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The Lies Dog Trainers Tell

If your social media algorithm includes dogs at all, you'll see targeted ads by dog trainers trying to gain your business. Many of them are trying to say they have some magical method that works without 'bribes' or tells you how they're better than "those other trainers'.

I have no problem with trying to get business. I run a business, and I've run ads. What I will not do, what I think its unethical to do, is to lie, either by creating a false narrative, or by making claims that are not realistic. I thought I'd shed light on some of the more egregious falsehoods you may see on the internet.

The first, and most frustrating are the 'whisperers', gurus, and magical dog connectors who claim to use no rewards and no aversive techniques. They use 'relationship', or some vaguely worded skillset handed down from on high.

If I hire you to help me build a bridge, you are working FOR money; If I buy you and you cannot escape me, you are likely working to AVOID negative consequences; If I am your very best friend ever in the world, you may do it for free, but man I better make sure to pay you back in some major way, and I have to know this is a one-off, I cannot have you work for free for me indefinitely.

This is very simplified, but it puts into perspective what happens when we train dogs. They're doing something for us, something that rarely would they do on their own if we didn't ask them. All the magic woo BS in the world isn't going to make that happen unless you teach the dog to work FOR, or work to AVOID something.

The other common ad format I see is that, 'distracting reactive (barking, lunging, etc... ) dogs doesn't work. The implication is that trainers that use rewards-based training are trying to distract dogs, when, in fact, no good trainer, regardless of their methodology uses distraction as a tool to train dogs. This is simply because distraction isn't training. No good trainer uses distraction as a training method. Anyone claiming they do is either creating a false narrative, or woefully uneducated about what rewards-based trainer actually do to train reactive dogs.

The other popular ad format is, "three days to..." whatever. Unless the behavior is a simple trick (sit, down, spin, etc...) and you don't want to do it outside of the circumstances in which it was trained (in your living room, with a liver treat in your hand) the only way to even come close to this kind of result is to effectively create a single event learning situation. Single event learning is a scientifically valid way to create (usually) an aversion, or fear of something. The best example is grabbing a bee, or wasp, or standing in an ant hill. Most kids remember some similar situation, and forever after have elected to avoid these things. You can teach a dog that is reacting with barking and lunging at another dog not to do so by creating a strong aversive pairing with that behavior.

There may be times when this type of training may be ethical (rattle snake avoidance, chasing cars), but to use this type of learning to address minor issues, issues stemming from frustration, and especially those stemming from fear (as many reactive dogs are) is as ethical as beating a child for being frightened of spiders, or for being excited about Disneyland.

Many trainers like to couch their training in wishy washy, or woo language to hide poor technique, dangerous methods, or methods that many people, if told plainly, would never agree to.

Training dogs should take time, just as training horses takes time, or teaching children takes time. We should seek out trainers who are up front about their methods, and don't explain tools that instinct implies are designed to cause discomfort and pain as merely 'communication'. Communication can take place at a whisper, or through the use of a baseball bat, the question isn't if a device is used to communicate, but how that communication occurs.

One clue to help pick a trainer is looking at video. Is the dog's head up? Are they happy, tail up and wagging? Are they animated and happy? Or, are they flat, rounded over the top line from head to tail, with a flat tail, and no animation? I train fearful dogs, and many begin looking like the latter example, but that better not be every dog I train, especially my own, and my end goal is always, a dog that clearly loves to work and loves to train, and looks it. Make sure the dogs trained by your prospective trainer look the same..

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