Dog Training is a messy business. Anyone who claims that it is cut and dry is missing the beauty if not the stinging reality of the complexity that is Hearts and Dogs. You say I am complacent and permissive with my cookies and praises, and I say you’re downright cruel with those shock-collars and prongs around an innocent neck. But dog training is more than science and quadrants and pinches and pessimistic glances over the fence. Dog training should never even BE about “dog training” – it should be, and always will be, about Love. Because the only reason we’re all in this in the first place is because we love dogs.
If love is what drives us to work with dogs, fear is what makes us abuse the system of behavior analysis. We all want to “think we know,” and that comes from our hearts. To believe that a shock collar or a clicker has equal power to bring a dog into greater harmony with our human world stems from a noble desire for a deeper connection with animals. But both beliefs stem from a desire for control.
Clicker training drives the control freak crazy. It goes against every traditional teaching, every belief system, and every childhood memory of kids and dogs and long walks in fields and corporal punishment and ice-cream, all wrapped up in a nostalgic package. With a bow. Complex, isn’t it. Emotions and dogs. And ice cream. We don’t jerk our dogs because we’re trying to punish them; we use the aversive approach because “it works!”, because the punishment fits the crime, because it prevents chaos, accidents, unwanted behavior, and teaches the dog to be a responsible canine citizen. Safe. Loved.
A responsible canine citizen who does what he or she is told.
Because WE fear chaos, accidents, unwanted behavior, and a life without control. Because the dog we love – just might reflect back to us all the things we fear we have no control over ourselves. Work-life chaos, bad bosses, screwing off instead of being responsible, sickness that strikes us, death, shitty relationships, depression, anxiety, people nagging, frustration – endless frustration, fear of wasting your life away.
But control. We always have control of the dog.
It’s a messy thing, Love. Clicker training, or “positive reinforcement training,” requires love. Not the dog kind, but the human kind. The complex kind. The messy kind. The kind that requires you to stand in front of a mirror and say, “I’m okay with me, and I’m not afraid.” And be able to see that you are okay with your dog too. And clicker training can teach you how to do that. To find the joy in training. To have your dog screw up one, two, three, a dozen times before that lightbulb moment of joy, reflected back in your giddy smile. And there’s your ice cream. Your new nostalgia. All wrapped up with a bow, without a single pessimistic pinch or glance or sting.
Dog training isn’t messy to dogs. There is nothing complex about a dog’s love. Emotions matter because they’re the only pure form of communication we have between species. And you owe it to your dog to let him/her teach you that.