantasy. I also have learned that folks like that are not easily persuaded. The social currency of being a 'pet parent' of a 'rescue' overwhelms folks' innards, where logic and common sense used to reside.
I have watched this trade decay into an abyss of ignorance and bloodletting.
It's no longer about the dogs. I doubt it's been about the dogs since training became the lowest barrier of entry in any of the trades.
I do have hope for the folks who are sincerely interested in doing what's not only best, but right and fair and honest and proven.
My husband is always fond of reminding me that I will have a job until there is a cure for human nature.
In the memorable words of trainer Dick Russell, “Cogitate on that!”