Why are Dog Trainers So Sure They’re Right?
Normally when I pose a question in the title of an essay, I’m prepared to offer a thoughtful answer, or at least explore some possible explanations.
However, for this essay, I’m genuinely baffled by this unique phenomena I’ve stumbled upon: dog trainers and people who invest their life in training animals are VERY opinionated and feel their approach is THE right way.
I had a dog as a kid, but we adopted her as a well-trained adult. We lived in a very secluded area of the forest, where she could wander around and there was little need for training.
The only form of “training” I witnessed was corporal punishment. This injustice and inhumanity stuck with me the rest of my life. When I adopted my first dog Egon in my 30s, I was eager to learn positive ways to train.
I began working with a professional dog trainer as soon as I adopted Egon. We started with intensive training so that Egon could become a certified therapy dog.
The trainer was adamant about certain things - Egon wearing a prong collar, pinching his butt to make him sit, Egon only eating raw food, and much more.
I thought her strong training views were a unique quirk to her. We eventually discontinued working together because her training style and disorganization did not align well with me (you can read about that here).
I began researching more training approaches online, looking at articles, forums, websites, and more.
Everyone was very opinionated. Their opinions often contradicted each other, but each was so sure their way was the right way.
I eventually hired a new trainer. She also had her own distinct training perspective, though she had a much more gentle demeanor to go with it.
She insisted that I would need to run with Egon every morning. She didn’t even think to ask if my body was capable of that (it was not at the time due to recovering from a serious illness).
We eventually stopped working together because she was not able to match her training techniques to my unique needs and limitations.
I later decided to take a course in dog reactivity. The dog trainer in the course was equally as strong about her opinions.
The more people I met that were invested in dog training, the more opinionated people I encountered.
My dad’s friend, who has show dogs, visited my art therapy studio one day. Egon was there and jumped up on him with excitement, a behavior I had been trying to decrease. My dad’s friend then taught me a “training trick” to get Egon to stop jumping on people. When Egon jumped on him, he held his paws and wouldn’t let go. Egon yelped and then continuously barked at him. And yet, my dad’s friend still stood by his method. He insisted that if every one of my clients did this, Egon would stop.
That may have been true, but he didn’t pause to consider if I want Egon associating negative behavior with clients or how it would make my clients feel to cause pain or have Egon bark at them.
The one thing I have learned in my dog training journey is that there are so many different ways to train and that various methods and techniques all have varying degrees of success depending on the dog, the owner, the environment, and much more.
So what I don’t get is why are dog trainers so adamant about their way?
What is it about dogs and dog training that make people so sure of themselves?
Is it our need for control with something unknown?
I’d love to hear others’ opinions.