Why do we debate dog training methods?

By Lynn –

I unintentionally got into a dog training debate at one of my favorite blogs, and promptly stepped back to state that I refuse to do tit-for-tat arguments, and my participation in this string of comments was over. (Amazingly, the other party continued to rant and rave while providing support that I was nothing short of one mean, son-of-a-bitch for daring to correct my dog. Speaks to the maturity level of some, doesn’t it?!)

I do not do such debates. There is no gaining ground, unless “you” have more supporters than “they” do, and of course “they” always tend to be more vocal because “you” are, quite frankly, abusing dogs and have no business putting your hands on any dog because it will only end up cowering, urinating all over itself, tucked tail, and repsonding out of only the fear of the highest degree.

Simply put, “they” are out to make “you” think that you might be able to drive a car, be a parent, own your own home even…but you are not fit to own, much less train, your own dog without ruining it.

How can one gain ground against such a flood?

Easy: not get dragged in dog training methodology debates!

It’s not always the easiest to stay out of them, if nothing more to offer support to someone whose point of view happens to mirror yours, and of course once you start following them, it’s hard to not interject your opinion here or call shenanigans there.

On doing some serious thinking about this issue, my thoughts were drawn to WHY we dabate these things the way we do. Heaven knows that no side will win, and the only way the debate ends is when we all go our separate ways and continue to do what we love.

Consider this my own official good-bye to the dog-training debate:

Why exactly DO people get so hot under the collar when debating dog training, especially in regards to the 3 main types of training commonly mentioned (those being the William Koehler-type methods, the positive-reinforcement-only/clicker methods espoused by popular authors such as Karen Pryor, and the balanced methods popularized by the likes of the Monks of New Skete and Cesar Millan)?

I have rarely found it necessary to get defensive or overblown because I am confident in my results. I see no need to compete with someone else’s ability to train a dog for many and various reasons. Of course the dog is trained, and some are trained to a better degree than others, and we all know that training can all be accomplished toward different ends (agility vs Rally vs Schutzhund vs generic obedience that most families desire). I know why my method works, versus why it is superior or inferior to other methods. I’m not using my chosen method of dog training just because I was told to or because it’s “tradition” or because I’m just a mean bitch, I’m using it because it’s given me good results and can be tempered to individual dogs without losing the overall philosophy.

The problem comes when someone says that they use “what works” in their training. I can see where this might cause a rift…I understand that hitting a dog “works” to make it stop doing something, and I can understand that redirection also “works.” For some dogs, using a food treatie is what “works” to help teach a concept, while praise “works” for the majority of ones I have met. Without elaboration of the technique, it’s easy to hear where “what works” can go awry and cause some people to automatically go on the defensive, just in case that one person is one of those types who can do everything but own/train their own dog correctly.

In fact, one of my favorite comments on a dog-related blog was directed at anyone who uses corrections: the entry was centered around a video filmed by a security camera in an elevator that showed a man walking in with his dog, literally beating the snot out of it while the car was moving, and calmly walking out with it when the ride was over. The person who posted this video unabashedly announced that anyone who trained using Koehler’s techniques would soon end up like this man. A follow-up comment was something to the effect of “And people still believe in training with “what works” rather than taking the time to learn more positive methods.”

Far be it for me to see the remote connection between outright abuse such as that and the Koehler program from start to finish (instead of the other way around, as most people are more likely to read it), but I had to laugh at that, and I still do today. Sadly, my laughter is not so much of the humorous variety, more of the “I do feel sorry for you” type: some people are just never meant to craft out logical arguments.

I think this person summed it up quite nicely in regards to what someone means when they say they use what method “works” to train any particular dog:

“If you define “works” as reliable, single-command performance (and we’re talking obedience here, not sheep herding) at liberty (off leash, in public, around distractions, and without batteries) well, then, your list of training methods that “work” gets very short indeed.”

[From the comments section in this entry]

Any training method will work, and yes, backfiring counts…it’s working, but it may not be in the way that the trainer or owner intended. The dog is being trained to DO something, even if it is to not listen, keep doing what it is doing, or, at best, do something else but still not listen. To make a method really take off and go far, though, it needs to really work. As this lady put it, when compared to the long list of various ways in “how to get a dog to [do this behavior or not do this behavior]”, when speaking in terms of what the average family is asking of the average family dog, some methods are definitely better than others. Which ones, of course (without taking into consideration the method being advocated by the commenter), will always be under debate.

I think of it as the “I’d love to do that, I love animals” line used by people who have no idea what is involved in certain animal-related professions other than playing with cute doggies or kitties: loving animals is a start, but any such job is far from just receiving animal therapy all day. It’s how you can further yourself in their care and learn as much as you can about anything related to them that really sets you apart. Similarly, positive reinforcement techniques are a start, and should always be present in training: but it’s how you can vary the reinforcement and really polish commands using both rewards and corrections (seriously, who wants to use such a thing as punishment in training?!) in a way that benefits the dog the best that can take the relationship as well as performance to new levels.

And to tie it all together: as for me, I will stick with what I know to work, strive to make it better for both me and the dogs I will one day work, and not engage in tit-for-tat arguments over how to teach/unteach certain behaviors simply because someone believes that, without meeting me or judging the perfomance of my dogs rather than judging me on what tools I use, they can do the job that much better.

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