This time I’m writing to you from Montreal, Quebec in Eastern Canada. My wife and I are travelling without dogs – or “sans chiens” as they say here in Montreal – for a couple of weeks. It has been great fun reconnecting with family and friends and I’m delighted to share with you that many of them have dogs. It has been great meeting and spending time with these dogs and to see how they live and interact with their families.
While I am a student of dogs and dog behaviour and even train and write about dogs professionally, I have made the effort not to let my professional interest in dogs intrude on the relationships of these dogs with my family and friends. Unlike some others I see in the dog world, I don’t believe that there is a war of ideology to be fought. While I prefer to use “positive” training methods and an approach that uses behavioural science, not everyone does. More importantly, I don’t see it as my job to “spread the good news” about a method of training that I have found so successful. I see no reason to try to change the way my family and friends work with their dogs unless they ask. And even then, I don’t need to save their dogs from a terrible life of abuse because they don’t train the way I do. These dogs are quite happy, thank you!
In spending time with these dogs, there were lots of little ways I could have inserted myself and showed the owners some techniques to address small behaviour issues or to improve the health of the dogs. But I don’t think that’s my place. Yes, I’m a dog professional. Yes, I care very much for the welfare of dogs. But the truth is, dogs that live differently than my dogs are not necessarily any less content or less loved. There are many ways to live happily with dogs.
The best thing I can do out in the world is to interact with dogs. Let people see how I respect and work with dogs. Every dog I met on this trip happily sat with me, gave me kisses, and cooperated wonderfully with what ever we were doing together. They were “good dogs” in the most important sense of that term. I didn’t see a need to talk about prong collars or corrections or operant conditioning. But people saw how their dogs responded to me. If my family and friends want to learn more about how I work with dogs, they can read about it or listen to the podcasts at caninenation.ca
For all the arguing and heated debates about training philosophies and methods these days, one thing remains true for me above all else. Changing how people think about and work with their dogs is not a war of ideology that we need to win. It’s not about winning hearts and minds in each battle over the latest training topic. The change will come day by day, in small ways. It will come because people will notice something useful in the way someone works with dogs and they will want to have it for themselves. You can’t buy it in a store and you can’t just take a class. It will come as people recognize that it takes being different with your dog every day to make a lasting change. I’m not trying to win the debate over how to work with dogs. I’m trying to show people that there is a way to think differently about dogs – every single day.