Tribalism in Dog Training: One Trainer’s Perspective

There’s been a lot of hate speech about other dog trainers (especially those who use traditional techniques) on various email lists lately, so I thought I would share my personal philosophy and recent experiences as another perspective.

I’m a clicker trainer, and don’t believe that the use of force or coercion is ever necessary (with dogs OR people). I do not permit choke, shock, or prong collars in my classes and help people find alternative ways to control and train their dogs. I believe in managing a dog’s environment and access to reinforcement and in shaping behaviors I like. Although my business offers pet dog and competition classes, the majority of my personal time is spent working with dogs who have serious behavior issues.

We have a wide variety of trainers practicing locally, using a wide variety of techniques. My policy regarding other trainers is 100% R+ – I never say anything bad about another trainer, no matter how much I may disagree with them. I will explain why I don’t recommend a specific method to a client who asks me about it (or is currently using it), but I will not denigrate the trainer who recommended that method. Ever.

Is this hard? You bet. Sometimes I cringe at the advice my local colleagues give. Sometimes I feel that their techniques are uncalled for, or even inhumane. I may call another R+ colleague and vent, but in front of anyone else, I am never less than professional. I will address a technique if asked, but I will not address the professionalism or knowledge of the person who recommended that technique. When asked about a technique I disagree with, I acknowledge that there are many different ways to effectively train a dog, then tell the person who’s asking what I would do, and why. I tell people that any local dog trainer can probably help them accomplish their goals as long as they stick with it and follow that person’s advice, but that I believe my techniques will be the fastest, most effective, and most resistant to extinction over time. I use clicker training because I believe it works best, end of story.

So, here’s the thing: none of the local trainers are evil dog-hating psychopaths. As much as some clicker trainers may want you to believe that anyone who doesn’t use clicker training is cruel and loves hurting dogs, that’s just not the case. There’s a lot of tribalism in dog training, and I’m calling bullshit. Every trainer I know loves dogs. Some believe that the best way to train dogs is using prong collars or e-collars or alpha rollovers, but they do this because they believe that’s the best way to work with the animal in front of them. They do not do this because they hate dogs.

I know that if someone accused me of abusing dogs, I would be highly offended. I would never, ever want to speak to (or even be around) that person again. I really don’t blame some traditional trainers who speak badly of clicker trainers. If someone who happens to use e-collars starts to look into clicker training because she’s curious, and she gets treated like she’s an evil baby-eating Nazi because her dog has an e-collar on, is she likely to continue learning? Maybe, if she has a thicker skin than I do. But if that was me, and the roles were reversed, I would never again leave my comfort zone.

I believe in being positive with dogs and people. And you know what? This works. I invite any local trainer, regardless of the methods they use, to come audit any class I teach. I’m happy to go out to lunch with them and to talk dogs. I’m genuinely interested in learning more about their techniques, and ask for book and DVD recommendations (I find I always learn something, even if the techniques are not those I would personally choose to use or recommend). I’m happy to lend them books or DVD’s from my personal library, and to talk about said books and DVD’s. I invite them to read and comment on my business’s blog. I don’t preach, and, while it’s human nature to judge, I keep any judgements to myself.

You know what else? Being nice works. Tonight, I had the first of four private in-home sessions with a lovely couple and their young dog. These people were referred to me by a local e-collar trainer. I came home and exchanged emails with a student who’s interested in agility lessons with her dog, and is currently training at the local facility where prong collars are included in the cost of any beginning class’s tuition. I bought ring gates from another local e-collar trainer, and currently have an old-school trainer who uses Koehler methods auditing my classes. I regularly refer clients to the other local CPDT’s when I get too busy to take in new clients.

So, here’s my call to action for all professional dog trainers: let’s stop the hate speech. Whether your method of choice is clicker training, e-collars, lure/reward, or dominance theory, please treat your colleagues with respect. Please don’t be afraid to ask questions of others whose training philosophy doesn’t mirror your’s, and to learn more. You may not agree, and that’s okay. No, really, it’s okay.

There are a lot of dangers to dogs today. Puppy mills, irresponsible owners who treat their pets as throw-away commodities, breed-specific legislation, anti-dog legislation, radical groups like the HSUS and PETA, inbreeding and the threat to genetic diversity, overbreeding of Pit Bulls and “something-Poos,” unnecessary medical procedures like surgical debarking or ear cropping, law enforcement’s use of lethal force against dogs, and many other topics of are much greater concern to the animals we love and work with than what other professional dog trainers are doing. We can do more good for dogs as a united front than we can with our petty squabbling about the best way to teach a recall. Can’t we all just get along?



Filed under Training

50 responses to “Tribalism in Dog Training: One Trainer’s Perspective

  1. Lynn U.

    Here! Here! It seems lately I’ve been seeing a lot of articles that imply that people who use prong collars or e-collars are brutalizing their dogs. While any tool can be misused, to paint everyone who uses a given tool as someone out to abuse dogs is unfair and misleading. It also makes it hard for people who know they’ve used those tools in non-abusive ways to take you seriously. Far better to prove by example that you have more effective tools.

  2. Thanks for posting this Sara! I’m going to share with the other trainers in my center. Our theory is if we’re R+ trainers with dogs we need to be R+ trainers to people too. Intolerance begets intolerance. Thanks for speaking out!

  3. whenhoundsfly

    Amen! Sites like Facebook are also terrible breeding grounds for “+R” trainers to form nasty pages and groups where they demonize other trainers. Not very healthy. Reinforce what you like, ignore what you don’t, manage everything else…

    • I find your perspective a bit perplexing. There are certainly as many FB groups that demean positive trainers. I can’t tell you how many times I have been dismissively accused of being a “cookie tosser,” told that tricks are silly and only “real” obedience is worthwhile (behaviors are behaviors to the dog – they don’t care if it’s “sit” or “twirl” – it’s learned in the same way), being told that positive trainers can only train “easy breeds” (as if a Shih Tzu learns any differently than a Rottweiler, or a whale, or a tiger, for that matter), or being told that positive trainers are responsible for euthanasia of dogs that could have been rehabilitated. Of course, when we mention dogs that have been euthanized following their experiences in the hands of shock collar trainers, no one wants to hear that argument, and suddenly it’s “hate speech.” I suggest that the blogger here started off with a premise that it is positive trainers who are responsible for the hate speech, as evidenced by the first parenthetical statement.
      The real problem is not that there is a simple difference of opinion on methodology, it’s that there are people who believe that the use of devices deliberately intended to cause pain to dogs are abusive on their face and should not be used at all, regardless of your position on whether the use of +P is OK or not. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary, as you can certainly, with a modicum of skill, set up training scenarios that are effective without it. For those who are not trainers, +P means “positive punishment,” meaning that something is added to reduce the likelihood that a behavior will happen again. (Such as: dog barks, trainer shocks dog, dog stops barking). Part of the problem, as well, is that trainers who have not learned clicker training (it’s NOT the same as training with a clicker) will continue to mix methods and not get the results that we get. I challenge people to adopt clicker training with the next puppy they get, or even offer to train a shelter pup to try it out – but do it according to established protocols developed by people like Karen Pryor, not according to what you currently think clicker training is, and do NOT mix punishment in. It wasn’t until I started a puppy with clicker training, sans ANY punishment, that I realized how different a dog you can have!

      • I find your response a bit perplexing. I think you missed the entire point the author makes regarding respecting others. While certainly shaping behaviors is relatively easy with clicker training and I have good response from the average normal, healthy, untrained dog I also know that there are some dogs who fall outside normal parameters and other tools must be used ~ or the trainer must give up and walk away from the dog. Dogs bite for many reasons and faced with one who bites in fear I can shape better behavior with clicker training, faced with one who bites to guard resources I can shape better behavior with clicker training, faced with redirected aggression causing bites I can shape better behavior with clicker training, faced with a dog who bites for the pleasure of biting? I can reshape that behavior and control it but a clicker just isn’t going to do the job. What training method would you propose for the dog whose reward is a bite? Or do you just throw that dog out and refuse to train it? Hope that dog is given a chance to live a life confined away from everyone rather than euthanized?

        I can accept that not all trainers are going to agree with me, I respect that they can train the dogs that they are comfortable training using methods *I* would use with the dogs they are comfortable training. But I also understand, respect and appreciate the trainers who are willing to take on a dog that is outside normal parameters.

      • Rick

        “The real problem is not that there is a simple difference of opinion on methodology….., .”

        That, indeed is part of the problem. But, the point of this post was that overheated rhetoric is not helping matters. For example, “….it’s that there are people who believe that the use of devices deliberately intended to cause pain to dogs …..”

        “Cookie tosser” is not equivalent to “dog abuser” in my view. Furthermore, I know of no website or organization seeking to criminalize R+ training.

  4. You pretty much had me till you yourself slagged HSUS and PETA. I may not agree with all their positions, but they push the discussion in humane directions.

  5. Great job… Click to you!

  6. Amy

    Thank you very much for this post!!

    I also think people need to have compassion for the person owning the dog…think twice before putting them down because at least they are still trying to resolve the issue versus tossing it away! Something I TOTALLY appreciate since I run a Jack Russel Rescue.

  7. Really great post.

    I work mostly with horses, and all the time I see horse clicker trainers bashing traditional trainers. I even sometimes see clicker trainers bashing other clicker trainers. 😦

    Most of the horse world does not use clicker training. I know, respect, and try and learn from many trainers who aren’t clicker trainers. Rather than being critical, I try to see the good and creative parts of their training and ignore what I don’t like.

    A similar discussion came up recently on one of the horse lists.
    Horse people love their horses, whether they use a clicker or not. And no one likes being told they’re training their animal the “wrong” way. It’s pretty common, too, in the horse world for people to switch over gradually, first combining the clicker with what they were doing before and gradually switching over to a more positive approach.

    I think we can make much more headway in promoting positive training if we treat other trainers with kindness and respect, no matter what methods they use.


  8. Very, VERY well said. I could not agree more. It’s also worth mentioning that many R+ trainers came from a background of compulsion methods. Some trainers found R+ more effective, some did not. I have had many conversations with knowledgeable trainers about R+ vs compulsion and a few have been convinced by what I was saying (and how respectfully I was saying it) to give R+ a try. The hardest test of this (for me) is when I see a dog that is currently being handled with certain methods and it is visibly inducing unnecessary anxiety for the dog and causing “side effect” behaviors that are almost always unwanted. If it is appropriate, I try to subtly present a different way of achieving the desired result but it is hard to do that without discrediting the method they are using (which incidentally discredits whatever trainer taught it to them). Then again, I am not right about everything – no trainer is.

  9. Oh how much I wish I could agree. I truly wish I could. Unfortunately, some traditional trainers *do* use abusive methods, such as stringing up a dog, even helicoptering a dog. It’s the abusive practices that need to be reported to authorities. I know of a specific situation in which that was done, the trainer charged and convicted of animal cruelty, his facility shut down. Now, of course, that does not suggest that all traditional trainers are cruel to dogs. They are not.

    Thanks so much for contributing an important message for our collective consideration.

    • Barbara, I’m not saying that abuse should not be reported. When I learned that a local trainer had used 2 e-collars on a dog (one on the dog’s neck and one on the genitals), I urged the owner to contact the authorities and consider litigation.

      That said, painting all traditional trainers with a broad brush is every bit as unfair as saying that all clicker trainers are permissive and have dogs who don’t listen or saying that all positive reinforcement is bribery. How do those statements make you feel?

      Cruelty among traditional trainers is RARE, and saying that “some traditional trainers *do* use abusive methods” comes across as judgemental and tribalistic. I truly believe that every time a R+ trainer pulls out an example like the above (stringing up or helicoptering), we’re doing damage. These statements are divisive and offensive, and they shut down any hope of a constructive conversation. Instead of focusing on the worst examples, let’s focus on the majority of traditional trainers, who do NOT use these methods and who might be a little more open to learning about clicker training if they didn’t feel like they’d be judged based on common misperceptions the second they walked through the door.

      When it comes down to it, clicker trainers can be abusive too. I’ve seen some clicker trainers who keep their dogs crated 22 hours a day so the dogs will be keen to work with their handler when they come out, and recently at a seminar a KPA graduate kept her stressed and over-threshold dog in a public area for a long time for “socialization.” Poor judgement and the lack of ability to read a dog happens regardless of methodology, and abuse is a rare event in our profession, not the norm.

      • Deena

        Beautifully said; it cuts both ways. I too have witnessed disturbing or ignorant things done by folks in the “positive” world. I’ve also seen amazing compassion and patience from traditional trainers. Like anything in life, nothing is completely cut and dry.

      • KT

        I have to agree with Barbara. Where I live (Maine) all of the traditional trainers are abusive. Every single traditional trainer in my area has a backround of chokeing dog, usually until they throw up. Think about it, if your only method is to “dominate” the dog, then when a dog becomes un-controlable (like many leash-reactive dogs) then the only way to “put it in its place” it to hurt it. If you try to fix aggression with aggression it will only make the dog bite worse, probably ending in euthanasia. I realize some clicker trainers can be abusive too, but if they follow their CPDT curriculum currectly, they should not be. I doubt there is anything in a correction trainers handbook about whats considered abusive, leaving it pretty wide open to the imagination. Also, too many clients are believing their crap, and watching too much CM. They don’t even know there is a better, and more humane way to train their dog. I think the scientific method needs to get into the spotlight for a while so that clients can have a choice.

        Before I became a dog trainer, I hired a taditional trainer for my pitbull who is extremely fearful of people and dogs. The trainer had me buy a shock collar, which I used for about 5 months. And guess what? My dog turned into a serious biter, with out warning. I feel horrible to this day knowing what I did to my dog. But I honistly didn’t know better, and I trusted this trainer to be a dog professional, and really understand dog behavior. If only I had known that CM was in fact a fake, and that there were different training methods, my dog might not have underwent that abuse. Traditional trainers are in the same line-up as puppy-mills, dog abusers, PETA and anyone else who would hurt another creature for their own satisfaction.

        I really do wish we could all get along. But thats not going to happen when I’m trying to save every dog I can, and other groups are distroying them. As much as I am not big on bad-talking, I will speak out about correction trainers everywhere I go. People need to be educated and informed that their are second options.

        I’ve recently seen a lot of Positive Reinforcers talk about how hunting dogs might be the only exceptable time to wear an e-collar. Do people with hunting dogs realize that dogs were much better hunters years ago before e-collars were ever created? Every e-collar hunting dog I have met is a nervous wreck, I hope good recall is worth having a dog with obsessive issues, or even become aggressive.

        I wonder why I haven’t seen any forums discussing shock collars on children to stop un-wanted behavior? oh thats right, that would be abusive, and the parent would probably go to jail, and have their face in the paper saying what a bad parent they were.

        I don’t think Positive trainers are “punishing” traditional trainers by talking badly about them. But it is our job to educate the public how dogs actually need to be trained. I believe traditional trainers can be good people who care about dogs, but there methods have no backup evidence that it works, and it is still abuse. They can call me anyname they want to, The bottom line in, I use science, they use abuse. and most of them do not want to pick up an actualy behavior book.

        Thought I’d put my two cents in. I have reading alot about trainers trying to get along. As much as that would be great, I think we need to continue to convince more people that they do not have to be abusive with their dog in order to train it.

  10. Great post! I find it appalling and embarrassing how downright UGLY some of the +R people can be, especially online (using their own names! With links to their own businesses!) We don’t use punishment with our dogs, so why would it be appropriate to use with people?

  11. I agree – we need to maintain integrity and consistency in our dealings with all types of trainers as well as our clients, that is, professionalism. It isn’t easy sometimes to turn the other cheek, but at the end of the day I believe integrity still matters.

  12. Brilliant article. I wish all dog trainers (R+ or not) would take a page from your book.

  13. I definitely agree. I will also say that I feel exceptionally uncomfortable referring to trainers who act in this manner, even if I know their methods are all R+, because it screams a lack of professionalism.

    I think everyone goes through a “come to Jesus” phase where they are almost religious in their zealotry. Most of us, later, come around to a more moderated, but equally passionate stage. I have learned a lot lately that part of being a good trainer, with dogs or people, is having impulse control yourself, identifying triggers for your own reactivity, and teaching yourself alternative, incompatible behaviors.

    Huh. Go figure.

  14. (I’m not sure, though, what mentioning the KPA program lended to the article. It seems exactly the opposite of what you’re advocating, and demonizes a program for the irresponsible actions of a single CTP which is certainly NOT representative of the program as a whole.)

  15. kyzyl

    Fantastic! As one R+ trainer who has been attacked for preaching a similar view of tolerance, I whole heartedly agree with your message! The fact is that positive methods do work MUCH BETTER in both dog training AND changing minds! There is a lot of science to back up this view, again just like using R+ training methods. So if you are an R+ trainer that thinks the way to change someone’s mind is to bash them over the head, you’re choosing methods that are as unscientific as those trainers you malign!

  16. JLS

    I would love to work with you because I have a dog who has gone through many trainers. When he was a puppy and up until probably 1.5 yr he was an ideal dog, then something went wrong and he had aggression – be it fear, be it protective of “his” owners, or because he started to experience some eye issues. He is now 7 years old, a great dog with my husband and I, but does not allow people into our home. We have a great trainer who uses pulse collars and that is the only thing that even seems to get the dog to get our commands when he is in that situation…..if there is a way to use “being nice”, I’m all for it and would much rather prefer it…..

  17. I love clicker training as long as clickers aren’t involved. I hate that noise 🙂 Really cool article though. The use of E-collars and prong collars are much different with many trainers now. They are often used as tools rather than ways to “strong-arm” a dog into a behavior. They are tools to build rather than to force into submission. Anyways, for the average owner, I agree on your generally positive stance. I’ve seen too many dogs worse for wear after their owners misuse tools.

    On a different note, another unnecessary surgical procedure happens to be spay/neuter but the current wave of “population control” believers think that it is the only way. If you think about it it is totally convenience for people who cant figure out how to not let dogs breed. Or don’t want the responsibility of intact animals. Despite what hormonal changes might do to the dog and it’s health. We don’t remove the organs from humans because the hormonal change is so drastic. It is no different in animals. There are also other methods used in europe that are less invasive than s/n. Anyways, that is just my rant for the day.

    • LOL! I’ve got many customers who dislike the clicker noise. Me, i’ve become addicted to it! 🙂 Makes me happy each time i hear it!

    • About neutering the dogs, I’d have that to say : we board dogs in free-running groups and get a lot of trouble from un-neutered dogs because many people don’t know how to deal/raise with their intact animals. Also, said animals are very mating-driven and most of them will never get to breed. This generates a lot of tension in them, from my point of view! 🙂

      • I don’t take ignorance in animal behavior and rearing as being an excuse for altering an animal with such a surgery. It is invasive to say the least. There is also more and more research coming out that show the increase in health concerns and hormonal changes for s/n animals. I realize that this is how our society deals with the issue, but other societies have been successful using different measures (birth control pills, proper animal husbandry, etc). It is sad to me that our society has allowed so much ignorance to flourish when it comes to raising and caring for an animal that s/n resulted as a “fix all” surgery.

        As far as tension? I don’t really think so. At least not with my dogs. I allow them to run loose with other intact males (a group of friends and I have 6 intact males that don’t live together run free with each other a few times a year. With other intact bitches around. At one point we even had a bitch in season crated in a room upstairs. They all just sat at the stairs pining for her harmoniously. We also introduce other intact males into that group when they are young to teach them how to harmoniously interact with other boys and that it isn’t something to be defensive about. A lot of issues I see between intact dogs start because the owner becomes tense and worried about the other dog so the dog gets defensive. I never question whether my dogs will get along with another dog. I have had my dogs attacked by s/n animals and have seen those other s/n animals fight among themselves. Again, these dog’s issues probably come from having poor training but “they are neutered, it was supposed to help with this!” is my most common complaint as a trainer. As a business owner I could see how having bitches in season around may be a hassle. The smell does often make males who are not used to it act in strange ways.

        All of this is just food for thought. Humans are the ones that benefit from the procedure. We are allowed to be ignorant about breeding, believe that it will fix behavioral problems, and we just don’t have to deal with females in season. But what about the animals?

  18. Very, very nice article! As a cross-over trainer, I like to read/hear such words since I moved from traditionnal techniques to clicker training. This wouldn’t have been possible for me if open-minded, welcoming trainers hadn’t crossed my path!

    Today, I use R+ and clickers and recommend that people avoid prongs/e-collars and so on but still have great chats with colleagues who still use all those tools.

    I totally agree that trainers do love dogs, whatever method they may use and that voluntary abuse isn’t so common in our trade!

    Thanks again for such a nice speech!

  19. Rick

    Excellent article. This was a long time coming. You did good!

  20. It’s just my opinion but the bigger threat or insult to ‘balanced’ trainers is NOT the reward based trainers who speak out against them, but rather the trainers who use what ‘might’ be an appropriate technique (R-, P+) so inappropriately they create more problems than they solve and don’t realize or acknowledge it. And it works both ways. A reward based trainer who is unable to skillfully apply techniques for building behavior is likely to send pet owners off searching for alternatives.

    There’s no need to be nasty, a good salesperson believes in the product they are selling and is able to convey its benefits and virtues compared to the competition. It can be a challenge to moderate our emotions when we are talking about an animal’s quality of life versus whether or not we get our shirts as white as they can be. No offense to anyone if you are strongly invested in the latter.

  21. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! When we went out on our own a few years ago, we adopted the same philosophy. I feel very good about it. Sure, I get upset, but I try to run my classes, sessions, personal and professional life the same way I train dogs — positive reinforcement for behavior I want, ignore behaviors I don’t want. It has helped me be not only a better trainer, but a better, happier person.

  22. Great, just simply great! I too have seen a recent bashing of ‘traditional’ trainers on a chat group I belong to and was upset by some of the hurtful, abusive and childish comments and suggestions made.

  23. Dani Theule, KPA CTP, CPDT-KA, OSCT

    I agree with your general premise. I was with you until I read your post painting a KPA CTP with the same broad brush you castigated in your original article. In doing so, you reminded me that we are all on a journey that requires being present and making adjustments along the way. Soap boxes can be dangerous objects… Overall, my sense is that your heart is in a good place.

  24. dee

    thanks for a great article. i too have heard far too much hate speech lately especially directed at one TV personality. my personal approach to this is to focus on the good things: he stresses the huge responsibility and committment of owning a dog, the importance of exercising the dog daily, and working hard to train a well mannered, happy, great dog. If you don’t like dominance, noises, and fake bites, don’t use them. i sure don’t. but don’t be so blinded by anger that you throw out the good parts too. the same applies for so many things in life because you’ll never agree 100% with anyone.

  25. Here’s a situation I find difficult, and I wonder if you have thoughts. I am not a professional trainer. I train service dogs for myself and sometimes offer ideas to people who ask. No money involved.
    I am trying to be less triggery and reactive *myself,* wrt other people, not dogs! I helped someone who was grieving the loss of her dog to get a puppy and then discovered that the puppy was too young (6 weeks!) and that her trainer used “Cesar Milan methods.” I was shocked because she reads my blog, which has a lot of clicker training in it, so she knew there were effective alternatives. Her explanation was that pit bulls require forceful methods. She also said, “The only thing I care about is end results,” which was shocking to me as well, because it suggests a lack of care about how those results are achieved.
    Do I think she hates dogs? No, she loves them. I know that. I have never met her trainer, but I’m sure he loves them, too. Here’s the rub:
    I tried to encourage her that this was not necessary, and she said, “I can respect the way you train, can’t you respect the way I do, too?”
    This question felt impossible to me, because the honest answer is no, I cannot respect taking a pup when it’s too young and then using punitive methods on it when you are aware that there are other options.
    So, when someone asks you if you respect a certain method, how do you answer honestly without saying, “No, I don’t”? Where does professionalism end and ethics begin? (But perhaps you would not consider the situation I described as acting unethically?)

  26. This is a really great post and I’m so happy to see that there are other trainers out there who share my perspective on the animosity that goes around in the dog training world. I too believe that we are all on the same team and crave to see more information sharing and less name calling. Thanks so much for writing about this – I was beginning to feel like I was all alone with these thoughts. I would also love to take you up on you offer to talk dogs one day.

  27. Jan

    Respect the person if not the method. I parent differently than others I know. That doesn’t mean my way is the only way. Abuse aside, because that is definatly not what Sara was talking about, we need to be professional and respectful.

  28. What a great blog! I have been a professional dog trainer in Minneapolis now for 7 years and I have never felt more lonely and more confused by the cruelty that trainers exhibit towards one another than now at year 7. I thought by now I would feel like I belong in this competitive world but I don’t. I just do the best I can and keep sharing how people can work with their dogs in a kind, positive and effective manner. I have learned to not expect much from other trainers but it sure would be nice to feel like I had local friends in the industry. I have never met you Sara, but you write like a trainer from my own heart. It is all about kindness – kindness to our dogs, kindness to one another, and kindness to ourselves.

  29. Linda

    Bravo! I’ve often wondered why so many who call themselves R+ trainers are so P+ to people who maybe don’t agree with them. Not to mention the trainers who teach R+ methods for the dogs in their classes, but use P+ on the people they are trying to instruct in dog training (I’ve been in two such classes)

  30. Pingback: Please Read « Spot Check

  31. I found your piece genuinely inspiring. Thank you for setting the bar high.

    I especially value your closing comments, regarding putting training-related abuses into perspective alongside other (arguably more pressing) animal welfare concerns. Imagine the good that might come of skilled trainers working together, rather than at odds.

  32. Sara: Well said! As a Crossover trainer, who wrote a book about what I’ve learned in my journey going through two methodological “epiphanies” in 40 years as a professional trainer, I can attest to the fact that “traditional trainers” don’t “enjoy” inflicting pain. Further, when those of us who employ “better” (“kinder”) methods are confrontational, we lose the ability to educate a trainer that might be “reachable” with patience and a non-judgmental approach. Just yesterday I got an email from a former police dog trainer who was a total skeptic when he attended our trainers academy course a year ago. He wrote: “Although you have been light hearted about [my stubbornness] (which I am extemely grateful for to this day) I’m not sure there are many trainers out there who could have gotten me off my traditional training pedestal. I learned more from you than just the value of clicker training, opening my eyes to that made me reevaluate more areas of my life, not just in dog training. I want you to know that attending your training has been a gift in my life and how much I appreciate you for it.” Can there be anything more reinforcing than an email like that?!

    Gail Fisher

  33. Corey Barnes

    It was all good until you had to toss in HSUS and PETA as somehow bad because they are radical. We all know that for most of the population, radical is what gets the pendulum to swing the other direction.

    HSUS and PETA help all animals and because dog breeders don’t care for them, does not make them bad.

  34. Amy Walker

    What a great post! One of many reason’s I don’t go into competing is because I don’t want to be judged by what I may be doing right or wrong. I do so believe in clicker training and also believe there are techniques out there that may work for others. I hate being around a group of trainers that just gossip and diss other trainers…it’s so unmotivating and sad:o( Pressure free is how we like it! Don’t know if I’ll get a response to this post but…I’ve been trying to lure a stray English Mastiff to me for 3 months now. She is still very hand and noise shy but will still eat out of my hand (I cannot pet her yet though). Do you think clicker training might help? I’ve been afraid to try it because of the noise:o)

  35. Michael

    Well said. However, I disagree that R+ works best, as there is no one true way to train a dog. I would strongly agree it might work best for some, but not all. From what I have seen, dogs performing at the highest levels of obedience, have been trained using all quadrants of operant conditioning, not just one or two. I have yet to see one at the top levels of obedience competitions, or in hunting games that was trained with just R+ and -P. Though I would be glad to. That being said, I agree completely with the point of your article. It is very unproffesional to bash a colleague. No matter what training style you choose, you can always be assured of one thing. You can ALWAYS pick up a useful tip here, or there, from a trainer with a different approach. Recently, I was given a good way to train recall by a positive trainer (wich I am not); by loading a whistle (similar to the way you would load a clicker). Though it hasn`t worked with every dog it was VERY helpful with some. She picked up some good pointers from me as well involving -P. So I finish with the saying “a mind is like a parachute, it only works when it`s open“.

  36. Thanks for the post! I absolutely agree!!

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  38. I am a R+ clicker trainer and I do not agree that ALL trainers love dogs. If a trainer REALLY loved dogs they would want to do what is best for them. Study after study has shown that R+ is the best way to train for the dog’s sake. It is humane, effective and does not cause anxiety, fear or aggression. Some trainers are uneducated – ignorance is no excuse. If you are going to train dogs, learn to do it the correct way. Some trainers know the science but are not changing their methods because they have a lucrative business and the long-term fallout on the human/canine bond doesn’t concern them. Unfortunately, there are some people who are on a power trip and like being in control of a dog by force . Too many dogs wind up in shelters or get put down because their owners were given bad information by trainers – whether in person or on a TV show. I will not fail to express my opinions to anyone who asks me about training methods. I would not be hateful to any individual but disagreeing with their methods is not being hateful. If a trainer is crossing over to R+ I would be as supportive and encouraging as possible. But as to your question – “Can’t we all just get along?” No, I don’t think we can.

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