Building Bridges

Yesterday I spent some time looking at the Facebook pages of other dog trainers.  I saw videos that were new to me, became re-acquainted with some “oldies but goodies” and had a chance to hear different points of views on random topics.  Not a bad way to spend some time!

Then I came across the Facebook wall of a trainer who shares a fundamental belief of mine; that dog training should be kind.  And while we clearly take different paths from there, I’d say that’s not very important.  In the bigger scheme of things, we both believe in the importance of kindness to animals.

One of the first things I found on this trainer’s page was a video of another trainer.  There were several paragraphs of text explaining why this other trainer and her video were wrong.  So of course I watched the video.  Who was this person??

Right away I recognized her.  Not only is she an enormous advocate for humane dog training, but she is also an incredibly generous soul who gives away so much free training advice on youtube that the rest of us look absolutely greedy by comparison.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that she has probably changed the lives of thousands of dogs and hundreds of trainers.  For free.

So, what did she do???!!!!

She posted a video that could not harm any person or any dog.  She gave advice which may or may not work; it just depends on what you believe and what your personal experiences are.  Indeed, if you followed the advice, you would have learned some really good stuff about interacting with dogs, regardless of why it worked.

When a dog does something we don’t like, positively minded trainers ignore it if it’s not important in the greater scheme of things.  Over time we work to instill alternatives – we focus on the big picture and get there a tiny piece a a time.  Rarely do we punish because we know that it’s not necessary.

What’s the big picture here; a single video that will cause no harm to anyone, or the person’s entire body of work?  Should we build bridges with each other, or look for tiny threads of disagreement and create fissures in our community?

I have often said that the lack of camaraderie among positive trainers is surprising to me.  What is our big picture?  Be kind to dogs AND people.  Work together to change the broad human perspective of dogs as objects for our convenience – they deserve so much more from us!  We know how to build bridges with dogs, and the science tells us it works with people too.

It doesn’t matter if someone posts a video that doesn’t exactly align with your personal beliefs.  If it causes no harm and will clearly lead to a better outcome, then it’s a net gain for our community.

Figure out what you want to communicate and go there!  Make videos or write blogs giving YOUR point of view and ignore other people’s work that you find less impressive or relevant; there’s no reason to mention it at all!

Criticism and finding fault with others who share our basic belief structure is not who we are, and that type of behavior will dramatically slow down the evolution of dog training.  I’ve heard it said that force free dog trainers are the worst in this regard, but I disagree.  I think it’s more about human nature; the desire to make oneself look better by tearing others down, and I have found it just as prevalent in the balanced or traditional dog training community.  The difference in my mind is that science minded trainers should know better.  We know what works with training animals, and humans are…animals.

I hope the creator of that video does not see that critical piece.  Those of us who choose to be very public with our training have all been the subject of criticism and it’s hurtful.  It makes us want to pull back – not to give more.  It causes us to protect ourselves by avoiding others who might be unkind.  It hardens us and creates division at exactly a time when we need to be building bridges.

The next time you are about to say or post something that is unkind to another person, simply ask yourself this question:  Are you finding fault beacuse you truly believe that they might be causing harm or are you creating enemies and hurt where none need to exist?

Instead, how about this:  Today, take a moment to write a note to someone who has made you a better person or a better trainer.   Tell them you appreciate them.  Build a bridge – and see what that does for both of you.

I have met so many amazing dog trainers over the years.  Some I agree with almost 100% but most – not so much.  The question becomes – on balance – is the dog training world better or worse off with this person’s contributions?  And if I think the dog training world is better off with that person, might I be able to influence this person with kindness and gentle, thought provoking information, or am I better off simply moving on in silence?

Take it from there.

 

 

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About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.
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25 Responses to Building Bridges

  1. Rozellind Welting Merryman says:

    I’m glad you included people in that explanation

    Like

  2. Marcy G. says:

    I’m always disappointed with trainers who spend more time criticizing other trainers, than showing off their own skills/methods. I’ve read several books (both positive-only trainers and not) and instead of explaining their method and why their method works so wonderfully, they knock other trainers methods. I realize it’s human nature, but it’s not good business.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You and your posts and classes have certainly made me a better trainer and person. Thanks for writing this post.

    Mardi Richmond

    Like

  4. cynthiamuir says:

    Thank you Denise: well said.

    Like

  5. amyeran says:

    I am taking a moment to thank you, Denise. Your kindness and generosity have helped me to be a better trainer. Your positive outlook on training dogs has made a huge difference in everything I do with my dogs. Your kindness to both dogs and humans is something I strive to achieve every single day. The guidance and suggestions you share with this community (for free!) is amazing. Your kindness is what keeps me going. I train by myself a lot, but it’s like you’re right there with me and my dog. It makes me smile, and my dog can feel that.

    Like

  6. dfenzi says:

    Thank you! I really do appreciate that – it makes me want to keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Heather says:

    Amen. It hurts all. When pointing finger point at someone, four are pointing back to the originator.
    I was just re-reading your notes from a Building Drive and Motivation seminar. They have helped me with considerably with my non-drivey breed of dog.

    Like

  8. Cecilia says:

    Hi, love the way you can get to the heart of matters.Respecting each other with our differences is hard but if you learn to find the good in everyone you make yourself a better human being too. We need more “better human beings”in the era of violence and just the common denominator of our loves for animals and dogs in particular should bring us together not divide us! Thank you for your insightful articles, love reading them!
    Cheers

    Like

  9. Sue says:

    Thank you Denise. I follow you and read as many of your posts as I can. I don’t have your books yet and haven’t taken any of your classes yet but still I’ve learned a lot from you. You make me think. You help me see new approaches. I will some day have your books and I hope to take some of you classes. As for now, I have new perspectives and am a better person because of you. Thank you.

    Like

  10. Margrit says:

    You nailed it again, Denise. Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I have read every post of yours and learned to have patience with my dogs and work on understand how a dog thinks and how to communicate. You have made a world of difference in how I train my dogs these days and it IS definitely paying of. The super relationship I have with my dogs and to see the joy and enthusiasm when it comes to training ion my furry friends makes my happy every day. Thank ou, Denise, for being YOU!!!

    Like

  11. Anita says:

    Love it, applies to all aspects of life.
    But starting with you, I’ve used some of your techniques and I have one of your books, the one with the cartoon lady being pulled by her dog on the cover, so THANK YOU xxx

    Like

  12. Jackie says:

    Well said! Love or hate methods, this profession at war is very damaging. Who trusts someone kind to dogs but then savage to humans. A lot of training involves both ends of the lead. I worked in schools all my life (dogs being the big hobby), if teachers treated each other as trainers do schools would collapse. You are professionals, and if you are ,you never directly criticise a fellow professional. Discuss ideology, prove methods, but never lower your standards to the lynch mob tactics seen recently. I have never seen such behaviour in any group of workers. Please work towards conciliation. Let us respect differing views, and work to prove points, knowledge etc, but never resort to such poor professional behaviour. Well done Denise for highlighting the subject.

    Like

  13. Maria M says:

    Thank you for skillfully articulating what I’ve been thinking for years

    Like

  14. Neumann says:

    well said and written,can’t we all just get along????????????????/

    Like

  15. This is the first thing I’ve ever read by Denise that I’ve disagreed with. I have massive respect for Denise, but let me make the case that avoiding criticism (even unconstructive) is hurting dog training as a profession from an outside perspective.

    I’m not a dog trainer, I’m a scientist. One of the primary means of promotion for us is peer-reviewed publications. The quality and number of publications you have determines just about everything about your career: whether or not you will secure a long-term position, whether or not you secure grant money, whether or not you are promoted, whether or not you are respected in your field. Peer review is all about criticism. For every paper, you get 2-5 reviews from (often anonymous) experts in the field. It is most often constructive, but sometimes it is not. They can and do say anything and everything. It is not always friendly, sometimes it is quite nasty. I’ve had my share of awesomely unconstructive reviews that make you want to tear out someone’s throat when you read them and/or quit science altogether.

    But, you as an author MUST RESPOND to each and every point of criticism. Even the mean, deliberately hurtful crap. Even the stuff that you react strongly and defensively to at first. And you have to be polite, professional, and reasonable (regardless of how unreasonable your reviewer was). You have to either amend what you’re doing in light of the comments or make the case (to the editor) that they should be overlooked and your paper should be published anyway (not advisable in most cases). If you don’t respond, then your paper is rejected.

    As painful as it sometimes is, it’s made very single paper I’ve published better (even when the criticism was not constructive and downright mean). It’s made me think more deeply about what I do, and forced me to step up my game. And the act of reviewing, critically evaluating someone else’s work, has made me better at what I do. (I promise I try to return only constructive criticism in my reviews!) And this makes science better. A lot better. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but one can hardly argue that it’s not done incredible things.

    So I think it is a mistake to suggest that people shouldn’t criticize others in their profession if they subscribe to similar ideologies. Sure, it would be great if people constructively criticize, but it won’t always happen, and that’s ok. It would also be great if trainers sought out criticism from their peers more often and responded professionally to criticism that they receive (either solicited or otherwise). And people should understand that criticism is 1) not the end of the world, even if it is mean; and 2) a chance to do better (even if making you better isn’t the intention of the critical person).

    I hope this has been a reasonable and constructive piece of criticism. 🙂

    Like

    • dfenzi says:

      Denise: an intelligent and well thought out statement deserves a thorough response, point by point, so I will give you one!

      Linda: This is the first thing I’ve ever read by Denise that I’ve disagreed with. I have massive respect for Denise, but let me make the case that avoiding criticism (even unconstructive) is hurting dog training as a profession from an outside perspective.

      Denise: I am currently interested in areas of dog training that make the scientists howl with discomfort because they are not directly observable – relationship comes to mind (how does one study that?) So I am under frequent attack from the scientifically minded dog training community. Do I want to hear it? Nope. Not interested. I just choose not to read what they write, because we start with a fundamentally different perspective after “be nice to dogs”. Which is fine – they can study and I can train.

      Denise: I have also observed that critical people often show this as a temperament trait more than as a response to what is in front of them. My experience is that there are a handful of people who will always respond and criticize (often without reading or watching carefully) – it’s just what they do. So I ignore – I do not respond. This is an issue of time and inclination. Only so many hours in the day, and I’d rather spend it thinking and training than discussing with people who are simply argumentative by nature. My own approach is that I almost never offer public criticism unless I am asked directly and even then, I attempt to respond as constructively as possible. I think it’s a good plan! (I might, however, contact a person privately, which I find is generally well received).

      Linda: I’m not a dog trainer, I’m a scientist. One of the primary means of promotion for us is peer-reviewed publications. The quality and number of publications you have determines just about everything about your career: whether or not you will secure a long-term position, whether or not you secure grant money, whether or not you are promoted, whether or not you are respected in your field. Peer review is all about criticism. For every paper, you get 2-5 reviews from (often anonymous) experts in the field. It is most often constructive, but sometimes it is not. They can and do say anything and everything. It is not always friendly, sometimes it is quite nasty. I’ve had my share of awesomely unconstructive reviews that make you want to tear out someone’s throat when you read them and/or quit science altogether.

      Denise: And you find this acceptable, based on what we know about human behavior? It is acceptable for others to be placed in positions where they can mistreat others, in the name of science? I do not agree. Constructive criticism? Absolutely. But to institutionalize a system that allows nasty people a platform…..I would argue that this will likely result is producing scientists who err on the side of studying boring and predictable things to avoid making waves or losing tenure. I believe that safety (emotional, financial, prestige, etc) trumps everything. Indeed, a physicist told me this directly – that everyone studies the same stuff so that they can be safe – get tenure, grants, etc. This particular individual happened to win a nobel prize, but he told me that to do it he risked everything – because if he had been wrong his career would have been over.

      Linda: But, you as an author MUST RESPOND to each and every point of criticism. Even the mean, deliberately hurtful crap. Even the stuff that you react strongly and defensively to at first. And you have to be polite, professional, and reasonable (regardless of how unreasonable your reviewer was). You have to either amend what you’re doing in light of the comments or make the case (to the editor) that they should be overlooked and your paper should be published anyway (not advisable in most cases). If you don’t respond, then your paper is rejected.

      Denise: So here we have the traditional parent/child set-up. You are set to one set of expectations. You are the child. They are set up to another. They are the parent. Which makes me wonder – how many children want to grow up and become the parent – so that they can gain power through emotional abuse? It’s very attractive to humans to mistreat others and I cannot condone a system that has institutionalized that abuse. However, peer review, in and of itself? Fine.

      One assumes that things that are important enough to warrant peer review are significant pieces of work from your life! But when I or another relatively public trainer puts out a blog or a video – it is a casual endeavor. More akin to you writing a class lecture. If you have a student in that class that spends class time attacking your lectures while ignoring the bigger picture, then that will shut you down. Make you avoid class. And certain inhibit your creativity. Over time, each lecture you write that you know will be in front of that student will change – become a little less controversial. You’l ask yourself if you really need to do anything new at all, or maybe not put it into a space where that student might see it. That student will change you – for the worse.

      I base most of my training on my experiences and relationships with dogs and people rather than from what I know of learning theory. I am one of those people who is a lot more interested in the bizarre than in the mechanics of training in a lab. I call myself a relationship based trainer, not a science based one (for reasons that are well beyond this response though they are related.) You can see my other blog today at http://www.denisefenzi.com for an excellent example of this non-scientific approach to understanding dogs and training. I am the queen of anthropomorphizing – it works for me when I test it against applied dog training It also drives other people, usually the scientifically minded ones, absolutely batty. So should my science minded peers attack me every which way for what I wrote there today? Or would their time be better spent elsewhere? Here is the question I would ask: Is my perspective, as I wrote it there, likely to enhance people’s relationships and understanding of their dogs, or likely to cause harm? It’s a question worth asking before attacking, even if you don’t like how I got there.

      Linda: As painful as it sometimes is, it’s made very single paper I’ve published better (even when the criticism was not constructive and downright mean). It’s made me think more deeply about what I do, and forced me to step up my game. And the act of reviewing, critically evaluating someone else’s work, has made me better at what I do. (I promise I try to return only constructive criticism in my reviews!) And this makes science better. A lot better. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but one can hardly argue that it’s not done incredible things.

      Denise: Constructive criticism in the world of science – I totally get that. But when you’re talking areas that do not lend themselves easily to scientific examination…that’s tough! So should I stop writing when what I say is not scientifically supported? Stop making training videos? Only discuss what I know extremely well to be true, rather than using the world of dogs as an enormous laboratory where we can all learn and explore together?

      Every human being on the planet is a scientist – it starts the day we are born. But if others focus on what we do wrong instead of encouraging exploration of what we do right – then the science of psychology and sociology will clearly suggest that we will shut down soon enough and head for the safe routes. People do not explore when they are not feeling emotionally safe.

      Linda So I think it is a mistake to suggest that people shouldn’t criticize others in their profession if they subscribe to similar ideologies. Sure, it would be great if people constructively criticize, but it won’t always happen, and that’s ok.

      Denise: No, it’s not ok. Mistreating others in the name of furthering knowledge is just not ok. We need to stop thinking that way – every single person needs to learn how to be respectful to every other person. Research from the social sciences support my position 100%. Behaviors that are allowed and that are self reinforcing will continue. It’s time to stop allowing nasty behavior – there is no excuse, especially when we know the end result – shut down people who play it safe.

      Linda: It would also be great if trainers sought out criticism from their peers more often and responded professionally to criticism that they receive (either solicited or otherwise). And people should understand that criticism is 1) not the end of the world, even if it is mean; and 2) a chance to do better (even if making you better isn’t the intention of the critical person).

      Denise: I agree. Do you think people would be more likely to seek out criticism if we trained people in the art of responding appropriately? I do. When I need help or someone to bounce ideas off of, I know where to go. Not to people who attack me and not to people who agree blindly. I seek out smart people who ask hard questions and who are as passionate abut the complications of training and furthering our knowledge as I am. But the average joe trainer who has a lot of opinions with little to offer themselves? Not so much.

      I hope this has been a reasonable and constructive piece of criticism.:)

      Denise: Indeed it has. Thank you for taking the time :).

      Liked by 1 person

      • amyeran says:

        Thank you, Denise, for answering this comment. I am glad to know you stand by your training philosophy, and that you can answer a reply with honesty and grace. You did a fine job. You were polite as you disagreed with this person. You’re an amazing trainer and an amazing person.

        Like

  16. I’m so fortunate! Located in San Diego and we’re building a coalition of force free trainrrs, snd it’s so nice that everyone supports, respects and refers one another. It’s refreshing, to say the least.

    Like

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