A recent discussion on a working dog site got my muse out of her languid, summertime sloth. It brought into focus something that would bring an end to many arguments, and bickering among dog-trainers and other canine enthusiasts. I know, by experience, that this has the same odds of happening as a peaceful gathering of anybody in Ferguson, Missouri, but I’ll put it out there anyway. Maybe a bunch of dog people will block the nearest Interstate in a fit of impotent rage. More likely, the arguments will continue unabated.
Farmers that are blessed with good soil to work in are truly blessed. You know the kind of black dirt that smells rich and full of life? It’s moist, and runs thru the fingers like a living thing. In my part of Ohio, we have nothing but clay, a sticky mess of malnourished crud that refuses to make growing anything less than easy. (Don’t take that as an Ohio insult. Some parts of this state have INCREDIBLE soil!)
Farmers that suffer less-than-ideal soil, are indeed, still capable of getting things to grow. They use chemicals, technology, and other secrets of the modern world to make it happen anyway. Sometimes the methods produce decent enough fare, but nothing that you’ll grab up at a farmers market enthusiastically. Such produce should makes us wary of How it was produced.
On the opposite side, the title “ORGANIC” springs off the produce shelves like a glorious, golden ticket to vibrant flavor and healthful eating. No chemicals, no insecticides, nothing but seed, water, and good dirt. Simplicity itself. I proudly grow my own tomato’s with homemade compost, and natural soil, untouched by human technology in any stripe. The flavor and texture are unmatched in any grocery store. I’ve learned to give my garden what it requires for success, and then leave it to it’s natural way. (Be right back, I’m really inspired to make some salsa)
Okay, where am I going with the tomato talk on a German Shepherd blog? Here it is: Dog Training is best when we use the simplest, most direct, “soil”, available. We’ve included too many “improvements” to the art in the last 10 or 15 years that have caused confusion in Trainers, AND dogs. Technology and Behavioral “experts” have spouted “NEW” theories, and Advanced Tools, as quickly as marketing programs can promote them. There are probably 4000 “methods” of dog training being utilized in the work today, and each has rabid supporters, ready to slam every other method out there. A list of names that will produce a cacophony of cheers, boo’s, catcalls, and allegiance is easy to produce. Try this for yourself. Read the following list of “Trainers”, and gauge YOUR reaction to that name.
- Cesar Millan
- Victoria Stillwell
- Bill Koehler
- Kasey Cover
- Ivan Balabanov
- Michael Ellis
- Ian Dunbar
- Bart Bellon
- Karen Pryor
- Zac George
That’s ONLY 10 widely known members of the dog-training/behavior community. Some of them, admit it, you dislike strongly. Others you admire and respect. Rarely are any of us “neutral” about any of them. And it would be simple to add 10, 15, or even 20 more names to that list, from the endless parade of well-known individuals that teach their version of the “Best Way To Train a Dog”. Some of them, you would willingly and happily pay big money to attend a seminar. Others, you wouldn’t take a whizz on if they were engulfed in flames. Everybody’s List would be very different, and you would defend your list loudly and vociferously.
Therein lies the cause of the sorry state of our industry. The reason we squabble, fight, and debase every other trainer outside of our preference. I suppose the preponderance of the internet in our lives and practices, which is a perfect launching pad for animas and ignorance, has made things worse. It lets us insult and denigrate people on the other side of the planet, without fear of reprisal…
We’ve added so many superfluous “improvements” and “advances” to our soil, that we are creating watered-down and confused Trainers, Methods, and in the end result, Dogs. Political correctness has turned the practice of Schutzhund into the more polite sport called “IPO”. Political correctness has replaced solid, humane (when used properly), proven tools of training, with half baked theories and gimmicky tools. In some circles, something as basic as a flat, leather collar, would be criminalized by adherents to such modern “advances” as Gentle Leaders, Halti’s, and Extender leashes. Most trainers have had customers come to us complaining that “My dog pulls ahead when we walk,” all the while using a harness on the dog, “because I don’t want to ever punish my dog.” We’ve turned our good soil into a conglomeration of fillers, useless ingredients, and platitudes. I now divide trainers and methods into “Farmers” and “Alchemists”. Farmers are the common-sense, no non-sense, purveyors of results. Demonstrable Results. “Alchemists” are those who are always on the lookout for “scientific methods”, the latest and most advanced in behavioral research, and will change direction at every reveal. The more complicated or difficult to understand, the better they like it. I suspect this is true because it makes them feel “above The Normal” of their peers. Or they are impressed by philosophical or even “mystical” methods that make dogs into something they simply will never be.
One of the members of the forum that was involved in this conversation, told of a simple farmer and his dog. The dog is obedient, protective, social, trustworthy, and wholly dedicated to his master. His master knows nothing of Operant Conditioning, nothing about Classical conditioning, Nothing about clickers, Nothing about e-collars, Nothing about prong-collars. Yet the dog might well be the best trained dog in the world. The farmer knows the secret of “Good Soil”, both literally, and figuratively as in applies to his companion. The dog is regularly exercised, well cared for, and allowed to be a dog. No magic, no fluffy ideas that turn dogs into spoiled brats
What exactly is “The Best Soil” to raise a dog in? The Best Method of Training? The Best Trainer?” I’m not going to give you my opinion on that because it would only launch yet another useless and tiresome assault from every quarter on everything and everybody. What I will opine, without fear of contradiction, is this: We’ve OVER COMPLICATED the dog, dog training, and most everything to do with them. Something that should be FUN, has become an object of ridicule by someone, and a drudgery to many. Trainers hide their methods out of fear that they will suffer ridicule by competitors or ignorants with idealogical designs. They rightly fear losing business.
My own approach to this, is a cleansing of impurities from my personal “soil”. The word “Organic” is my goal. I will only allow components in training that have proven and simple methodology. The dogs will decide what “works” for him, free of the bias and impurity of my “opinion”. When we listen and observe without bias, dogs tell us what they need. I will no longer be looking for the next great “Method” or behavioral study. I will strenuously adhere to simple, direct, common sense instructors and instruction. That type of “soil” has proven itself for a very long time.