I want to tell you a story…
It’s about my first dog Koby.
You know, the one I had back in the “Rainbows and Butterflies” time in my life…
Where I thought love was all I needed to save the world (if you follow my blog, you likely know this dog well.)
You see, when Koby was a pup, we did what every responsible dog owner does…
We enrolled him in puppy classes.
I scoured the Internet, consulted with our vet, and finally settled on an all positive school. I wanted to help him, not hurt him, and I couldn’t imagine ever getting tough with this ultra adorable roly-poly little bundle of energy.
I’ll spare you the details and just tell you that my first experience was a disaster.
Koby was out of my trainer’s league…
Well, not just out of her league…on a completely different planet.
As all of the labs and golden retrievers sat patiently gazing up at their owners, my little bully-ish puppy pulled until he nearly strangled himself.
As she taught the class, he literally alligator rolled at the end of the leash.
He pulled me to the ground more times than I can count.
His behavior was frustrating and class was stressful. And he wasn’t getting better…he was getting worse.
We were referred to a behavior specialist who again, used only positive methods. Koby’s behavior continued to decline.
He had severe separation anxiety…
Growing aggression with other dogs…
And little did we know, he’d soon develop aggression with people.
Now, I’m not blaming the trainers that I hired…
Or the methodologies they prescribed. Their only fault was letting their egos get in the way of throwing in the towel and honestly telling me that our problems were beyond their expertise.
It was at that point…
When I was at my lowest…
When I cried every day because I didn’t want to step foot outside with my unruly dog (who btw I loved WAY too much for my own good), that I found a new trainer.
We had an extensive consultation and she talked to me about the use of training collars.
I didn’t want to use them but I felt helpless…like a failure. And my dog’s quality of life was on a rapid decline.
I was vulnerable and emotional, wildly stressed out and the only thing I knew was that I had tried positive reinforcement training and it hadn’t worked. At that point, I had lost faith in the methods. I didn’t realize it was the trainers that had failed me and not the ideology as a whole.
I started training the following week.
I’ll be honest…I wasn’t fully committed. In fact, I felt tremendous guilt when we pulled out the shiny new dog training collar, that made him look more like Mr. T than the squishy puppy that had my heart.
But if this collar meant I could walk my dog…that he could go to the beach, and do the things that happy dogs did, I was willing to try.
I remember our first walk in the neighborhood.
I was crucified.
I got dirty looks and one person even shouted at me about the abuse I was inflicting on my dog. (My skin is ultra thick these days, but back then, those words hurt).
Thing was, I was already devastated enough. I was doing what I hoped desperately would help him. And it wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I didn’t need any more guilt than I already had.
What I needed was support. Guidance. Resources and education.
But what I got was hate and bullying.
The shiny Mr. T collar didn’t work either. Just one more failed attempt at helping my dog. And one more experience to further prove to myself what a failure I was as a dog owner.
I tried everything I could possibly try, experimenting with every training ideology with a promise to help, each step of the way, hoping to improve my dog’s quality of life.
But here’s the interesting phenomenon.
Once I left positive reinforcement training…the training that had failed me then… people were so hateful to me, that for a time, I spiraled further into compulsory and coercive methods. I sought refuge with people that would support me and who offered…and promised to help.
Here’s the reason I share this story with you.
It’s not to promote a training agenda.
And it’s not to tell you that one method worked better than another (none of the methods I used back then worked and my view of training has changed considerably since then).
I’m sharing this story with you to illustrate that if we are seeking out training for our dogs, we are typically doing it from a place of tremendous love.
We all have different stories and different goals and we are all navigating dog training the best we can.
What we never need is to be made to feel guilty, to be demeaned, belittled or bullied, or to be made to feel less than because of the choices that we make…
Whether we choose to use treats to train our dog, or whether we choose to use training tools.
I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and says “Hey, I can’t wait to correct my dog” nor do I think anyone who uses corrections or punishment in their training takes great glee in doing so.
Instead, we are hoping to improve our dog’s quality of life…
And we are searching for a way to get ourselves there.
It’s for this reason I will never crucify someone for training differently than I do…
It’s for this reason that people from all walks and all methodologies can seek refuge with me…
It’s for this reason that I will always be kind, tolerant and respectful of others…
I’m not always perfect, and like everyone, sometimes I let my emotions get the better of me. Especially when it comes to things I am passionate about.
But I strive to always be there to support dog owners in their journey, wherever it may take them.
And I can honestly say that by being supportive and inclusive, I’m able impact the lives of more dogs, than those who crucify dog owners for their choices…
I’m just sayin’…
There are bullies on both sides of the argument. But the truth is, every method has value if it works for someone.
We don’t always have to agree. But we are all in this for pretty much the same reason, so we can choose to learn from one another, build each other up and support each other’s choices, or we can hide in a corner, only surrounding ourselves with people who agree with us and the choices we are making today.
I choose the path of growth, of evolution, of acceptance, respect, and kindness. Even if we agree to disagree.
Which path do you choose?