Photo credit @ Tamandra Michaels

“I hate it when people pet their dog to calm them while they are biting. It’s stupid,” she proudly proclaimed on an internet message board. It was at the start of a very long post on the mechanics of bite work for sport dogs, and instantly, my neck tensed.

I pet my dog during bite work.

The post was forwarded to me by a friend. And it was written by an “expert” in the field, with decades of experience. Someone who many people I knew looked up to and respected. Someone who many suggested I work with.

I continued reading, my shoulders joining my neck in the race for which could hold the most tension in the shortest amount of time. It was official: I disagreed with everything she said. With jaw clenched I closed the computer, thinking to myself what a “hack” this so-called trainer clearly was.

German Shepherd Protection Training
Photo Credit @ Tamandra Michaels

I went about my morning chores, periodically revisiting the post in my head, occasionally arguing my points to myself or to the dogs, who by now were used to listening to me rant.

You see, I don’t get into discussions about dog training online (or at least, I try my best not to). There is nothing about arguing online that I find valuable. But that’s not to say I don’t at times get triggered by things I read.

As I cycled down, and let the tension I had been holding onto go, I became a bit more rational. It was only then, when I regained control of my emotions, that I could shift gears.

I paused for a moment. Then, I asked myself one very important question. A question I strive to ask myself regularly, especially when something sets me off.

“What can I learn from this?”

It was simple. Yet, it set me on a mission. I’m competitive by nature, and I challenged myself to find something good. To learn something … anything from the post that had set me off.

I popped open the laptop and my computer sprang to life. I revisited the post with that simple question in the front of my mind, acting as a filter through which I read the words once more.

They took on an entirely new meaning. From a new and non-emotional perspective, I realized this trainer and I actually agreed fundamentally on how bite work was taught. Yet I had missed most of her points my first go-round.

Initially, I read her words through the filter of my emotions and immediately jumped to the conclusion that: (1) she had no clue what she was talking about, and (2) she and I could never agree on anything. But the words were there, clear as day. She was arguing in favor of a technique that I LOVED. In fact, I agreed with every word she said (except the part about petting and calming dogs on the bite). Her take (for the most part), was refreshing.

Here’s the thing. Her word choice was poor. In fact, she called me stupid. Well, not directly. But she said something I did was stupid, and I was instantly triggered. Because I was triggered, I read her words through the filter of my emotions and didn’t hear what she was actually saying. I literally read the sentences and interpreted based on my emotional response. Not the words on the screen. And I didn’t gain anything from the post … except for a bit of unwanted stress.

I share my story with you because dog trainers and dog lovers are a passionate lot. But with that passion comes quite a bit of emotion. Reading into an article, a video, or a conversation through an emotional filter is common practice.

Photo Credit @ Tamandra Michaels

There is no more obvious proof of this than in my own blog. I write one line that someone disagrees with, and while I don’t call people stupid…ever… people interpret my words as a personal attack.

They assume things like, “She hates crates!” or, “She hates science!” or, “She hates veterinarians!” And they never see the actual point I’m trying to make.

Instead, they get triggered and they read my words through their emotional filter. Through a filter of their experiences. And they miss the mark entirely.

So, the next time you feel your shoulders or jaw tense when you read or watch something online, or you write off a trainer thinking “I know this already…”, or you completely disagree with a training technique or strategy, stop yourself. Take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” Then, challenge yourself. Find something you can learn. Find something helpful before dismissing the interaction entirely. (Or better yet, go out and train your dog. Because in my opinion, that’s a much better use of your time).

And while you can’t please everyone,  nor can you stop people from becoming triggered by your words or actions, it’s important to note how much your word choice can affect others. If you are trying to make a point and are aggressive in your language, I guarantee people won’t hear what you are saying, and your point will be lost.

Regardless of how passionate you are, be kind to one another and approach from a place of education and understanding. In the end, it’ll serve you much better than calling people or techniques “stupid.”

Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    2 replies to "Fighting Filters: Get the Most Out of Training Discussions With One Simple Question"

    • Kayce Cover

      Enjoyed your post. I find it is really difficult to avoid triggering readers. It is like walking through a field of land mines, because it is impossible to know what each reader’s triggers are. Hopefully, people will see that generally, we don’t attack others, and cut some slack, as you did here. It would be nice if we could all listen to one another, and maybe, keep learning from one another.

    • Kim

      I love your articles!! It’s so refreshing to have a trainer/teacher be very articulate and clear yet still be very real!! Thank you so always

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