Let me be the first to tell you that science in dog training makes me sick. Every time I’m at a conference or seminar and the topic of science is brought up my attention drops like a toddler being sat at the dinner table with no intention of eating. I tune out and start thinking of the world, the things that are on my mind or the dogs that I’m training because I feel we undervalue connection in the dog training industry.
I’m known for making fun of the four quadrants. One such discussion lead me to frustrate a fellow trainer explaining to them that I’d rather have a dog with the skill set to remain around me rather than a “conditioned response to a recall”. Though I could empathize with his point, it’s just not the way I choose to see dogs. Maybe it has some validity, sure. I don’t deny that. I also acknowledge that for a long time I looked at dogs through the filter of the four quadrants and it was exhaustively confusing.
I feel the need to clarify that though I said “science in dog training makes me sick”, t’s not science that I have a problem with. It’s the constant reference to science within training techniques. I acknowledge that science plays a very large part in our world. Science has given us many things, but relationships is not one of them. These beings that we share our world with do not view us through the lens of science. They view us as their friends and pack members—regardless of what your definition of “pack” is.
There is an art to dog training that is being overlooked within our generation and it saddens me. That same art is the one that allows us to debate responsibly and politely, have conversations without the intent to convert someone to our views and lets us coexist with people from differing stages of life and beliefs.
I truly believe we need to start seeing our dogs as the friends we choose to invite into our world rather than the science projects they’ve become. Of course, there’s the other end of the spectrum where instead of science projects we use our dogs to compensate for our lack of certainty and relevance in the world and they are required to bend to our will. I don’t believe in this either, and of the hundreds of dog owners I’ve coached I can tell you that most of them don’t either. If they do, that was a belief that was passed down like racism. No 5-year-old looks at their dog and thinks “I need to make sure I’m the pack leader” and no cat ever aspired to be one either.
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My goal through my whole career has been to find a way to better connect myself with the dog I’m working rather than attempting to condition a response or make the dog submit. I see a large difference between convincing a dog to do what I think is best and making him do it or conditioning him.
Some might argue that I’m anthropomorphizing (signing human characteristics to something that isn’t human) the dog, to which I say, fine. But of the people I’ve coached that have lived with and trained dogs in the past to view them differently, almost all have seen the value in connecting with the dog rather than making or conditioning. This might be only a subtle shift in intent, but I believe it to be profound in its application when it comes to dogs.