We Are Our Choices

iStock Lab with woman.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.

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8 Responses to We Are Our Choices

  1. sschiavoni says:

    So true. Thank you!

  2. Allison says:

    Despite the fact that I used balanced methods in training my dogs, including prong and choke collar, I always enjoy your articles and find them very well written. However, how dare you insult my PERSONALITY and pass judgment on me as a person because of the tools that I use (which by way were the most effective method that worked for my severe case of sibling syndrome and I now have two wonderful well trained and well mannered dogs who love me no less than one trained with treats). This was a very rude, insulting generalization about people that is extremely unwarranted. And I’m sorry but in my experience, I hardly ever see a balanced trainer insult or attack or criticize a positive only trainer as we all can agree that treats are a great motivator to enforce good behavior, but they are useless against aggressive behavior. Positive trainers on the other hand never miss an opportunity to insult, criticize or trash the many well respected trainers out there for having different beliefs than yours and who achieve amazing results with dogs they love no less than you do.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi, Allison. First, thanks, I’m glad you enjoy the articles. In this particular one, if you read it again, you’ll see that nowhere was I bashing anyone for the methods they use. Nowhere did I insinuate that anyone who uses a choke chain, for example, is a violent, horrible person. I did note that there are people at the ends of the spectrum for both positive or more balanced (your term) trainers that make the others look bad. Someone who helicopters dogs, for example, or strings them up, is in my mind not very likely to be a peaceful, compassionate person in general. I hope that clarifies things. I do think that saying that “positive trainers…never miss an opportunity to insult, criticize or trash” is an overgeneralization. I have always been friends with and had respect for trainers who use a wide variety of methods, even if they are ones I do not use or approve of. I don’t think it makes them bad people. Again, I believe you read more into the article than was intended, and I wanted to take the time to reply so that you or anyone else reading this doesn’t get the wrong idea.

  3. Kalila says:

    Great article and interesting responses. You have so carefully and respectfully pointed out differences in people and the way they choose to train their dogs. I didn’t notice that you were insulting – and I find it interesting that someone who uses more forceful methods does appear to have more forceful reactions to perceived criticism. I have had experience with both the “punishment” and “reward ” approach when it comes to the way my dog reacts to other dogs. The former was a disaster – it made her overly anxious and ultimately worse, the latter has helped her to be calm and be happy to avoid other dogs – 5m away is enough for her to sit and watch them pass by without reacting. Before she would run 100m in order to go and bowl over some innocent unaware little (or big) dog.

  4. […] a bad name. And any tool can be used more or less harshly.”    Please read the entire post HERE  and while you are on her site, be sure to look around and read some of her other articles. […]

  5. Leigh says:

    This is an important issue to discuss really because more often than not, we really want to be left alone with our choices. We want people to generally respect our choices. So whether it is the traditional training you go for or not, be sure that your pets are at their most comfortable.

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