3 Things That Make Dog Trainers Cringe
As a dog trainer I get to interact with a lot of different people, and I have heard all sorts of things that would make any trainer cringe. There are a lot of misconceptions, and a handful of them seem to come up more than others. So here is a sampling of things I hear often that make trainers cringe.
"So You're like the Dog Whisperer!"
No sir, real dog training is nothing like what you see on the Dog Whisperer. A made for TV show that happens to be about dog training is going to reflect the reality of life about as well as any other reality TV show. Because that’s what it is. No trainer worth their salt likes being compared to Milan, and real dog training is nothing like the show.
Although I used to be a fan girl, when I actually learned what training is and the proper ways to go about things, my views evolved along with my techniques. I’m not ashamed of my start, after all we all do the best we can with the knowledge we have at the time, but it still doesn’t feel good when these types of remarks and assumptions are made.
The biggest reason this makes trainers cringe is because it totally cheapens what training is, and also twists a skill than anyone can develop into something that feels mystical and esoteric. I promise you dog training is not out of the reach of ANY owner, anyone can learn and it is not some sort of magic that you have by chance. At the same time, the techniques shown on the show are not humane, nor results based, although the way the show is filmed will have you believe quite the opposite.
"You Play with Puppies all day! So Fun!"
This is another saying that is a very very idealized perspective of what training is. While there are times that I do get to play with puppies, it is a slim margin of what I actually do.
Instead I see dogs and their families at their lowest points. Fighting to keep their heads above struggles that at times are dire. I see families who can no longer look at their dog with the same trust they once had. I see dogs who are wildly misunderstood and put into impossible situations. There is a lot of conflict, a lot of pain, confusion, blame, you name it I have seen it all.
I can’t help them all. Many are not ready for help, many don’t want to face the fact that they need help in the first place. And so humans and dogs continue to suffer. It’s unnecessary and hard for everyone. It’s hard to stand by and see that. But the reality is that I can only help those who are ready for it. There is nothing within my power that I can do for the rest.
It is tiring, and I live for the successes of my clients. The turn arounds and joy that we can achieve together make the hard parts of the job worth it. Bringing understanding to everyone is a beautiful thing!
"It's all in How you Raise Them!"
No. Just No.
This makes trainers cringe hard because it’s a train wreck in progress or waiting to happen. Firstly, behavior is and never will be as simple as just how a dog is raised. Secondly this speaks of a gross suggestion of superiority from those who bandy this phrase around, and implies weakness in the owners who have dogs with unwanted behaviors.
Raising a dog well is not about being the “alpha”. It is not about micromanaging and punishing every mistake of the dog. It is not about being firm with them. In fact, those all are a recipe for behavior issues and it is sheer luck that the owners of dogs raised like that don’t have more instances of aggression, anxiety, or fear.
Cowing a dog into submission, breaking them down into a dog that does nothing without caution first isn’t something to be proud of. That isn’t what training is about and raising a sound dog is not like that.
Additionally it’s disrespectful to the dog and the huge variation between breeds. A Labrador will never behave like a Border Collie. A Pointer will not behave like a Pitt Bull. All breeds have different purposes that they were bred for, and the idea that how you raise them is the major player in behavior is forgetting entirely about genetics. If not throwing out genetics all together.
This is hugely concerning as a belief, not to mention very narrow. Genes are a big part of what make our dogs who they are, what make all the difference between breeds and is literally the code behind many innate dog skills (and more than a few unwanted behaviors).