I would like to recommend this blog post by my colleague, Jose Gomez:  http://www.trainmeplease.com.au/blog/gentle-with-animals-but-harsh-with-people

It is about the way we teach others, in this case, humans.  In particular, it is about the way we correct mistakes, when we are the teacher.

The article is gentle and compassionate.  It addresses one leg of a problem in aggressive communication between animal training colleagues.  One person stands in judgment of another’s performance, and corrects in a demoralizing way.


I commented on this article.  I agree with the information about how to present corrections to both people and animals.  But, I have lately seen many additional problems based on judgmentalism and disrespectful communication.  So I took the conversation there a bit.  Here is what I had to say:

Well said. “First commend, then recommend” are good words to live by. When I need to see a change in an animal’s behavior, I try just naming what I am seeing, and then I ask for what I need to see in that situation. So with a reactive dog: “You are alert. Can you get easy, please?”. When I train people, I am usually the same.

However, when I am discussing ideas with colleagues and others, I sometimes find it hard to give the ‘benefit of the doubt’ when someone speaks harshly of other ideas, tools, and caring for animals in zoos and aquaria. I can also get very impatient with people who ‘jump on the bandwagon’, for example, people who recommend a book or other resource that is popular but misrepresents terminology, professional practices, animal husbandry, etc. Or in one glaring example, someone who makes up professional credentials.

I find that someone with a particular opinion will often believe that everyone else will agree with them, and they will speak disparagingly of other points of view. These people are often quite sensitive to being held accountable for their own impoliteness. In other words, they are blind to their own transgressions. I don’t use e-collars in training, but I know some very good, compassionate trainers who do, who have saved the lives of many, many dogs. While I hope to interest them in the methods I teach, I also am glad they are hard at work helping people and dogs. Then I see trainers who profess to be ‘purely positive’ who misrepresent the use of e-collars, and malign these other hard working trainers. If our way of training is so great, surely other trainers will be drawn to us if we simply keep sharing information.

Ironically, I find the e-collar trainers generally more open to changing their minds and methods than some of the purely positive trainers.

Conversely, I have been personally very offended by some dog trainers who judge exotic animal trainers by a different standard than they hold themselves to. Some argue that dogs are supposed to be with people, but there is no justification for having animals in managed care in zoos and aquaria. There has been some real nastiness and judgmentalism leveled toward marine mammal trainers, and these trainers are generally a highly dedicated lot who work very, very hard to protect and preserve the animals they work with, and their wild counterparts.  Dogs were once wild animals too!  And wild animals form friendships with humans that are just as deep and abiding as those formed between people and dogs.  I am particularly irritated because I stand up for these trainers against other trainers who judge them for their use of e-collars!

None of us is an ascended master in the art of training. There is always more to learn and test. I believe we need to demonstrate, in every step we take, our commitment to mutual respect, responsibility and benefit, in all our dealings with others, human and animal.