Why I’ll no longer be debating training methods on social media

The dog training world is quite divided in some respects, and never more so than right now. The constant debate, or hatred of each other seems to be increasing. I don’t think the divide, between aversive style trainers (particularly shock and prong collar users) and force-free trainers, will ever be settled on social media.  Many force-free trainers (I’m just using FF as a general term to refer to people who don’t intentionally use aversive methods of training and are opposed to them) view shock and prong collars as abusive. This is also my position. I believe the use of a shocker on a dog is abuse. The problem is, many users of these devices, believe, just as passionately, that I’m completely wrong and that it is, in fact, force-free trainers who are damaging dogs.

I had an interesting discussion on Facebook recently with a shock collar user. He’d come to my page to tell me I’d been misinformed and that shock collars are the most efficient and effective way of training. I mention that I wasn’t merely informed but had 3 degrees in animal behaviour and had spent the past 8 years critically evaluating the science. His reply was to say ‘save me the sermon, I’ve heard it all before’ (and remember, this is him coming to my FB page to tell me I’m misinformed). So he says I’m misinformed, but he has no interest in where my information came from. The next comment was from another random visitor (not a friend) to my page, saying this, “studied what? It’s just a money-making scam, charging ridiculous amounts of money to be told rubbish – I suppose you don’t even believe dogs have an alpha”. I subsequently received 7 messages of hatred from different people who are supposedly grown adults running dog training businesses. Clearly, somebody who disagreed with me rallied some support from their friends. One of the messages said I’d been indoctrinated with false science. They clearly never spent any time having to critically evaluate scientific studies, because that’s the exact opposite of indoctrination. But the point is, you just have to look at these comments to see, they have zero interest in the science, they just see it as false.  I’m not going to repeat the arguments against shock collars – most of you have heard them a thousand times before.

On the other side of it, aversive trainers get a lot of criticism and insults from some force-free trainers. Would we contemplate using their methods? Absolutely not. So we have a large division across the industry in what we see as reasonable, or sensible, or even kind. And then there are all those in the center ground (many of them posting at the moment) who say we should all work together and respect different opinions. The problem with this idea is that the divisions are too wide. If you don’t agree with men hitting women (and I think we can all agree that it’s absolute abuse) you wouldn’t ever say ‘its just a difference of opinion! I’m not suggesting it’s the same as using a shock collar on a dog. I’m pointing out that if you passionately believe something is abuse, you do not accept that you and the abuser merely have a difference of opinion.

Obviously, nobody appreciates being thought of as an abuser, so I don’t see things changing any time soon. But, even if you believe shock collar use is abusive (which I do), there is still a very big difference between that form of abuse and that of domestic violence. Not just because domestic violence is something done to humans, but because anyone committing domestic violence does not believe they are doing the right thing – they know they’re doing wrong, they know very well that it’s abuse and cruel, but they do it anyway, for a multitude of reasons. I do not put dog trainers who use shock collars into the same category, not even nearly. Why? Because it’s been normalised in many communities – it’s just what you do, it’s what the people around you do. It’s not something you do to be cruel, it’s something you do because it’s what you genuinely believe in. Not all of them, some are just enjoying being macho egotists, but I hope the majority are decent people doing what they believe to be right. But my role as a person with a little (and I do mean, little) influence, is not to add to the normalisation by accepting it as just a difference of opinion; my role is to promote force-free and do what I can to reverse the normalisation of canine abuse. However, as we have seen, there is no gain to be had in social media debates, it is just insult after insult with each party trying to convince the other they are crazy, and they’re certainly not interested in anybody’s evidence, no matter where it’s from unless it agrees with their chosen position.  The only people I can influence are those looking for that influence – I will not be wasting, whatever time I have left on this planet, arguing with people about what I promote. You can bring science to the people, but you cannot make them interested.

5 thoughts on “Why I’ll no longer be debating training methods on social media

  1. I don’t know, but presume you are from the USA?
    Because here in Australia most States have electric collar bans. One State permits use by qualified professional people (me thinks through clever pressure from military trainers).
    There is also a Federal import ban on many of these abusive tools.

  2. As a former victim of domestic abuse, I personally had the impression that when my ex attacked, he was in the grip of emotions I never did understand. He was the human equivalent of a cockerpoo I later owned, who had cocker rage syndrome. I never knew when the attack was coming, so probably suffered exactly the same fear as a dog when the choke chain (or worse) starts to cause pain. I could never use aversive methods, as to me they amount to an abuse of the love and trust of my best friends, so yes, for me, it would amount to domestic abuse.

  3. I never clearly understood the term “cancel culture” until it was explained recently in a column I was reading. The way that I understand it, it means that someone not only disagrees with you but also dismisses your entire existence as a result of that disagreement. That’s what we are becoming, a society of such deep disrespect toward others that we soon will not even be looking each other in the eye.
    What you describe is that and it’s deeply sorrowful. If we can’t look up to people who are truly experts in a field, who will we look up to?

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