“A good dog trainer uses all the tools in their toolbox.” I see that phrase used a lot. I also see people saying “You have to train the dog you have right now.” Both of these phrases are intended to give the impression that the trainer is well versed in a variety of effective training techniques and that they have the experience and wisdom to choose the best approach to teach a given dog. But I’m going to dispute that. I think phrases like these actually mean something else – “By any means necessary.”
You see, the trainers I see using phrases like these are also the ones willing to use compulsion to make the dog do the thing they want them to do. They think it’s faster and gets the job done. Take note that I didn’t say TEACH the dog what they want them to do. Because that isn’t necessarily what this “by any means necessary” approach is all about. Trainers who are looking for the fastest and easiest way to get a dog to do something aren’t concerned with what the dog actually learns so long as they get the result they want.
“Sit!” That could mean a lot of different things depending on how it was taught. It could mean “Put your butt on the floor and you could earn a nice reward.” It could also mean “If you put your butt on the floor you will avoid your trainer getting angry and yelling at you, standing over you menacingly, pushing on your bum, or worse.” Depending on the tools you use from that toolbox, you can teach your dog any number of meanings for “sit” and, for many trainers, it doesn’t matter what the dog actually learns as long as they put their butt on the floor when they hear the command.
So I’ll go out on a limb here. When all you have is a hammer, all the world is a nail. “A good trainer uses all the tools in their toolbox”? Hardly. A good trainer shops around and finds the best tools for the job and learns to use them well. Using the best tools in the most skillful manner produces the best results. Training “by any means necessary” to get the results you want is sloppy, selfish, and just plain lazy.
Teach your dog. Don’t just get the result you want. Trust me when I tell you that the difference matters.