On the road today, I noticed a bumper sticker on the car in front of me. It said, “Trump. Clinton. We are our choices.” This struck me, not only because it wasn’t the typical declaration for one candidate or the other, but because of the meaning. Whichever candidate we support, we generally support their policies and what they stand for. But beyond that, our choice of candidate says something about us as well. We identify more with that person’s personality and characteristics—they are more like us. Okay, not in every way, and don’t worry, this is not to be a discussion of politics. But what that bumper sticker did make me think about is dog training.
What does “We are our choices” have to do with training and behavior? A lot. Just as in politics, it’s well known that there are two major schools of thought. The more traditional school is more focused on strict obedience, and leans more heavily on compulsion and corrections. Tools that are used may include choke chains, pinch collars, and shock collars. The more positive reinforcement oriented school focuses on how dogs think and learn, employs rewards such as treats, and eschews the formerly mentioned tools in favor of head halters, clickers, and more. Of course, this is an oversimplification. There are trainers in either school who are so much toward the extreme end of the curve that they give other trainers in that camp a bad name. And any tool can be used more or less harshly.
Still, we are our choices. I choose cooperation over coercion in training. I am a peaceful, loving, patient person (okay, except in L.A. traffic), and I bring that into my training. I treat my clients with the same respect and patience that I do my four-footed students. I have noticed over the years a trend: the way trainers treat dogs has a direct correlation with the way they treat people. Sure, there are some trainers who are harsher with dogs and kinder with people, but I’ve seen an awful lot more trainers who are harsh in their training methods be condescending, short-tempered, and overly authoritarian with their clients. Likewise, I’ve seen trainers who are kind, patient, and respectful toward dogs be the same way with owners. It makes sense, as it’s the way you see the behavior of those around you and how you react to it.
Regardless of where you fall on the training spectrum, what tools you use, and how you use them, your choices do say a lot about you. And so it’s true in politics, dog training, and life in general: We are our choices. Let’s try to make good ones.