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My Guiding Metaphor for Training Dogs

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Ranger and I at Free Spirit Siberian Rescue

The metaphors by which we live guide us as we navigate our way through life. For example, my primary metaphor for spiritual care is “bearer of sacred space.” I want a person to be able to come up to feel safe. So I maintain the space between us as non-judgmental, which gives them the opportunity to become vulnerable. If I do that, the effect should be that people are able to bring (even if briefly) their baggage to the surface for us to sort through together. And in the end they should walk away with a better sense of who they are and who they can become. The metaphor “bearer of sacred space” serves a specific purpose: it guides how I interact with people to bring about the desired effect.

After I had been working with Loki, my German Shepherd/Siberian Husky mix, I realized I needed a metaphor to help keep me focused as we progressed. I had looked into more traditional approaches to training that incorporated “corrections” with reinforcement. In the end, I came to believe that positive training served both my own purposes and my dog’s wellbeing best. But what were “my purposes”?

Perhaps it’s no surprise with my interest in the numinous that I believe that the best way to describe what I’m doing with Loki is “nurturing his spirit.” I don’t necessarily need him to be the kind of dog that jumps immediately when I bark. Don’t get me wrong. I do want him to listen, but I don’t expect instant obedience. I want him to find his own sense of self-confidence. I want him to be free, yet safe. Basically, I want him to become the best “Loki” he can be. That may mean that he will drive me nuts from time to time (and he does). That’s fine I don’t want him to be an automaton. I’m not domineering over him. Rather, when he and I are at our best, we’re a team.

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Why I Do Positive, Force-Free Training

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Lugh and I looking at…who knows what

I generally hesitate to identify simply as a “dog trainer”. That can mean different things to different people. My current favorite way to describe myself is a modern, science-based trainer who uses force-free methods. It’s long-winded, but it sets me apart from schools of thought that I don’t want to be associated with.

Intentionality is important to me. When I approach dog training, I don’t just grab a method and run with it. I have questions. How does it work? Why does it work? What are some pitfalls? What are the side effects?

As a result of thinking through what I do, I feel it is important to explain why I chose this path, as opposed to a more “traditional” (aka, “balanced”) path.

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