Fear mongering, or, when to run, not walk, away from a dog trainer

It’s been a day. I mean, it’s been A Day. I know better than to go reading dog stuff when it’s been A Day, because invariably something annoys me and I start link hopping the things that annoy me, and then I’m in a foul mood.

Like now.

In most of my life, I’m excellent at avoiding or ignoring fear mongering. “What’s fear mongering?” I hear you cry.

Fear mongering is when instead of making logical, fact-based arguments, people try to sway you by frightening you. You see it in politics ALL THE TIME. Rather than saying, “Vote for X for all these awesome reasons!” They say, “If Y is elected, taxes will rise, jobs will decrease, the schools will shut down, people will go hungry, and we’ll all get eaten by plague zombies! Better vote for X so that doesn’t happen!” Someone is trying to force you to make a decision based out of fear.

I see it in dog training fairly consistently. (Mostly, I’m sorry to say, from trainers touting positive reinforcement only methods. Makes me wonder.)

Now, don’t me wrong: positive reinforcement only methods work on a significant number of dogs. I know some fantastic trainers who use only those. I also know a significant number of owners who can’t get positive reinforcement only methods to work. I can. Any other trained professional can. But they can’t; they don’t have the time to devote to it. (The answer many positive reinforcement only trainers give is, “Then they shouldn’t have a dog.” Maybe that’s true. I don’t think it is. I don’t think I should have to devote hours a day to training my dog, just to have them be decent. I want a life outside my dogs, and I think most other people do, too.) Do we just give up on those dogs and those people? I don’t think so.

Anyway, I’m getting off track. When I start link hopping on things that annoy me, invariably I end up reading a lot of fear mongering. Stuff like this:

If you use a prong collar, choke or slip chain or line, martingale, flat collar, or _________, you will bruise, choke, or puncture your dog, or cause spinal injury and tracheal collapse.

Fear mongering: we (rightly) fear injuring our dogs. I want to yell this at my computer screen: “What the hell?! What kind of awful, abusive, horrible training are YOU doing to cause all those things with those collars?!”

I’m sure it’s happened. There are awful, horrible, abusive people out there, infiltrating every section of every profession, including the dog training profession. Therefore, I’m sure it’s happened. But they talk as if it’s a given that it WILL happen. In ten years of dog training, the only instances of any of those I’ve seen were: 2 instances where we stopped using a prong collar (in the case of minor abrasions on the neck due to the dog not caring about whether or not it pulled), and three cases where there was tracheal collapse for other reasons, and no training collar was used.

If you tug on the leash when your dog starts to be aggressive, it will make them more aggressive.

Fear mongering: We fear “turning” our dogs aggressive. Umm… in a very small number of cases, yes, it’s possible to make them more aggressive that way. It’s far, far from likely, and doesn’t happen unless they’re already aggressive. Or, y’know, you’re one of those awful, horrible, abusive people taking your anger out on your dog. Don’t do that.

If you tell your dog “no” you will, at best, break their trust and, at worst, make them attack you.

Fear mongering: “break their trust” and “attack.” And once again I resort to profanity. What. The hell. Are you doing to that dog.

The other hallmark of fear mongering is the use of fear-eliciting words. Words like “Slavery,” “torture,” “abuse,” “fear,” “hit,” “kick,” “strike,” “blood,” etc. Any time I start hearing words like this, I know I need to walk away. My logical side reminds me that if they had any actual evidence, they would use it. If they don’t have actual evidence, they use things to make us so afraid that we don’t stop and examine their argument; we just agree in horror and run away.

Any time you do research on anything, watch for those words. If you see them, run, do not walk, to your nearest sound, sane, logical, evidence-based resource. (Sometimes they try to trick you: they provide evidence or “evidence” while using their fear mongering. These are the worst, and even if they have real evidence, I avoid them anyway: they are not reliable, and if they’re fear mongering that badly then they may not trust their own evidence, and are hoping you won’t look too hard. At best, I look for proof of said evidence. If they’re right, there will be someone else out there who is presenting that evidence without fear mongering. If they’re lying… there won’t be someone out there presenting evidence without fear mongering.)

What kind of evidence should you look for? Well…

1. Studies. Studies are awesome, and usually quoted without sources. Beware these: anyone can mis-remember (or make up) a study they don’t quote. An abysmally small number of studies have been done on dogs (and many of those I can pick apart, sadly).

2. Anecdotal evidence. This is mostly what you’re going to find. It’s not the best, but it’s often the best you can do. In this case, find other trainers or vets who are seeing the same thing. Try to read up on them a bit and see if they’re sound, sane, and logical. Anecdotal evidence should be personal, or at most one person removed. Anyone can SAY it’s personal or one person removed (ie, “my vet,” as opposed to, “a vet”), so you just have to hope they’re telling the truth and trust your own instincts. Again, try to verify with other people saying the same thing.

Remember: if one person has something horrible happen, it’s an outlier. If a lot of people are seeing it, there might be something to it. If people are fear mongering, they’re likely hiding a lack of evidence, or so lost in near-religious fervor that they’re probably not looking at things rationally.

Now, I’m going to go watch some bad television and try to stop being so cranky…



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