I might as well call this article “Working dog trainers versus Pet trainers.” Because that is really what we are talking about here. The great divide that exists between the two forms of training and the ongoing skirmish that ensues whenever one side meets the other.
Over the last few days the skirmish has been very visible on a lot of media outlets and both sides dug in for a battle of wills over who was better and why….
The problem is tho, the views tend to be one sided. Specially from the (Purely) positive side. There is an attitude of “Everything you can do, I can do better.” And boy does that rub us working dog trainers the wrong way… Why? Because we know when it comes to working dogs, that training a dog for a task like taking down a bad guy, or to go into a fight and risk its life, over and over, that (purely) positive training simply does not work! It’s not that we are extremely stubborn in this and stomp our feet because we want to be right. It is that we have tried and failed miserably in the process to produce the type of dog that is needed to protect and serve. What rubs us the wrong way even more is when someone then proceeds to step into our world and proclaim “We want to change your training because we know better.” We get told our ways are outdated, that we are cruel, mean, abusers of dogs. We get told that “one training fits all” to ignore the bad, and reward the good. We just don’t understand how it works and if we just adjust our views to see that we are wrong, and they are right, things might change for the better for the dogs.
Here is the thing tho? Not many, if any of those (purely) positive people has ever set a foot inside the working dog trainers world to see for themselves how it works. They have mostly based their views on what they think happens and not what they know happens. There is no such thing as an open mind in (purely) positive training. You either follow suit, or you are evil. Every dog is a pet that needs to be loved on like family. And, I will be honest here, in part I agree with that theory. I have trained xMalinois and xDutch Shepherd’s in KNPV for the last 30 years and yes, I loved and love each and every one of them and they were family to me, right up to the moment that they moved on to their new life in law enforcement or the Military. But I also draw a line as far as loving on and treating as family goes when it comes to dogs. A dog is still a dog. It is not one of my children and it does not get the same rights as a human would. I treat it as a dog. I use a dog perspective when dealing with my dogs. I try to keep things as dog logical as possible and I do not let my human thoughts, ideas and feeling interfere with those thoughts, ideas and feelings. A dog, in my eyes, should be treated with respect and in a dog worthy manner. Not expecting from it to understand our human emotions or to adjust to those human emotions and ideas of what a dog should truly be.
As a working dog trainer I have a very simple set of views when it comes to dogs and how they should be trained. The training should suit the dog in front of you and you should adjust your training according to what the dog gives you to work with. What are the basic rules I use for training of Police K9’s ?
- When my dog shows me unwanted behavior I check what I am doing wrong.
- Gray areas do not exist in the working dog world. Black and white only. No means no!
- What I do not want to deal with tomorrow, I do not allow today.
- I never ask my dogs anything. I tell them.
- Every action deserves a reaction. Good is reward, bad is correction.
Now, here is what I see in the (purely) positive camp….
- Reward the good.
- Ignore the bad.
- One training fits all.
I can only agree with nr.1. The rest? Nope, not buying it. You are waiting for it to discover on its own how things work and not teaching it what it should know. You are not giving it the skill set it needs to make decisions for its own. You are not teaching a dog the consequences of its actions. This is something I am against when it comes to raising, training and educating your dog to be a balanced and healthy family member and or working dog.
The biggest problem I see or rather the divide between the 2 groups is this. Assumption. The working dog owners and or handlers / trainers see the positive trainers as cookie tossing, tree hugging hippies with fur babies as to where the positive trainers see the working dog trainers as abusive, angry, dominant dog kickers that beat their dog across the field in order to train it. I will admit, I am the first to throw out the cookie comment and even add a “Go hug a tree” when I am frustrated at once again having to deal with a positive trainer coming in on a conversation with proclamations of grandeur over how they can train the dogs we train just as well, if not better. Not because I don’t know about their form of training, but because I know exactly what their form of training is and I know the comment will rile them up to unreasonable levels. The thing is tho, they do not know what our form of training is. They have based their entire view and idea of how police dogs and or working dogs are trained on nothing more then assumption and speculation. They do not have any intimate knowledge of what happens. They just heard stories, from other non working dog people and take it for scripture. They see training tools and immediately begin to create this dramatic picture inside their brains about dogs being tortured into submission on a daily basis. You use an E collar? YOU ARE MEAN! You use a Prong? YOU ARE MEAN! You use a pinch? YOU ARE MEAN! They do not look further beyond the mean part. You are doing something that is vile as a working dog trainer and that’s that! If you dare reply or give an indication of how the tools are used…. YOU ARE A BULLY! It never enters their mind that nothing could be less true, or that the might learn something about working dogs as a whole by asking questions… No, you do not follow suit of the positive training rules so therefor you are now to be chastised and labeled a BULLY, and a mean one at that.
If I look back over the last 30 years in the dog world, how it has evolved, and the impact that evolution has had on dogs in general I can only say that it has not been that much of an improvement for the dog as a whole. Political correctness has reared its ugly head and dogs are more and more being treated as human, children, babies…. And the end result of that is? More bites to children and adults. More dog related human deaths due to irresponsible owner actions. More dogs being put in shelters because of the humanization of dogs as a whole. More dogs being euthanized due to lack of knowledge and control over the dogs that are being bred and owned. The dogs may get a better treatment in people’s eyes, but is it really getting a better treatment? Or is it now paying a higher price for this perceived better treatment? Ever notice how the dogs that end up being killed in shelters are Pets? Not working dogs? Ever notice how the dogs that have aggression issues are pets? Not working dogs? Ever notice bites to children are made by pets? Not working dogs? Ever notice how human deaths in relation to dogs are in relation to pets? Not working dogs? Ever notice how you hardly ever hear about issues in the working dog world with dogs? But in the pet world it is drama galore. In the positive world of training they managed to build a whole industry around it to make money out of it. What does this tell you? That the working dog world is a bad place? That it is a cruel place? That it is a dangerous place for the dogs? Or does it tell you that the working dog world still has its eye on the ball! And it will keep its eye on the ball. It will keep doing what it has always done… Look at the dog, see what it needs, reward the good and correct the bad….
That is the great divide between the working dog world and the positive working dog world. We deal with reality every day. We take the dogs that would be put to sleep in the pet world and give them a task, any task! And they do it, and enjoy doing it! We give them a part in our lives where they know what they are, what is expected of them and what the bottom line is. They get treated as dogs! Not as humans…. It is so easy for people to say, I can train the same dogs you do and do a better job of it but you do not know the type of dogs we work with, or how we work with them, or why we use that particular breed for the work they do…. Instead of assuming something, ask, learn, listen…. There are plenty of us out there willing to explain how it works but sadly enough there are more out there unwilling to listen… Stop thinking with your heart and start using your head. Instead of saying that one training fits all, realize that every dog needs a different approach and that a pet dog is not the same as a working dog that has been bred for a specific purpose for decades. Be open minded for a change… That is what the great divide is about….