Positive Connections with Positive Trainers: Building Bridges with Colleagues

Yesterday I spent some time looking at the Facebook pages of other dog trainers. I saw videos that were new to me, became re-acquainted with some "oldies but goodies" and had a chance to hear different points of views on random topics. Not a bad way to spend some time!

Then I came across the Facebook wall of a trainer who shares a fundamental belief of mine; that dog training should be kind. And while we clearly take different paths from there, I'd say that's not very important. In the bigger scheme of things, we both believe in the importance of kindness to animals.

One of the first things I found on this trainer's page was a video of another trainer. There were several paragraphs of text explaining why this other trainer and her video were wrong. So of course I watched the video. Who was this person??

Criticizing Another Positive Trainer

Right away I recognized her. Not only is she an enormous advocate for humane dog training, but she is also an incredibly generous soul who gives away so much free training advice on youtube that the rest of us look absolutely greedy by comparison. I'm not exaggerating when I say that she has probably changed the lives of thousands of dogs and hundreds of trainers. For free.

So, what did she do???!!!!

She posted a video that could not harm any person or any dog. She gave advice which may or may not work; it just depends on what you believe and what your personal experiences are. Indeed, if you followed the advice, you would have learned some really good stuff about interacting with dogs, regardless of why it worked.

Do you burn bridges... or build them?

When a dog does something we don't like, positively minded trainers ignore it if it's not important in the greater scheme of things. Over time we work to instill alternatives – we focus on the big picture and get there a tiny piece at a time. Rarely do we punish because we know that it's not necessary.

What's the big picture here — a single video that will cause no harm to anyone, or the person's entire body of work? Should we build bridges with each other, or look for tiny threads of disagreement and create fissures in our community?

I have often said that the lack of camaraderie among positive trainers is surprising to me. What is our big picture? Be kind to dogs AND people. Work together to change the broad human perspective of dogs as objects for our convenience – they deserve so much more from us! We know how to build bridges with dogs, and the science tells us it works with people too.

It doesn't matter if someone posts a video that doesn't exactly align with your personal beliefs. If it causes no harm and will clearly lead to a better outcome, then it's a net gain for our community.

Figure out what you want to communicate and go there! Make videos or write blogs giving YOUR point of view and ignore other people's work that you find less impressive or relevant; there's no reason to mention it at all!

Criticism and finding fault with others who share our basic belief structure is not who we are, and that type of behavior will dramatically slow down the evolution of dog training. I've heard it said that force free dog trainers are the worst in this regard, but I disagree. I think it's more about human nature; the desire to make oneself look better by tearing others down, and I have found it just as prevalent in the balanced or traditional dog training community. The difference in my mind is that science minded trainers should know better. We know what works with training animals, and humans are…animals.

A Step You Can Take Today to Build More Bridges

I hope the creator of that video does not see that critical piece. Those of us who choose to be very public with our training have all been the subject of criticism and it's hurtful. It makes us want to pull back – not to give more. It causes us to protect ourselves by avoiding others who might be unkind. It hardens us and creates division at exactly a time when we need to be building bridges.

The next time you are about to say or post something that is unkind to another person, simply ask yourself this question: Are you finding fault beacuse you truly believe that they might be causing harm or are you creating enemies and hurt where none need to exist?

Instead, how about this: Today, take a moment to write a note to someone who has made you a better person or a better trainer. Tell them you appreciate them. Build a bridge – and see what that does for both of you.

I have met so many amazing dog trainers over the years. Some I agree with almost 100% but most – not so much. The question becomes – on balance – is the dog training world better or worse off with this person's contributions? And if I think the dog training world is better off with that person, might I be able to influence this person with kindness and gentle, thought provoking information, or am I better off simply moving on in silence?

E157: Emily Strong - "Canine Enrichment for the Re...
E156: Ken Ramirez - "The Eye of the Trainer"