Bound by Canine

Why, when we have so much in common, is our field so stratified? Why is there so much hate, bullying, and arguing when we all agree on the same fundamental topic - we love dogs?

An article went across my Facebook recently with the title “Why Being a Dog Trainer F***ing Sucks”. I read it and besides the exhaustion I felt from the rant style blogging, I felt disheartened. What was described in the article is not my field. It is not how I perceive dog training as a profession. And yet I can see how others may perceive it as such and I can now better understand why our field is struggling so much.

If what is described in that article is the experience of most in my field, we are in trouble. If the experience of other professionals is that they feel isolated, attacked, in competition with, and that human clients are that maddening, then there is a disease in this field. To quote the article “Anyone who tells you it’s the best thing since sliced bread and they never hate it is a lying liar who lies. Period. Don’t trust them. They probably kick puppies behind a toolshed to vent their anger.” Um no, I don’t kick puppies, there is a day here and there where this job sucks, but instead of letting it consume me, I figure out how to do better next time. I put on my adult pants, and step out of my feelings and figure out the problem.

If I’m not happy, the responsibility is on me and only me to fix it. And it is an important responsible to fix it because if I don’t I am doing a disservice to myself, my clients, and my field. I took the phone call. I replied to the email. I showed up. I have to see where I am in the wrong and make an adjustment. I look at my teaching, my clients needs (human and canine), and I look at my abilities. If I can’t satisfy one of these three things, move on, refer out, or get better. And leave the baggage in the file folder with the clients info. It was a lesson, nothing more. The amount that client is thinking of you is less than 1% of the amount they will haunt you. Why let it be that way? Move on.

Embrace sonder:

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

If this job sucks so much, go find another job. Attitudes like this create an undercurrent of anger, frustration and exhaustion. It makes professionals struggle in silence because “that’s the job” and “everyone hates you”. It’s what leads to compassion fatigue, burnout, depression and suicide. Professionals are killing themselves because of a constantly rehearsed undercurrent of distrust, fear, and isolation. Let’s embrace each other instead. These frustrations are not worth dying over. Let’s extend a hand in compassion and realization that we are all brothers and sisters bound by canine. Allies. Instead of spending our nights trying to squash each other.

Today Victoria Stilwell posted on her Facebook about being severely bitten in a training accident. (The post has since been deleted.) While mostly well wishers commented, there were some sarcastic jabs inserted that saddened me. Why? Why take a jab at another member of your profession? Someone who knows your struggles, loves dogs like you do, and is suffering now. Do some of us feel some sort of schottenfreude when we see another member of this field struggling? Why is there this need to tear each other down? Ok… too many question marks. Moving on...

xkcd: Duty Calls

xkcd: Duty Calls

I sit here wondering why compromise is so hard (and why I like question marks so much…). I feel like an anomaly that I can watch a trainer and not like what they chose to do but instead of taking to the internet to vilify them, I make an effort to perfect my own training so that I can put it out there an alternative. Maybe I’ll even ask questions like “why did you chose that method?”, hoping to get an answer that is not laced with fear that they are being judged.

I suppose I’m a compromise(d) dog trainer. That’s my new label!

I’m compromised in how I train. I train using LIMA (least invasive, minimally aversive) for EVERYONE. That includes the dog, the owner, their friends and family, other animals, volunteers, the public, and myself. That means that it is my job to find something that works for the safety and well being of all involved.

I’m compromised in how I interact with my clients. Just like the dog’s experiences, perceptions, and needs are valid, so are the human's. I don’t rip tools out of their hands and I don’t judge them for the past. I offer them whatever solutions I have for them and if they work, we move forward. If they don’t work I support them in finding someone who can help them better.

I’m compromised in how I interact with my colleagues. I don’t ever agree 100% of the time but I listen, watch, consider, and then I ask questions. And I remember that their perceptions are not mine. I ask myself what their vision sees that mine cannot. Then I file it away, use the pieces that make sense to my vision, and try to be better at what I do. Maybe I’ll say “this is how I do it” but with the humbleness to know I might not have the perfect solution either.

We are working with living things - dogs, humans, and trainers. All are thinking, experiencing and living a life no one else will ever completely know. All are valid. Your job is to do the best you can at what you do. If you can’t, then find another job. You’re not predestined to be a dog trainer. Maybe you’d be happier doing something else. That’s fine. But if you do chose to be a dog trainer, remember that we are all bound together by our love for dogs and we all deserve to be treated with the same compassion you would extend to the canines.

If you chose to be a “whistleblower” and to call out other professionals, you will not be remembered in this industry for any kind of impact. You will be forgotten. Only those who build each other up and make more of themselves and their field are remembered. Work on being better - for each other.

We are sisters and brothers, bound by canine.