Training Techniques and Materials, My View
How to cite: Barata, R. (2016). Training Techniques and Materials, My View. Human-Animal Science.
I am nobody to tell you what is right or wrong about animal training. My role as a professional and tutor is to share my scientific and empirical knowledge and give you the privilege to think and decide for yourself.
In my online and in-person seminars or advising to professionals in various countries, I show my statistics, research, and daily study/work on the multiple topics of companion animals in human societies, within other advanced ethological and behavioral modification topics.
However, there are some topics I need to write about and give you my view of the current discussions in this field.
Changes will not happen as long as we limit our discussion to training materials or techniques.
Changes will occur when we look at the other species as living beings and, with the help of scientific and empirical knowledge, question ourselves about the consequences of our actions towards them.
The model of knowledge, education, critical thinking, continuous updating, proactivity, and respect for all individuals (humans and nonhumans), allied with the practice, will make the former obsolete, no matter the kind of education you have, the modality of your studies (in-person, online, etc.), nor the grade you got.
There are fallacies that we professionals should avoid to pass factual information without reinforcing the current trends or disinformation, misunderstandings, and incoherence. We should not tell what dog owners and current social mentality wants to listen to, nor our opinions are biased by emotional speech. Instead, we should show facts and be aware that we reach many audiences in the current social network days that will somehow follow what we say.
I will not criticize or condemn those who make those statements because that is how they learned. It results from politically correct tendencies, romantic discourses, words, slogans, quotes, and other tricks appealing to human emotions for economic and political goals.
I prefer not to label myself or other colleagues as “positive,” “negative,” “force-free,” “aversive,” “balanced,” etc.
I do not need scientific support or labeling my work to say I don’t use coercive behaviors when communicating with other species. I do not intentionally force them to do anything because there are results or guarantees for humans to be presented or by other justifications. It should be intrinsic. I do not use and will not use tools whose sole purpose is to create pain and discomfort for the dog, no matter the personal and professional sacrifices I have to make. I have my ethical and technical limits, and I made my decisions and reflections over these years based on my experience and scientific study. We are permanent students.
There are trends that, as a professional, I refuse to follow for the sake of nonhuman animals. Instead, I prefer to hear their arguments, show mine if I disagree, and support my argument with references. I don’t have any problem if, in the end, we agree to disagree.
The way to change the current paradigm is to have a scientific education and individual critical thinking, be productive, and question everything without fear of being criticized. It is not with insult, inquisitive actions, or trying to minimize the others and saying that “I’m the best,” the other is “aversive” or “negative” that we will get some changes in animal training. Acting like that, we have just an ego recharge. We create more dissension and a bad example for the other professionals, including the new generation of trainers.
Trainers and the pet industry
The pet industry itself is influencing society, both families and professionals. They create needs, present commissioned studies, and promote a commercially necessary ignorance where people do not know why they acquire or buy. However, the real message is they will be better people if they do. They sell design, not knowledge or information.
I think all the confusion and no official accreditation of professionals in the area is the most potent weapon for the pet industry because more people can be used for promoting products, brands, etc.
I’ve studied the boom of trainers, educators, consultants, and other titles without any validity, together with the pet industry over the last ten years, with different perspectives. I highlight the primary and complementary social needs from my research on the subject.
The primary social needs resulting from the families’ need to understand their dogs and seek more help, which is always recommended by the professional to buy specific toys or materials. Sometimes, even the trainers and other professionals on the field are prisoners / limited to these materials.
The complementary needs result from the demand that the pet industry itself has created in society to purchase products (most of them unnecessary), where the trainers are the “after shopping” characters to explain their functionalities.
About animal welfare
Health, physiological and behavioral parameters typically measure animal welfare. Natural behavior is evaluated according to the species' ethogram (descriptive list of normal behaviors).
Currently, several vague studies on dogs emphasize the benefits of having them, and social blindness has never questioned the reason for such emphasis. Do a quick search about it, and you’ll find it. Check who the sponsors are, use your critical thinking, and make your decision.
Suppose animal welfare (one more banalized but a commercially successful word) matters. In that case, I wonder why there are no studies about the increasing number of behavioral problems of dogs in the last 15 years due to the dogs being more and more indoors, in artificial environments, and with families constantly implementing models of anthropomorphism and babymorphism? A bit inconsistent if we check all current “offers” in the market, isn’t it? I am not condemning this industry, only the factual commercial banalization that it is growing.
Dogs are working tools in excuse of the benefits for the human. The species’ survival is pending by its usefulness, now camouflaged by social awareness and embellished with the most beautiful photos and words.
With the premise of its use for a social purpose, we do not even think of essential details such as (1) the lack of training of the professionals in the area, (2) the economic factors involved, (3) subjects through several well-publicized “studies” that announce the benefits of dogs to human well-being, thus creating a mandatory need. However, I continue asking why there’s no single welfare study and extensive research on animals for social purposes.
I introduced in 2009 a concept to my anthrozoological studies that I am still researching and developing to classify and organize the current dogs’ use in society: Fashionism.
Fashionism is a model that suggests that animals are used directly and indirectly according to social, personal, economic, political, and/or cultural interests or trends. It can be temporary, permanent, and adaptative. Several communication channels demonstrate it, sometimes manipulated with pseudoscience or stakeholder-sponsored studies.
Fashionism is now much more present in many areas of the pet world. We live in an “all-in” era to achieve the goals of these trends, where the dog has to do a particular task for humans, regardless of which way can be taught for it.
I found some standardized tendencies in dog training (technical fashionism) during my research. I’ll write below some of them:
Demonstrations of power (trophies, medals, diplomas, badges, “operational” equipment, etc.).
Incompatible /Lack of qualification or experience with the training or services offered due to economics or Dunning-Kruger effect.
Self-proclamation of titles or degrees only obtained in specialized institutions (specialists, behaviorists, etc.).
A regular frequency of theoretical courses, seminars to get a diploma (“Diploma Hunters”), and memberships to have a certificate.
A “professionalization” made in events, seminars, workshops, or other short-term activities, primarily theoretical, without evaluation or practice needed.
Recognition of their glory by personal experience and/or “knowledge” through emotional philosophy and social readings on the subject (google research, seminars, and imitation of existing professionals).
The misuse of science as an absolute truth or a moralistic, emotional, or dogmatic tool (the “of course” theory).
Foolhardy marketing (the first in the country; one of the best trainers; guarantee of results; turn-key training; “quick fix,” etc.).
Protagonism and/or social empathy by creating social projects and/or politically correct mentality, usually with narcissistic characteristics.
Narcissistic attitudes in social networks towards other professionals or non-professionals.
Social conditioning is done through groups, making prior judgments without the interest of researching the subject, following the opinions of others, blocking, deleting, criticizing, and condemning texts or people without reading or seeking factual validity, valid argumentation, and a healthy discussion.
About the training per se
First, I’ll suggest defining dog training: “Dog training compromises the dog’s behavior modification to adapt it to a specific human social environment.”
Second, I believe that if we know the definitions and how to apply them, we should use them to educate the owners on the correct terminology. If we want to make a difference, it is with knowledge and critical thinking, without “culinary recipes” training.
Scientific studies should be adequately scrutinized. We should not limit ourselves to the title, abstract, or our beliefs and opinions. As professionals, we should keep our knowledge updated no matter the time of our experience.
Imagine that all professionals realize that we are all together with the same goal (give a good life to the other species).
After we cooperate more with our colleagues, sharing information, experiences, solid discussions, and arguments to improve our knowledge.
Then, we educate the families, show them the species' fundamental nature and natural needs, and try as much as possible to provide the species with an individual and adapted life to their biological characteristics without the need to follow human tendencies.
Maybe, we will have a pleasant surprise at the end.
Professionalism and practical skills
It is essential to study hard during all our careers, including in some academic fields, to know definitions, use and explain the correct scientific terms, and avoid some “tricks” I wrote above.
It is essential to use the correct terminology. We invested money, time, personal sacrifices for our education, and continuous updating. We are professionals. If we use popular language (I call it “canine slang”), there is no distinction between individuals without education in the area. I am convinced that educating people correctly is one more way to change the current paradigm.
Practical experience is also fundamental. Theory and practice are a spectrum that follows us during all our careers. We should show an equivalent or better alternative if we disagree with a technique.
It is essential to share information and experience among professionals to improve the lives of nonhuman animals with human families.
I can understand the avoidance of speaking about certain subjects because they are negatively connotated. Still, the vast majority of people who avoid it do not know its real meaning due to all the social conditioning I wrote above. Do a quick search, and you’ll see that. Again, I defend the actual knowledge and individual choice. We all should make our personal and professional decisions without incoherence or social pressure.
Communicating with a different species gives us the responsibility to seek more and more scientific (trustworthy) information with a pragmatic view of everything to learn even more and don’t make the mistake of believing in everything we read or hear from blogs, forums, and personal opinions (like this article). Stimulating the species’ natural behaviors and not conditioning them to social wills and pressures should be the main thing.
We will all make it throughout our careers, and it is no shame to admit them. We are humans, so we are evolving and not standing still in time.
Animal trainer’s code of honor (©Roberto Barata- 2008)
During all these years, I passed the message to my student’s other colleagues about these topics. Some of them told me that they should be a “code of honor” for trainers. I don’t consider it a code of honor, but I’ll write them below:
All animal trainers must establish their technical and ethical limits and inform their clients, redirecting them to other professionals if needed.
All animal trainers must respect the other professionals, even if they don’t agree with some opinions. They should discuss it with sound argumentation and respectfully, even in private.
All animal trainers must promote cooperation rather than competition.
All animal trainers must learn from the other opinions to increase proactivity and critical thinking.
All animal trainers must follow the science, have sound scientific knowledge about all the subjects, research them with different approaches, be open mind, and always question everything.
All animal trainers must know that the animals are the best teachers, so they must treat them with respect as individuals.
Animal training must have adaptation according to the specific individual needs.
All animal trainers must be clear and precise about the family’s responsibility, requiring their total dedication and change of attitude/routines.
All animal trainers must know that they are not seers to predict the future or magicians who solve everything in the first session. So, they must be realistic with the human expectations and clarify them to the clients.
All animal trainers must show clearly in practice to humans how they should proceed with their animals. After demonstrating it, their role with humans is coaching and mentoring.
Animal training is doomed if trainers do not change. I’m afraid that the activity itself (certification, education, etc.) will be delivered to monopolies from other generic areas of animal behavior, especially the veterinarian field with strange titles of “clinical ethology.” They will discredit and diminish the knowledge and competence of animal trainers to sell solutions with more flashy names and titles that want to establish themselves in this area. The disaster is visible to everyone. It is up to us to decide whether we want to continue these senseless wars or choose to be professional and fight for nonhuman animals. They will be the only ones paying for it. Sorry for the words, but there is no easy way to say it. The current disdain and unsuccessful virtual fights fill a bubble that will explode as soon as we think.
We still have time. We can learn from each other, be an example for those entering the area, and encourage them to discuss various issues that may be at odds through appropriate channels. I don’t believe it’s a utopia. I don’t want to consider it.
In this constantly developing world, nature shows us in several ways that there must be a balance to everything work.
The balance for all professionals should be the endless searching for knowledge and respect for all living beings.
Don’t be what society wants you to be or give in to their pressures.
Respect other species and communicate with them, not by opposition, but because there is honest feedback. Knowledge is a powerful tool, and it’s free. Lack of knowledge is expensive.
Show alternatives and new models to the present old concepts and make them obsolete.
After all these years, there is just one thing I’m sure of: It is much more than training.
Think about it.
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This article is a revised and enlarged version of several personal records:
Barata, R. (2005). Scientific or Moralistic Training? Personal Portfolio (unpublished).
Barata, R. (2007). Why do I train animals? Personal Portfolio (unpublished).
Barata, R. (2008). A Professional or A Pirate? Personal Portfolio (unpublished).
Barata, R. (2009). Training tools and Fashionism. Personal Portfolio (unpublished).