The other night I watched a clip from a well-known trainer’s TV show, cringing the entire 7 minutes, wanting to run screaming from the room – no, better yet, reach through the computer screen and do whatever I needed to do to get this guy to quit hurting this poor dog. By the end of the clip, my fists were clenched and my heart was pumping. “Chill out”, I thought to myself. “Getting this worked up isn’t healthy or productive.”
Later, in response to this same clip, some comments were made on Facebook. One comment, echoing an opinion repeated time and again, said something like: “Everyone has their own methods, [this trainer] is only trying to help this dog and his people – who are you to judge!”
The techniques I witnessed in this clip, commonly used by Mr. TV Trainer, were muzzling, a tightly noosed-leash, forcing the dog to the floor, flipping the dog on his back and holding him down, and general psychological brutalization until the dog becomes exhausted physically and mentally, and just gives up. These are techniques stemming from an archaic and brutal mindset that was essentially the ONLY mindset in dog training for a long period of time: use force, fear, pain to get the dog to “submit”. At any cost.
I took my first obedience training class around 1988. Every dog wore a choke collar in class. Every dog was supposedly “bad” because he was trying to dominate his human. Every dog supposedly "needed" to be jerked, pushed, and pulled into compliance and “submission”.
Over the course of the next 10 years, I worked under 5 trainers, all who used the same method, all of whom scoffed at the idea of using food to “reward” a dog’s behavior. I will never forget what one trainer said to me, “I want my dog to work to please ME, not for a FOOD BRIBE!” It made sense at the time, but my training mindset hadn’t yet evolved to the point of being able to comprehend that my dogs weren’t working for me when they sat-heeled-stayed-downed-performed a nice recall; they were only working to avoid the inevitable leash-jerk.
The problem was that this training method often didn’t work. Dogs remained aggressive, got worse, and sometimes were euthanized. When I came face to face with the “euthanasia suggestion” made by a trainer regarding my OWN dog and some behavioral issues that weren't responding to the "jerk til he behaves" technique, I launched into survival mode – my DOG’S survival – which started an evolution of my training mindset.
Something wasn’t right, here. I didn’t think my dog needed to die. Maybe I needed to evolve and try something else.
Right around the time the limitations of this jerk-push-pull method began to become clear to me, I started hearing more about training with the dreaded “food reward” and something called clicker training. More information in the form of books and videos was becoming available. I started reading, watching, listening, and experimenting with these evolutionary training techniques. And guess what? They worked! In fact, they worked so well that eventually I completely gave up everything I had been previously taught about dog training, and put this new education into fulltime practice. Talk about a mindset evolution.
I’m honestly not sure what happened to those original 5 trainers I once worked with. Whether they, too, eventually evolved, or instead continue to metaphorically dwell in the Dog Trainer Dark Ages, I may never know. The method they once taught me has not died out, that much is known. All I have to do is turn on my TV, and there I see Mr. TV Trainer using those same, un-evolved, archaic techniques (albeit explained in more sparkly, New Agey language, suitable for wide-scale public consumption).
If those techniques employed by Mr. TV Trainer and my original 5 trainers are so un-evolved, limiting, and non-functional, why are they still around? Well, hmmm. Why do some people refuse to be educated about Pit Bulls, and why, despite all the information and evidence to show they aren’t a “dangerous breed” do some people insist on banning and killing them?
Educating oneself – in effect, evolving one’s mindset – is not always a comfortable process, especially when you are married to ideas that you’ve been acting upon for a long while. There was a time that I thought Pit Bulls were a “bad breed”, just because that’s what I’d been told. But I wasn’t attached to that idea; for a while I didn’t think much about the breed at all. Eventually I came upon information that lead me to became a huge breed advocate; it was an easy transition. Evolving my mindset about dog training methods wasn’t so easy – I had been using with some measure of success a specific method for a long time. It took probably a period of 4 or 5 years before I completely gave up the “old” method, and my training mindset evolved to the point of fully accepting the new.
An evolved, enlightened training method brings with it a new respect for, understanding of, and appreciation of dogs. That training method I once used now seems not only old-fashioned, but downright cruel – and totally unnecessary. When I watch Mr. TV Trainer and others like him, a sense of frustration builds: why can’t they just evolve, too???
One day, perhaps, all mindsets about training – and about Pit Bulls – will evolve to a more enlightened state. Many people already have enlightened attitudes about training and about Pit Bulls; they are setting good example, educating, and encouraging elevated thinking. I’m hopeful and optimistic; just like the breed I work with on a regular basis, clicking and treating them towards better behavior.
My dog – the one my EX-trainer told me needed to die – went on to live a long, happy life following the evolution of my training method. That problematic behavior went away. As it turns out, he was the most amazing dog I have ever had the pleasure of sharing my life with, and the inspiration behind The Real Pit Bull, Inc.
The dog that Mr. TV Trainer was trying to “help” in the clip I mentioned above ended up back in a shelter eventually; I’ve heard he was subsequently euthanized.
Refusal to evolve has its price – and in dog training, as in the "Pit Bull Wars", the dogs are the ones who sadly have to pay it.