This past weekend I was working with a family who has a two-month old puppy. Her name is Charlee and she’s the second dog shown in the above video. The owners were telling me how she keeps chewing on everything (a very common puppy problem!) so we decided to teach her a leave-it command. After I made that suggestion, the 7 year old boy looks at me with pleading eyes and says, “You’re not going to hurt her, are you?”
That question hit my like a cement truck. I reassured him that I certainly would not be hurting Charlee and that is an excellent question he should always be asking a dog trainer!
It’s been a few days since the little boy asked me this question, but it’s been stuck in my head like a broken record since that morning. What strikes me the most is that it was so obvious to this child that hurting an animal is wrong. So obvious, in fact, that he was willing to stand up to and challenge an authority figure over the matter. I’ve just finished reading “The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini which cites numerous examples of people simply following a leader and not asking questions. Or, doing something ridiculous because everyone else is doing it.
We need to channel this boy more in our daily life! Not just with dog trainers, but with everyone! Is the decision being made the best and most humane method? Is the decision good for all parties involved? Are the risks of the decision worth the outcome? Is everyone doing this because it’s the right thing to do, or is everyone doing this because everyone is doing this?
As this relates to dog training, I encourage my clients to ask me why I’ve chosen a particular method. I love it when they ask me why or how it works. These questions are what will make the industry better!
Positive reinforcement trainers such as myself do not use fear, force, or pain to get dogs to comply with commands. A common phrase of mine is “let’s make this a really good deal for the dog.” That means, if the dog does what we want, something really cool happens to them. (Eg A treat, a ball is throws, tummy scratches, etc.) This ensures the dog is doing what we ask because they want to and not because they’re scared not to. (What kind of a relationship would that be, anyway?!)
Some punishment trainers (they may also call themselves “traditional trainers.” More on that inaccurate phrasing another time…) may try to convince you that their methods don’t hurt the dog and just provide a light “shock” or “some discomfort.” If a 7 year old child can spot the red flags in those methods, then so can you.
I can only speculate as to where this child may have learned that some dog training is hurtful to the dog. My best guess would be somewhere in the media. (I know it didn’t come from the parents! They are lovely and 100% on-board with the positive reinforcement.) I can only be thankful that his parents taught him to think critically about the world around him.
In short…You’re not going to hurt her, are you? No, sir. And I never will.