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Jumping to Aversives

by | Feb 27, 2020 | 5 comments

Today I am thinking about an 11 year old kid who invented a leash to stop leash pulling. 

You’ve heard the story. The system delivered electric stimulation to the dog if the dog pulled. He was nationally recognized and asked to bring his invention to a contest or something and the story of this genius young inventor went viral. Not long after that, he was attacked and trolled by the “force free” dog training community. So much so that his parents chose to withdraw him from this competition. 

Here’s the thing: I wish he had invented a R+ solution, too. Whenever I consider the engineering and thought that has gone into the aversive tools we use to train dogs, I always wish that same creative energy had been channeled into kinder ways of doing things. I do not claim this “force free” label, or any other label when it comes to my training. I certainly use aversive control at times, and I think those who claim not to are not seeing their actions clearly enough. Society told this kid to apply aversive control to get what he wants. Not evil forces, not his parents, not video games. Society. It is natural and normal for people to jump first to aversive control because that is how our society functions. Our prisons are overflowing, friends. We don’t get prizes for driving the speed limit, we get fines for speeding. 

And then what did the dog trainers at large, the ones that are supposedly leaning toward kindness and shifting away from aversive control do? They slapped this kid with some pretty major punishers. They bullied and trolled him. He is a child, and he was withdrawn from a major competition because his parents feared for his safety. His safety. 

So, what can we do better? We can think of our own tendency to jump to aversive control; like shredding this kid on the internet, and we can choose otherwise. We can choose to be kinder in all of our interactions. If I could speak to this kid, this is what I would say: 

You are a creative being. You had a problem, and you made something to help you with that problem. The world needs more minds like that. Can I ask you a few questions about your creative process? Was this your first idea? Did you have any others? Did any of them involve telling your dog what you want him to do, before he does the opposite? Do you think that would even be possible? If it were possible, how would you do it? 

And I’d let him drive the conversation. Maybe we’d get somewhere, maybe we wouldn’t. But I don’t think this kid is Dog Training’s Future. I think he is a product of our society, and actually a better one than most, since he still utilizes his creative mind (hopefully he still will, after all of this). The dog in question gets walked now, thanks to this device, so is it really that horrible? Maybe not. Or maybe it was the leash in the first place that was the problem, and if someone just took the kid and the dog into the woods, we’d all be in better shape. 

If you’re mad about what you just read, and you want to punish my writing behavior with a comment, I suggest you go for a walk instead.

 

5 Comments

  1. Kim Childress

    This is perfect! Being kind to EVERYONE should be up front in our minds.

    Reply
  2. Kathryn Horn

    LOVE this….. so spot on. We have a lot of work to do as “positive trainers” and that change comes hard because we, too, are a product of our culture… punish first!

    Reply
  3. Rebecca

    Well said!!! I wish more of us (myself included) would stop and consider the opportunities presented versus the knee jerk reaction.

    Reply
  4. Emily

    Love it and love the way you think! I think if we trainers were as kind to other people as we are to animals, the world would be a much better place. I know I’m guilty of this kind of hypocrisy myself.

    Reply
  5. Melinda Schneider

    Bravo to you, Sarah Stremming, for putting your dog training philosophy in place for people, too. If we can’t interact with people kindly, what makes us so great as dog trainers? Dog trainers are people trainers first and foremost. And kindness in all training, in all interactions, is what we should be about. Of course we make mistakes. Of course we have bad days. But bullying? That should never be part of our world.

    Reply

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