I have been thinking about this concept for awhile. This whole positive vs aversive or treats vs corrections and how it always just points at the dog training industry. I do understand why it has become more of a hot topic within the dog training field, but after some recent conversations, I think we really need to start looking at it as more of how we choose to interact and live with our dogs. Yes, dog trainers are there to help you understand how to make your dog into a good canine companion and help you to learn how to modify unwanted behaviours, but this does not mean that this is the only area where our approach matters.
When I watch a person hang their dog in the air from a collar to get them to sit or give them a leash correction for stepping ahead of them, I have a hard time understanding why someone would choose this approach. I think about if this person would find it acceptable to take such a harsh approach against a child, a family member, a co-worker or even another pet, such as a cat. Why do we find it acceptable to do this to dogs and what are we teaching them about the world?
I understand that dog trainers are the ones that teach people how to interact with their dogs. A good trainer will be certified, take continuing education seriously and have a solid understanding of canine communication. We are responsible for teaching dog owners and to educate them about their dog. But, it is not just our responsibility as every interaction matters. Dog walkers, groomers, vets, rescue groups, pet retail workers and anyone involved with dogs need to also take on this responsibility. How we interact with dogs will determine their success integrating and coexisting in the human world.
For example, if I have my dog that is scared of people and I am working them through that, one scary interaction with a person could really set back their progress. Let’s say I take them to the vet and a worker there does not understand how to approach the dog correctly. Instead, they muzzle the dog and handle it roughly just to get through the exam. This is scary for my dog and my dog will now have reason to be even more fearful of people, and especially people at the vet clinic. Or, I have a social dog who likes to wrestle and play. We go to the off-leash park and they run up to another dog and paw at them. The other owner incorrectly views this as dominance and slams my dog on its side to submit it. The risk is then that my dog becomes fearful around other dogs/people. Or, I rescue a dog from a reserve and bring it into the city. The city is terrifying and full of new, potentially dangerous things that the dog has never been exposed to before. The dog becomes reactive, as it is scared of everything, and it is physically corrected for showing signs of fear. These are just a few examples of many, but all of these situations are detrimental to the dog’s overall well-being and behaviour. Step back and think about each interaction a dog has and what it may be learning.
So, for now, I want us to start thinking about it differently. It is not just about dog training. Every time our dogs interact with people, other dogs, animals and are exposed to new situations they are learning about the world and just responding to that. So all of us need to be responsible for this. Show them patience and understanding, but above all, let’s demonstrate some compassion.