On my journey to become a dog trainer someone said to me “it’s not just about being ethical with dogs it applies to everything”. This was a pivotal moment in my life – everything changed. I’d like to think I became a better human being, a kinder and more understanding one.
Dog training and canine care is an emotive subject particularly online. Everyone has an opinion. Whether it’s about the methods we use to train, the kind of food we feed our dogs or the length of time dogs are left alone for, you will see people seeming outraged telling this person and that they are thoughtless, have no right to own an animal in their circumstances or should be reported for animal cruelty.
While I don’t disagree with the bones of what is often being said with regards to animal welfare, we need to think about how to change this behaviour effectively. When you publicly “shout” at someone and tell them they are doing something bad, what are we doing? You are punishing them, using shame. If you know anything about behaviour you know that punishment is not the most effective way to train. It only ever teaches the subject what we don’t like and generally breaks down trust. It does not teach the subject what we would like and it does not create trust and open dialogues.
I know it’s hard to contain your outrage, and yes usually something needs to be said, but a public flogging makes you no better than them. It’s easy to sit behind a screen and cast judgement. What’s harder but usually more effective, is starting a dialogue with open questions rather than accusations and condemnation.
When I work with a client part of my job is to make them feel safe and comfortable which in turn makes learning easier for them. If I yelled at an owner for jerking their dog’s leash, our relationship would breakdown and they would shut down and stop listening to anything I said – remember that fear inhibits learning. Instead, I would have a calm and open conversation with them about why they did that, what did they think it would achieve and why that might or might not work. Then we would talk about kinder alternative methods and how they work. I might also talk about my own mistakes and things I’ve done wrong in the past. By doing this my client is more likely to be honest and open with me and reveal other things that might be of concern, rather than hiding them from me, which again we can talk about.
So instead of “raging” at someone for not doing things the way you would have, extend the same patience, kindness and understanding that you would to an animal. Try having kind and open conversations, privately if that might makes a person feel safer and, in the meantime, why not consider spending the time you might otherwise have spent arguing, creating and/or sharing useful content that will help educate people to do better.