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 a long-winded way to say “positive dog trainer”, 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.
1. It is Scientifically Proven
Positive, force-free training emphasizes a cognitive-behavioral understanding of how dogs function. Whereas the traditional approach tends to fall into the trap of accepting fantasy as truth (look into the understanding of how prong collars work, for example), science-based training leverages the science (duh) of dog behavior and motivation. Studies show not only that force-free training is simply more effective than traditional, aversive methods, but also that dogs (as social learners) learn to behave aggressively when taught by aggressive training methods.
2. Humane Treatment of Animals is Important to me
As a trainer, I am not just concerned about how to train a dog, but how to do it most efficiently. It’s a minimum effort/maximum gain game. Science has already proven that force-free training is the most efficient approach. But if that were not the case, I would still balk on this one. Humane treatment of the other is one of my strongest personal values, and it will override efficiency every single time. I recognize that there are times when “humane treatment” can enter into a grey area.
From my vantage point, though, intimidation, fear, pain, and violence cross the line. When science shows that positive training methods are more effective than punitive ones, there is simply no reason to traumatize a dog when teaching new behaviors. I consider the use of intimidation, fear, pain, and violent methods to be outright abusive, and therefore out of bounds when training our canine companions.
3. It Serves as a Liturgy of Love
Working with canines to help them blossom into greater potential embodies a spiritual practice for me. Divine liturgy (aka, “church ritual”) is about participating in an alternative story that lays claim to a certain kind of hope for the world. One of the reasons I use positive training is because it enacts love ritualistically. We live in a world that not only accepts, but perpetuates violence as a way of life. Positive training is the opposite. It promotes relationships (with any others, not just canines) based on the kind of mutuality that not only flows from, but also encourages living lives of mutual love. Love that isn’t enacted isn’t real. And during practice, when I see lolling tongues and wagging tails, I feel as though I am gazing upon the very image of the Divine.