That’s a fact. That’s why you see me often using food, positive energy, and enthusiasm when I am training a dog.
The big HOWEVER here is the fact that we need to separate that simple fact from the army of trainers who sell their services using common marketing terms like “all-positive,” “science-based,” “rewards-based” and other terms designed to make you feel good about buying training services from someone who eagerly wants to sell them to you.
It’s really a genius sales pitch. Why use “harsh” or “outdated” tools when you can get the same, or even BETTER results having nothing but a good time and saying "yes"? Why do people continue to prefer trainers who take a balanced, all-encompassing training approach?
I told you it’s a good pitch.
There’s one problem with the pitch, though. There’s not a lot of people who can SHOW you that’s the truth. There’s not a lot of all-positive trainers on YouTube showing people their work (especially on challenging dogs) and if you walk into a well-regarded “all-positive” training class, you’re not going to see nearly the level of order or skill that you would in even a mediocre balanced class.
So where’s the disconnect?
Like most dog trainers and dog owners, I love dogs. I seldom have clients who spend money on dog training that don’t have great affection for their dogs, or who have a difficult time saying “yes” to their dogs.
But that’s only half of BALANCE.
As a responsible trainer, my job is to continue to refine my skills to train dogs with the least amount of physical and emotional stress possible – this is not an easy job since most of the dogs I work with are stressed to the gills with a lack of clarity and purpose when I first meet them. How I get to the place where the dog is under less and less stress while training is through constant learning and an open-mind. Every day I strive to be better than I was yesterday.
You can show them a video of a dog working with an e-collar with enthusiasm, vigor, and heart soul and they will still somehow claim the dog is being treated inhumanely. You can show them a video of a dog running through the woods, chasing a squirrel up a tree expressing what it means to be a dog, and then stop dead in its tracks and respond with enthusiasm to a recall command, returning to his owner and racing his butt to the ground to finish the command so he can return to chasing squirrels. They will sit there while their dog pulls against their straightjacket-like gentle leader and tell you that the dog chasing the squirrel is treated inhumanely because it is wearing an e-collar.
What these clever marketers are often selling you is a warm feeling inside and not dog training. That’s why balanced trainers often use “results-based training” as their marketing buzzwords, because at the end of the day, far more often than their all-positive counterparts they are likely to get results in both the fields of behavior modification and training. There are of course easy-going, well-bred dogs who can do pretty well with a competent all-positive trainer, but often times those dogs don’t even seek professional training because they are already pretty good companions.
The sad thing is – the true tragedy of these sly marketers - when things get too difficult for “all-positive” methods, instead of broadening their tool box, setting aside their misconceptions about training tools, and learning how to make a dog successful, they recommend you put your dog on drugs or euthanize them (far sooner than most balanced trainers will). Granted, sometimes balanced also will say that a dog is not fit for training, but the all-positive trainers and behaviorists will throw in the towel much quicker because they have half the training options of a balanced trainer.
Myself, when I was young and struggling with one of my dogs, sought guidance from an expensive and highly regarded veterinary behaviorist at a prominent university. Their advice was expensive and complicated but boiled down to this: maybe put it down or take some Prozac until you decide to give up on the dog and then put it down. Had I not challenged my pre-conceived notions of what is good for dogs, that dog would have probably needed to be put down or left in a crate, secluded from the world, most of the time. Through learning new techniques and understanding tools I had once thought taboo and medieval (turns out they aren’t), that dog is an old, normal dog now who helps me rehabilitate dogs almost every day. People who meet her now think I am lying about her past problems.
Loving dogs is more than just petting them, buying them plush dog beds, and teaching them fun tricks. Dogs need guidance on how to be successful. Like many of you dog-lovers out there, my heart goes out to dogs that are treated poorly, unfairly, or inhumanely.
What I learn as I get older and more experienced is that the dogs who are treated the most poorly, the most unfairly, and the most inhumanely are the dogs who were promised that their training would be “all-positive.” Not being given every chance to succeed and to live an enjoyable life is about as unfair and inhumane as it gets.