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Dog Trainer Wars: Can't We Come Together?

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

two happy dogs lying together on carpet in foyer

I recently taught a weekend seminar in the Dallas Fort Worth area. The hosts were great, the venue was nice, and it was a great experience all around. Before the presentations began, someone pulled me aside and asked whether I was aware that there was a contingency of trainers present who were known to use shock collars. During the first morning break, another person posed a similar question. My response to both of them could be best summed up by the not very eloquent, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

First off, the fact that someone’s training methods are different than mine doesn’t bother me. This is the real world, and guess what, we’re all different in many ways. Does that mean that I advocate using those methods? Nope. It’s no secret that I would best be described as more of a “positive” trainer, whatever that means. (I mean, really, have you ever heard someone call themself a negative trainer?) I don’t use choke chains or shock collars. But as long as someone is not out there abusing dogs (helicoptering, hanging, etc.), they’re more than welcome at my seminars, whether they use those tools or not. (And, I give any host credit for reaching out to a community that might be a bit outside their own.)

Look, judgment is everywhere, and debates about things we’re passionate about are bound to get heated. But I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of us who train dogs are in it because we truly love dogs and want to help them. (It’s surely not a profession one goes into for the money!) I only wish we could treat each other with the same respect we afford dogs, and with the same professionalism with which we treat clients. Of course we’re not going to agree on everything. But snarky comments on Facebook or gossipy comments in person only reflect badly on the person making those comments. It’s easy to sit with a clique of friends and throw verbal stones; it’s harder to open one’s mind and let the negativity go, and possibly learn something.

Fortunately, the folks in the group that attended my seminar were respectful, asked good questions, and made valid, useful comments. I was happy to have them there, along with the rest of the awesome attendees. And I received a few private messages after I’d returned home from some in “that group” thanking me for the seminar. One person said it was appreciated that I didn’t get into the politics of dog training. (Actually tools didn’t even come up since the topics were separation anxiety and dog-dog play.) It was nice, positive feedback that confirmed that being negative and judgmental does nobody any good. Sure, we’re not likely to agree on training methods anytime soon. But couldn’t we start from the common ground that we’re here to help dogs, and be open to discussion, sharing knowledge, and treating each other respectfully? Come on, people, come together!


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