There’s been loads of talk recently on almost every forum and blog I visit about dominance theory, behaviourists, clicker training. I think most of it has kicked off from the Cesar Milan tour in the UK, which has brought him into the sights of people who don’t normally talk about him. I don’t much want to talk about Cesar Milan either. He doesn’t do anything for me, but I don’t watch his shows and I try to avoid the online clips. But reading all these threads and posts has got me thinking, and in some cases left me a little uncomfortable. Maybe I’m just reading it wrong, maybe I don’t understand. (That’s perfectly plausible!)
I’ve read some really passionate arguments demolishing dominance theory recently. I don’t buy dominance theory, so that’s great! A lot of it focusses on clicker training, and again, great! However — and maybe this is just the way they’re choosing to present examples – most of the clicker training, (or even just the non-dominance training), outlined by people seems to suggest that it should be approached as a clinical exercise, between trainer and dog, even when free-shaping.
That’s what makes me kind of uncomfortable. The detached way people assess their dogs, look at training as a kind of curious, scientific interaction between human and dog. Or that you should approach it as a meeting between strangers. And the one that really bothers me; if isn’t done right, you will ruin your dog forever. If you make a mistake, or punish your dog with a verbal correction, it will ultimately be the cause of your dog’s spiral into depression and perhaps death. (Ok, perhaps I exaggerate. But that’s what I was beginning to feel like!)
Allow me to establish that I don’t think my dogs are people; I know that they’re dogs, a completely different species who don’t work like we do. I can see that they do manipulate us for their own selfish needs and wants, and I don’t think my dogs feel the same way I do about … anything!
But. The but! I don’t want to own dogs as a training exercise. I stopped reading all those long threads and passionate arguments. I made a conscious decision that I don’t want to know. I like making mistakes, I like figuring it out. I don’t think my dogs suffer for it. I do think that sometimes my dogs are naughty, and it’s not because I’m a bad trainer, it’s just because they’re feeling playful and silly and don’t want to concentrate. I think sometimes they are over-exuberant or over-cautious because they’re feeling that way out, or perhaps because it’s in their personalities to approach things in such a way. Sometimes, when I’m clicker training, I’ll make a negative verbal “ah!” sound, which doesn’t appear to have turned any of my dogs into neurotic, stressed or anxious dogs (I swear Dyl was like that when we got him!)
So if I don’t comment on your blog post, or reply to your thread on whichever forum, please don’t worry. I know I usually write long, argumentative, opinion-based rants, but I am actually healthy and happy, because I’m giving this one a miss.