I think a lot about training and teaching — that is probably a good thing since in my real life I am a university professor.
Training — whether humans or dogs — has important steps BEFORE the implementation of methodology, and one of those steps is examining the values and ethics that guide our choice of method.
This matters a lot.
Let’s say a dog trainer suggests that we put an electronic collar on a dog to teach a reliable recall. To evaluate whether that is an acceptable option, we must consider whether the method is congruent with our personal values and ethics.
For some people, outcome is the only thing that matters and how it is achieved is not relevant — the electronic collar goes on the dog. Ends justify the means.
For others, how an outcome is achieved matters a great deal — for those people, the electronic collar is not an option because it hurts the dog.
Some people live in an illusion that involves trying to appear one way while being ruthless in obtaining a desired outcome. The electronic collar goes on their dog — but in secret and/or because “it is just a little static buzz.” PSA: Watch out for this type — they are both confusing and dangerous.
I think dog trainers who propose training methods without first understanding an owner’s values and ethics are missing something critical. But — in fairness — dog trainers are typically not university professors who teach ethics and are licensed mental health professionals — and so I understand why this critical feature of training dogs is actually not on their radar (but it should be).
However, this means we cannot rely on dog trainers to know the best method to train OUR dogs! There is no one-size-fits-all for training a dog — or a human.
Each of us has an obligation to seek understanding about what values and ethics drive our choices and behavior; doing so permits two things:
First, it allows us to live an authentic and honest life;
Second, understanding what matters allows us to create personal ethical screens to evaluate everyday choices — like whether to use plastic or shock the dog or rob a bank or cheat at a dog show.
Life, with and without Dogs, is better when we are congruent — when what we do reflects what we value most.
But you have to know what those things are before you can line it all up — right? Easier said than done but well worth the effort…