In today’s dog training forum, we have many trainers and instructors who are highly educated individuals. We all attend seminars and workshops and learn from our peers. Our profession has been much improved by this. We have learned “why” the techniques we have been using all these years actually work! We are blessed with brilliant mentors and an ever-increasing library on learning theory, ethology, and training methodology. We are experiencing a veritable renaissance in the world of dog training.
With the aid of the Internet, we can instantly communicate with trainers all over the world. We can share our knowledge via cyberspace, where there are daily discussions on all kinds of training matters. It is such a valuable resource! Lately, however, one phrase, which has caught my attention, is, “but that’s not how I was taught!” This usually accompanies someone’s comments on another person’s methods or use of certain tools. I am left wondering why it is so important to always do things the way we were taught. If we can’t experiment, how can we improve?
For example I once took a Halti, turned it upside down and slipped it on a tiny pup as a body harness. It worked like a charm. However, that was certainly not the way I was originally taught to use that piece of equipment. A friend of mine used a clicker as an aversive tool to teach, “Leave it,” much in the same way that John Fisher used his training discs. It worked well for him. This would appall some traditional clicker users, but if it works, is it so bad to use the clicker this way?
How many trainers use mousetraps placed on garbage cans, or a plastic fly swatter to make a noise, discouraging counter-surfing or to interrupt other unwanted behavior? Neither of these uses represents the way we were originally taught to use these objects. Are we wrong in doing it?
Recently, on an Internet discussion list, a trainer was taken to task over the way she used a pinch collar. Some trainers claimed the only way the collar was effective was to fit it snugly at the top of the neck. Others said they preferred to see the collar fit more loosely about halfway down the neck. Someone said you should only use the pinch collar passively. Other trainers said you should use a check-release action, like with a slip collar, but it did not need as much force to be effective. Each trainer believed that their technique was the correct way to use this collar. That’s when the statement that caught my eye appeared… “That is not how I was taught to use the pinch collar.” Now, just who is to say that there is only one-way for that particular training collar to be used? In my book, as long as the use is humane, simple to use, and effective, it really doesn’t matter how the collar is fitted or whether it is a passive or active use. If one way works better than another for that particular person, I would not criticize their use of it. I’d be asking why it works better!
Why do some trainers find it more appropriate than others to modify or change how we were taught to do something? Are our training mentors somehow so perfect that we are not allowed to change or adapt what we have been taught at some point down the road? Many of us go back to days when little was available in the way of educational material for dog trainers. A lot of us “flew by the seat of our pants,” learned from experience, or from one another. When we saw someone using a different technique, instead of saying, “That’s not how I was taught,” you’d more often hear “How does that work?” Then, we might give it a try. Why have things changed?
Have some of us learned so much about learning theory, methods, the use of equipment, and “techno-jargon” that we are starting to form camps? Are we so wrapped up in our own ways of doing things that we are beginning to drift apart? Rather than allowing our differences to place us on opposing sides, we should be open to learning from each other. We share a common objective: to train our own dogs, and to teach others to do the same, using effective, efficient, and humane methods. Let us not be so critical of someone who uses a piece of equipment in a manner different from the way we were taught.
Recently, I have watched the rift forming between the “purely positive” trainers and the “traditional” trainers. Everyone seems to gather around their own “guru.” Groups band together and don’t accept other methods. This separation is disturbing and reveals some intolerance on the part of some trainers. We should remember that this is not a “one-size-fits-all” world and we all benefit from the diversity of philosophies and methods in it!
Let’s not get tangled up in the web of following one person’s methods to the exclusion of all else. We need to accept that not everyone can do front crosses in agility, for example, because not everyone can run fast enough to be ahead of their dogs. Let them do rear crosses if it works for them! Don’t push away a good trainer just because she uses a pinch collar for heelwork and you prefer to work off leash with a clicker. Does it really matter if you hold your leash in your right hand and I prefer the left hand? What matters is that the dog gets trained in an efficient and humane manner.
We all should be striving to work together, supporting each other, and learning from each other’s successes. We can achieve our mutual goals much faster by being tolerant of others in our profession, than by looking down on someone who may have a differing viewpoint. If someone achieves a goal in a way other than the one you were taught, it just goes to show that you still have something to learn!