2020: The Year of the Dumpster Fire

This title almost seems as oxymoronic as “Coming Together In Politics,” but hear me out… or don’t. It’s a free country. One thing that has created greater divisiveness in our country in this past year is the use of labels. She’s a MAGA; he’s a snowlake; my uncle’s a sheep; my boss is a total Trumper; our nanny is anti-vax; etc… you get the picture. However, one lesson that stuck with me in a big way is you can’t compartmentalize someone because of a belief. For instance, I was scrolling through a conservative friend’s post on Facebook a few months back where the OP stated that the virus would disappear after November 4th, 2020 (I wish). One woman who commented on the thread posted an article about how masks, social distancing, staying home, and washing hands were all directly against the Bible. The post contained a bunch of biblical references highlighting each aspect of the argument. It honestly was one of the most extreme pieces I’ve read in all of 2020. I clicked on this lady’s profile… unsure why… maybe to see where she lived? I kid you not; she had a “Black Lives Matter” frame on her profile picture. I actually picked the phone up to call a friend because it seemed so ironic. This was in no means brought up to imply that religious Americans would automatically be considered racist in their thinking nor does it mean someone who isn’t supportive of the BLM movement is racist. I mentioned it because normally someone who is anti wearing a mask and also believes the virus is a hoax more aligned with the “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” sector.

One size doesn’t fit all. And the same is true in the dog world. For the sake of clarity, rather than just looking at dog owners, let’s look at dog trainers. This is mainly because it’s a smaller sample size and labels like Aussie person, agility fanatic, hard core rescuer, hunter, etc. will only get us so far for my intentions of this blogpost. A dog trainer is no longer just a dog trainer in the same way that a plumber not only was but still is a plumber. Now you’re either purely positive or balanced or LIMA or NePoPo or TWC or One Mind Dog certified or KP certified and so on. And for the purposes of this article, let’s consider a dog trainer someone who can work with dogs as a full-time job (doesn’t rely on another source of income) and grosses at least 50K per year. So why are the labels above an important qualification? And honestly, if you say, “Because ‘x’ is the only method works,” you are incorrect. Positive training and balanced training are both effective methods to train a dog when done correctly. And results speak for themselves. You shouldn’t have to put another trainer or training method down to promote your own training style or company.

Now let’s talk science. This global pandemic has ironically made the same subject we all studied in school some sort of buzz word. Recently, I have asked a few balanced trainers I respect why there aren’t more scientific studies on balanced training. While I’ve gotten mixed reviews on people’s reasoning, it seems abundantly clear from my discussions that ecollar, bark collar, pinch collar, and invisible fence companies are doing just fine without any studies supporting their methods. Furthermore, even if a flood of studies came out condoning and/or supporting using aversive tools in dog training, most trainers don’t use them because of ethics. IMHO, most people who believe the term LIMA to be too extreme of a view would not then turn around and begin using an aversive tool regardless of what science said.

My issue is the judgement, the nastiness, the hate, and yes, again… the divisiveness. I am unique in my position in the dog world. I am no doubt a member of the “younger generation,” but I’ve been actively involved in the dog world for almost 3 decades. A lot has changed since then, which has been interesting (as well as terrifying at times). What has been even more fascinating for me is the dog world meeting politics, especially this past year. Yesterday in a progressive agility group someone asked about breed preferences and how different breeds’ owners relate to political stances. In a dog group designed for racial inclusivity, Clicker Expo was mentioned a few months back. A BIPOC dog owner commented that she not only felt underrepresented at the event but also inadvertently attacked for her balanced training methods. So… when we begin to go out of our way to include people of other races in dog sports should we also clarify the tools they choose in training? Where do you draw the line ethically? I want this puppy’s genetics, but the breeder is a huge Trump supporter. Does that hinder your decision? This family paid me $3,000 for a Bootcamp at my facility but had a Times Square size “BYEDON” sign in their yard when I went to pick up the dog. Do you refund them and not take the dog for training because you think the Biden/Harris ticket is the worst thing that ever happened to America? Politics aside, if an AKC World Team member uses a bark collar on his or her personal dogs, should they no longer be allowed on the team? Would you no longer take an online class from him or her?

If the above hypotheticals seem ridiculous to you, you haven’t been paying attention. There are MANY people who are currently unable to contact an owner of one of their dog’s littermates that passed away because they are no longer Facebook friends with them because of political viewpoints. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have everyone’s email address, phone number, or physical address any longer. I suppose you could reach out through Messenger to send your condolences; however, that seems potentially awkward to me if your message pops up in a spam folder, which leads you into explaining how you chose not to just merely unfollow but actually unfriend that person.

I personally don’t want the dog world to turn into Facebook versus MeWe or Parler. Some of those dog people I knew from 25 years ago live in red states and their blood runs deep red. Who cares? They are still Americans. They are still dog lovers. Just remember… dogs, too, are political. Dogs themselves aren’t political of course, which could officially be labeled Reason #897 to love them, but issues involving them often are. And when something is political, 99.5% of the time, money is involved. These big name schools are making 7-8 figure incomes off students and certifications. A large majority of the animal rights legislation being presented in regards to breeding and training equipment come from very liberally-minded groups. Just remember, it’s a well known fact, that politics and money can make things messy.

We have SERIOUS issues going on in the dog world. Overpopulated rescues, more dogs on medication than ever before, unethical breeding, obesity, genetic diseases within breeds, Doodles with literally five breeds mixed into them… I could go on for days. Why does the small sector of dog trainers who train differently than you do automatically shoot to the top of your grievance list? It seems all anyone does on the internet is fight. Everyone has a hard and fast rule about why they are right and then the angry and laughing emojis start flying, and normally someone’s feelings get hurt and the unfriending commences. Lol… rereading that last sentence makes us sound worse than middle school students. I literally was watching a news conference a few weeks back about an assault that happened in my home town. I honestly couldn’t even tell you the details of what was being reported by the police because everyone was bickering below in the live feed about gun control and Trump’s America and COVID and a myriad of other topics. In that moment I realized, I have not read one comment about the actual victim! Like, WTAF, humanity?

Dog trainers and their own beliefs about methodologies and politics are not cut and dry. I know MANY balanced trainers who are hardcore Democrats. I know CPDTs who are staunch Trump supporters. Stop acting woke. Stop acting superior. No matter what you believe, we are all people who love dogs. As dog trainers- at least 85-90% of them in my opinion- we are people who love dogs who want to help other dogs and their humans. Doesn’t that in fact put us on the same team? And if you are reading this as a dog owner, please stop judging trainers when you are not putting yourself in their shoes just because you heard or read something. And as a dog trainers, if you don’t currently train at least 50 dogs a year to reliably walk on a loose leash, stay on a bed for at least 30-45 minutes with distraction, and rest quietly in a crate any time day or night, please reserve judgement as well. And that goes for people on both sides of the fence about methodology.

If someone else chooses a training tool you don’t agree with, how does that affect you or your dog? This goes back to an ethical argument. It’s your choice how you want to train your own dog. Just like many people believe abortion and gun ownership should be an individual choices. The bottom line without getting too philosophical is you shouldn’t need to put other people down to build yourself up. The proof is in the pudding. Life is hard enough. Just be kind no matter where you fall as the pendulum swings. I would like to see healthy dogs in forever homes with content owners who can expect some realistic expectations out of an adult dog (i.e., walking down the street in an orderly fashion, being able to live loose in the house if and when the family wants, hiking off leash in the woods, and a dog that can be handled at the vet to name a few). And, FYI, in case you’re still unclear, those accomplishments aren’t dependent on any specific list of training tools.

2021 is almost here. Be the guy with the firehose instead of the girl with the match. =)