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  • Writer's pictureJagger Brocious

The Modern Dog Trainer

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Well, one day later and I really wanted to continue putting my thoughts into words so here we are. Currently, I represent a school for dog trainers in Texas. The name is all over my website and most my experience as a trainer have been through a biased lens due to the "bubble" that comes with the territory. But let's talk a bit about the complicated world that is dog training.

As mentioned above my background mostly revolves around the teachings, I received from the dog trainer school I attended in 2018. Not to mention most of my professional experience has been through the same company as I trained for them for nearly five years! My mentors, more or less were the same. Taught by those before them in a similar fashion all stemming from the same core philosophy.

Over the years dog training has evolved and "modernized" in so many ways. But just like anything in this day and age polarizing opinions have really diluted the evolution of dog training. Heck, if you look back to the 60's William R. Koehler was telling people to drowned their dogs in a puddle of water to teach them not to dig. Meanwhile, "modern" trainers will go to the extreme of telling owners that they cannot tell their dogs “No"! Both these examples are extreme views but they both shed a light on the nonsense that goes into the world of dog training. "Results speak for themselves" is a view expressed by people within the training community or "the science supports X, Y, and Z" yet when you stop to look at either side of these debates the extremists are the same.

What are the two "sides"? Well, one would argue positive only training and balanced training are the two sides constantly at odds with one another. But I'd break it down into more of a spectrum. Balanced training is such a vague concept and positive techniques aren't all cut from the same cloth. Plus, just like in a political spectrum someone who tends to be more liberal doesn't have to blindly stick to every belief and not every conservative agrees on every subject. The real lines come from the concept of rewards and punishments but even those terms get confusing to the average person.

Let's take a moment to talk about rewards and punishment. A great read for anyone interested in a scientific approach to dog training is "How Dog's Learn" by Mary Burch. But at its basic's the science breaks down the concepts of operant conditioning and learning behaviors. You have reinforcement and you have punishment both positive and negative. Reinforcement by definition would increase behavior and punishment would decrease behavior. Whereas positive is adding something and negative is taking away something. How trainers utilize these concepts are what creates such a divide.

Some positive trainers go by a notion of being "purely positive" in their training. Claiming science supports their concept in training a dog through merely reward based tactics. Claiming anything else is abuse or unfair to the animal. The moment has gained a lot of traction these days as just like with children if given the option who would choose to punish a dog instead of rewarding better behavior!? The irony is by the science no training can truly be "purely positive" as any time food is withheld, every time a leash goes tight, every time a dog breath in and out reinforcement and punishment is happening. Positive and negative at that.

Other positive trains are more open minded acknowledging that they cannot be completely positive but often times still harping on punishment and holding steadfast that the best teacher is reinforcement. Still held up on the concepts of discipline and follow-through being cruel or barbaric.

Next, we have the balanced trainer’s spectrum. Whereas "purely" positive and other positive trainers lean into reinforcement to teach behaviors so do balanced dog trainers... The argument about teaching through reinforcement being best isn't argued by balanced trainers like myself but rather we don't tie another arm behind our back and overlook the use of punishment to decrease unwanted behaviors! I often refer to what I do as burning a candle at both ends! Truthfully and technically it’s at four ends using positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment!

Lastly, we have the idiots of dog training. Compulsive dog trainers. These are the abusive unethical trainers that often get confused for balanced dog trainers. Koehler as mentioned earlier was a proud compulsive trainer. They use punishment to build nothing besides avoidance and they suppress the dog "teaching" to the untrained eye.

In modern training all four mentioned above have their ups and downs. Wanting to train a dog positively isn't a problem and I have nothing against those who do. Not wanting to use a prong collar or "shock collar" is appealing to anyone who loves their pet. However, the polarized opinions and false narrative that vilifies techniques doesn't help the dogs. The emotional response and humanizing of animals don’t save their lives. The horrible choice I see made time and time again is "death before discomfort" aka euthanasia before rehabilitation. I have a toolbelt at my disposal and I have used it to save dogs deemed "unsafe" and I have helped those who I call clients safely make the choice to end a dog’s life for the betterment of those around them. I won't foolishly claim my methods are the best nor will I be so polarized to say every positive based trainer is so biased.

At the end of the day the modern dog trainer is a spectrum. In a sea of polarized options pet owners and trainers alike have to shift through so much before being able to help their dogs. Doing the research, weighting the options, it is a lot to take in. Not even accounting for the amount of money one has to put into things to see results. But, for what it's worth there are great people in this field. Wonderfully talented caring people helping people and dogs every day.

The reason for this post was a rant about the misinformation out there and I could have gone way more into detail and may again in the future. I am not currently training clients or their dogs and instead have taken to the role of an instructor for future dog trainers. Hopefully, helping the next generation be less biased. However, if anyone reading this needs help, please feel free to reach out.

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