I just read an email that greatly upset me. No, it wasn’t about cruel treatment of a dog; it was about cruel treatment of a person.
This person is an aspiring dog trainer. To follow her passion, she paid a great sum of money to attend a school where students learned about canine body language and behavior and were also taught a variety of tools and methods, from clicker training and positive reinforcement to pinch collars and even e-collars.
You should know that this is a crossover trainer who was originally using collar corrections, and wants to get into a more “positive” style of training. Although she did attend that school, she chose not to use e-collars. But she is now feeling demonized when attempting to have any discussion online that mentions e-collars at all (again, not because she wants to use them, just to have a better understanding). I don’t doubt what she is saying, as I have seen that very thing happen. Not only that, but she is also encountering people on other lists who are making her feel guilty for suggesting even a verbal correction. That’s just plain wrong.
I don’t care what your training philosophy is or where you stand in your experience or education; there is no reason to treat other people that way. Maybe instead of asking where we fall on the spectrum of correcting dogs, we ought to question our methods and severity in correcting humans. It’s all too easy in the online arena, where people are faceless, to be petty, snarky, condescending, and even cruel. It’s easy to forget that we’re all just doing the best we can. I truly try not to be judgmental, in and out of the dog training world, and I admit that I sometimes fail. But I honestly don’t understand why we can’t discuss tools and methodology in a civil tone. If you’re trying to change someone’s mind, you’re not going to do it by making them feel bad about themselves. People are more likely to leave than listen when you try to have a conversation from a pedestal.
I know this smacks of Rodney King’s “Can’t we all just get along,” but that is exactly what I’m saying. I was so pleased to see a recent online discussion where the dreaded hot topic of e-collars (no pun intended) was discussed more civilly than I have seen before. Am I glad because now we can all start using e-collars? No. I’m glad because the people who use them deserve as much respect and opportunity to explain their reasoning as do those who use other methods. If you’re a moderator and don’t want a tool discussed on your list, that’s your prerogative; make a rule and that’s that. But if you allow the discussion, it ought to be respectful on both sides. How else are we going to learn from each other? I’d hate to think about a new trainer joining an organization and stepping into the middle of a flame-war rather than finding encouragement and support.
Back to the person who emailed me. She’s new to the business, and was feeling totally demoralized and lost. That shouldn’t happen to anyone. We experienced, successful trainers, regardless of where we fall on the correction/tool spectrum, are the ones who should be setting an example. Newcomers should be able to join our profession and participate in discussions without fear of judgement or ridicule. It can only be “positive” for them, for us, and for the future of our profession.