In Defense of Education

cartoon of shrugging dog with questionsThe dog training industry may be among the few professions in which people with a lack of understanding and limited or no education are glorified, even given their own TV shows, while those who have chosen to become educated are held up for ridicule. Heaven forbid you know a few big words and have the temerity (temerity: excessive confidence or boldness; audacity) to use them. Chefs probably have a deeper and broader understanding of the science of cooking than many dog trainers have of learning.

Imagine sitting around with a group of pilots and one saying with a sneer, “I don’t know what all this wind sheer and lift is you’re all going on about, I just fly the damn plane,” and the other pilots raising their glasses in a toast and high fiving. Or a physician boasting that they’re not even sure what blood pressure is, they just take out the damn appendix. How about hiring an electrician who admits to not fully comprehending (comprehending: understanding) what amps and voltage refer to and just wires the damn house.

Over a decade ago when I first began my search in earnest to try to find out how to train an extremely fearful dog I was discouraged to find how limited, and too often wrong, the information was. The discovery that dog training is based on a science, with principles and laws that are supported by mathematical formulas, and decades of research, came as a relief. Finally I could quit mucking around and could get down to the business of helping a vulnerable dog learn to navigate the world he was living in.

Dogs who do not do what someone wants them to do are called disobedient, stubborn, or even stupid. They are labeled as “lacking in impulse control.” Instead of trainers looking at what they are doing and realizing that they are not making it clear to the dog what they should do, when they should do it, how long they should do it and why they should do it, trainers blame the animal. They don’t know there is a big picture and that the laws of behavior and principles of learning, when applied properly, can make it more likely the dog will be successful, along with feeling less fear, stress or anxiety. I assume these trainers don’t know there is a big picture, a science to refer to, because what professional would turn their nose up at learning more about what they do or would go out of their way to criticize those who do? Apparently that would be some dog training professionals, who revert to the tactics of the cool kids in high school finding ways to disparage (disparage: regard or represent as being of little worth) the kids who read, knowing that the rest of the herd will look on, nod their head and snicker.

Ignorance is only useful when it compels us to seek more information. Otherwise it’s just stupidity, and there’s nothing admirable about that. Dogs deserve better. All animals deserve better from us. The next time someone boasts of their ignorance and their proud refusal to do anything to change it, don’t turn them into heroes, and you don’t have to give them your damn money.

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6 comments so far

  1. Abby on

    Hear, hear. I think this every time I hear someone say that I need to send my fearful dog to a shock-collar trainer because those people really get “results.” They get results all right, and you have an even further damaged (but compliant) dog in the end. It’s always interesting to me that these shock-collar “trainers” are often people who just have high school diplomas and no formal understanding of behavioral psychology. Sigh.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Sad but true. The science of Applied Behavior Analysis provides us with a huge body of information that helps us understand how behavior works and how we can be more efficient and humane trainers.

  2. behaviourunleashed on

    Reblogged this on BehaviourUnleashed.

  3. Vince on

    Good on ya Deb. I just finished reading White Fang; yet again. Talk about difficult and instructional. Fiction? Yes of course but….
    Hank and Ellie are good. Ellie is damn near regular dog except for stubborn streak with a little princess thrown in!!!!!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Good to hear from you! Sounds like you might be living with a border collie 😉


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