Dog Trainers, Thanksgiving and Tomatoes

TOMATOI grew up in the northeast of the United States, in an urban area with neither parents nor neighbors who gardened. The majority of the fruits and vegetables I ate were store bought, with the summer time exception of sweet corn, a staple delight of childhood, food you were suppose to eat with your hands and that usually tasted a lot like butter and salt.

I’m not that much of a history buff, but I am aware that a significant portion of the people who first came from Europe to live in my neck of the woods didn’t survive very long. Contributing to their demise was the lack of food. Thanksgiving itself could be considered to be fundamentally about calories. No doubt in mid-March, Miles Standish and his friends would have greeted a crate of oddly squarish, weird orange, and somewhat mealy tomatoes, with relief. I remember my first taste of a tomato straight from the garden. Prior to that I was not a fan of tomatoes, however once I discovered how tomatoes could taste I became one, a fan of tomatoes right out of the garden.

Dog trainers are like tomatoes in that I think many people have never seen a really good one. I’m guessing this is the reason people read my blog posts, like this one published on Victoria Stillwell’s Postively Dogs site, and come to the defense of trainers who are whisperers, pack leaders or dominance seekers. They don’t know that in the world of professional animal training the trend is toward understanding the fundamentals of animal behavior and how we can modify it using techniques that take advantage of the power of positive reinforcement. This being true of all dogs, but especially those with extreme behavior challenges that frequently are provided as examples for the excuse of not knowing how to train using primarily positive reinforcement.

Some of us don’t have much of a choice when it comes to what kinds of fruits and vegetables we have access to, but dog trainers have a choice regarding how they train dogs, and pet owners should understand that they have a choice in who they pay to work with their dog. The use of force, fear, pain and intimidation in training comes with risks much greater than eating tomatoes grown thousands of miles away & months ago. If you’re put off of eating tomatoes your life will not likely suffer, but if a dog is put off of training, they may end up dead. Good trainers are fabulous to work with. Dogs enthusiastically anticipate sessions with them, and owners can trust that their dog is being trained in the most effective and humane ways possible. Training without fear, pain and intimidation saves lives.


12 comments so far

  1. rangerskat on

    About this time every year I’m reminded of the song “Only two things make life worth living. And that’s true love and home grown tomatoes.” Seems to me if we train our dogs with true love we’re going to be doing our best to train them without terrifying them, hurting them, or setting them back. Training my profoundly damaged dog with true love means helping her develop coping skills so that she no longer has to reach for reactivity when she is confronted by a situation that makes her feel unsafe. She’ll probably always be a work in progress but she’s learning that I will keep her safe and that she can look to me when she’s feeling scared. Unlike the typical dog that gets more reactive on leash she’s actually more relaxed if she’s on leash and knows I’m there to keep her safe.

    • fearfuldogs on

      You’ve been very kind to this pup. She’s lucky to have you looking out for her.

  2. James on

    Nice analogy, and very nicely done. Yes, I think once you’ve tasted a good tomato — or seen a really good trainer — you won’t go back, at least not willingly…

  3. Laurence Cohen on

    Hi, free advice for moi? (I’m guiltily thinking about your auto repair analogy…) anyway, I think awhile back I poisoned the commands sit and down. With “sit” they’re pretty reliable now with the SD I chose. Can I ever reintroduce “sit?”
    CAlso, the trainer I was working with said when im working with two dogs only click when the first dog exhibits the requisite performed command, but verbally praise and treat when the 2nd dog exhibits the target behavior. But if there’s a pause of say 10 seconds between the time the first dog sits and I click & treat and when the second dog sits can I click and treat for the second dog’s behavior?

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s easy enough to change cues. New cue, old cue, behavior, reinforce. Dogs will eventually figure out the new cue predicts the old cue and if they want the reinforcer, will behave for it.

      Instead of worrying about when to click and for who, with a behavior like sit, just feed when they are sitting aka feed for position.

      • Laurence Cohen on


  4. Kay Liestman on

    There is no substitute for good training! Thank you, Debbie, for pointing out that fact so well and often. Mattie was able to stay calm in our car a few weeks ago while a male bison walked within inches of us because we were practicing relaxation protocols with treats. She held a down position and focused on treats and me, instead of a wild animal that could have really done some damage. It’s force-free trainers and people like you that took me on this path with our fearful/reactive dog. She’s doing very well MOST of the time now. Thank you!!

    • fearfuldogs on

      That is so nice to hear, thank you! You are doing the heavy lifting, and seeing the results. Nice job!

  5. Kathy on

    Thank you for reminding people that bad dog behavior is usually about the human, not the dog, and that the it holds true with trainers too! I have a dog with fear aggression, and haven’t yet found a trainer who really understands that psyche.

    • fearfuldogs on

      A good trainer understands how animals learn and knows how to create training plans to do it. I hope you can find one.

  6. Mike Preston on

    Thanks for this very informative post. Getting your dog trained properly is very important. A good trainer can change your dog’s life drastically.


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