Filling the Cracks - Making Dog Training Better

Kintsugi - the Japanese art of repairing broken objects by filling the cracks with a resin, usually including metals such as gold, silver, and platinum. What does Kintsugi have to do with dog training? It's about filling the cracks... with gold. Making something that was damaged, something better. In dog training it is about learning, ethics, skills, and professional excellence.

On Friday morning I posted my previous article called "Dog Training is Broken" on my Facebook and business Facebook. Within hours it took off like wildfire. I had zero expectation that my little meditation about what is wrong with dog training and it's multiple far reaching aspects in pet ownership, would create such a stir. In it I challenged the reader to start a conversation and it has. I am overjoyed, humbled and impressed by the directions and shapes this conversation has taken.

I've been dying to respond as this conversation raged on. I was competing with my dogs (my youngest and one of my oldest) all weekend and was unable to get to a computer until now to respond. All I could do was moderate comments in my few free moments and watch the views fly by. As of writing this, the post is closing in on 20,000 views.

So why comment now? Because a few misunderstandings have risen that I want to address, as well as a few thought provoking observations.

Let me begin by addressing comments regarding methods in dog training. I intentionally left out methods because I think they need to be left out of this conversation. At least for right now. Methods make blood boil on all sides of the conversation. This is not a place to begin. A place to begin is on common ground. No where in my piece do I advocate the use of one method over another and I do not use any labels such as "balanced, punishment, or R+". There are more than enough articles out there on these topics, and I'm sure I will write one to join them someday. In the mean time I ask anyone who puts a label on their methods to step outside that label and learn more. If you're R+, sit down with a compulsion trainer, and calmly and quietly have a conversation. Because neither method is going anywhere anytime soon. This goes of every trainer label, from "balanced", to "force free", to "e-collar" and more. I don't care what you call yourself. You train dogs. Learn from each other.

To address all the "toolbox comments", I agree every dog is an individual. However, I don't need every tool in Home Depot to build a house, and I don't need everything on the market to train a dog either. What I need is the knowledge of how dogs (and humans for that matter) learn, naturally behave, and express their feelings. Their feelings are the big one, because it is the learner who decides what is motivating, what is reinforcing, and what is adversive. The dog gets to make that choice, not me. And to do so effectively, I choose to follow the "Humane Hierarchy" designed by Dr. Susan Friedman, and follow the ethical compass that I need to use the least intrusive and minimally adversive option (LIMA) according to the animal.

I will not call out specific tools in this post. No tool has ever jumped off a hook on the wall and abused an animal. It is up to the trainer. I just ask that the trainer put the animals feelings at the forefront and ask themselves.... "is there anything else I can try first to make this a better/safer/less painful/less stressful/etc."

As for specific trainers, one TV dog trainer does not have all the answers. One book isn't enough. This traces back to the first two paragraphs of my article. One opinion and it's results, do not make you an expert. In my time training dogs, I have read more books and watch more videos than I can possibly think of, from every part of the dog world. Keep reading, keep asking questions, keep observing.

On the conversation of breeders, versus rescues, versus every way in which dogs are brought into this world... I have dogs from both. I have dogs from wonderful responsible breeders and I was even president of my regional breed club. I was also a director of a rescue. As long as we have dogs there will be breeders (or else start having our dogs live like dogs in the rest of the world - village dogs) and rescues (because not every dog is the right fit). It is the owners job to do right by their dog and give them the best chance possible. And it is the job of all dog trainers to do best by every dog they come in contact with, and then strive to do better. Plan and simple.

I'll leave you with something I experienced this weekend. I watched dozens of dogs compete, interact, and just exist at this show. I saw a myriad of methods employed to get the results people wanted, from a good performance in the ring, to staying quiet in a crate or walking through a crowd. I saw methods clearly R+. P+, and everything in between. I watched, listened and learned. I listened and watched for the "why". And I learned its because people love their dogs, their relationships with other dog enthusiasts, and they only know what they know. No one there was a bad or evil person. They were all passionate beautiful people with beautiful, life-loving dogs. I know every person there will weep when their dogs pass away. These people love their dogs, and they are doing the best they can with what they know. Give each other a break. Demonstrate your abilities, offer advice when it is requested, and try to be the best demonstration of what you can bring to the table. Then go learn what the next person is doing and why. We all have something to learn and something to teach. Keep the conversation going.

PS. I will allow every comment I can whether it agrees with me or not. Keep it civil or it will be removed.