There is this question that has haunted me almost my entire life. It has become slightly more refined as I have grown up and found myself in the profession of animal training. I soak up all the information I can find about learning, experiences, development, behavior, and patterns. This career has fit me well and the skills that I am good at. However, a question still remains…
How do we change people's understanding and the hummm of culture around animal training?
The field is growing and scientists are discovering more and more. Practitioners are trying new ideas and raising the bar of animal welfare. The gap is that the public doesn’t have the same information and current marketing is designed to sell products and services at the animals expense.
What would it take to change the story, shift our mindset, and reestablish our training goals with the animal’s wellbeing in mind?
Effectiveness is not enough. There are loads of Effective training options that give the animal no agency or control over their environment. Have you ever thought to ask an animal if they would like to participate in training or take a nap?
There is a movement that I want to address. It’s the movement towards understanding and building two way communication and healthy relationships with non-human species. (Though we could probably work on the same concepts in our human relationships too.)
Look, KAS and myself are not above anyone else. We too get frustrated with our animals when they don’t perform. It can be frustrating and embarrassing when your animal chooses an inopportune time to reduce participation. The thing is we want to honor our animals for who they are, non-human individuals. Don’t beat yourself up because you have used adversives (like a prong collar on your dog) just learn more and do better going forward with the new information that you have.
Next time you step into your animal's space ask them if they would like to participate if the answer is no that’s okay try again later. Remember just because they have chosen to not participate with you is no reason to withhold a meal. Give them their reinforcement and walk away.
There is one more hard pill to swallow. That is not all animals want the same job. If you are a needy human and you have a pet, say a cat that chooses not to participate in training or interactions with you or anyone, that might be their personality. You are not going to make training or interactions with humans any more enjoyable when you withhold food or water to force them to come out and be social. Respect the animals individuality.
I know that this post will probably get some hate and might not get very many views but it’s my first attempt at changing the paradigm.
Here is my summary. There is a welfare problem going on right now for our pets and no amount of money you can spend is going to fix your relationship with your animal. Like any relationship you need to put in the time, respect the other being, and try to understand what life might be like for them.
I know you envision that sweet, happy go lucky, obedient dog but that is a vision that marketing has sold to you and doesn’t exist in reality. (Well unless you pay a lot of money for a service dog who is often bred and then assessed for job fit. Dogs that have the right genetics and temperament who are put through rigorous job training.) Your shelter dog, many pure breeds, and mixes will never live up to the expectation of a “perfect dog”.
Love the animal in front of you and help them become the best animal they can be.
Kind Animal Services can help if you are struggling with understanding what your dogs needs are and training. However, I challenge you to ditch the term dog training and talk about education for you and your dog. Or maybe you need dog-human relationship counseling or coaching.
We can help you identify an enrichment program that works for your dog and then help you educate your dog where needed.
More about enrichment in another post.