Have Dog Trainers Failed?

“Blaming individual bite victims for this almost universal ignorance, however, just seems cruel. If we must assign blame for this kind of thing, perhaps we animal care professionals and enthusiasts should start by asking ourselves why we have failed to make what seems like common sense to us truly common. “

Jeff Silverman, The Blame Game: Who's at fault when dog bites Denver news anchor?


Hear!  Hear!  For a long time I’ve been frustrated with conversations among dog trainers about the lack of behavioral knowledge in the veterinary community, obnoxious behavior at dog parks, lack of puppies in puppy classes, owner non-compliance and the “stupid” things that dog owners do.

If we go to a client’s home and hear stories of all the terrible things their dog is doing, we immediately seek to help the client understand that the dog is not trained because the dog hasn’t been trained.  It’s simple.  You can’t expect a dog to sit when greeting a stranger unless you’ve taught the dog to sit when greeting a stranger.  In fact, we (the dog training community) sometimes feel frustrated that this has to be explained in the first place.

But how is this different than what we expect from the public?  You can’t expect the public to understand the stress signals of a dog unless you’ve trained them to understand the stress signals of a dog.  Just as simple.

“But we’ve done everything to get this information out there!  They just don’t care,” says the dog training community.

Hmmm…much like the dog owner who swears they’ve tried everything to train the dog, but claims the dog is just stubborn.  We hate hearing that, don’t we?  Our assumptions at that point are that the owner needs to refine their training technique, be more consistent and properly motivate the dog.  Not to mention changing their attitude and expectations about dog behavior.  It seems to me that the same could be said for the issue of educating the public.

Training a dog requires that you understand its behavior and motivation.  Getting angry at the dog for being a dog isn’t productive.  Why would we expect things to be any different when working with humans?  The public is no more stupid, stubborn or untrainable than the dogs we work with every day.  If you believe they are, you don’t stand a chance educating them.  We must understand human behavior and motivation in order to train humans how to behave around dogs.  It IS just as much a part of dog training as training dogs.

The problems of the dog-owning community are a real-life report card on the work we’re doing as dog trainers.  If our job is to educate the public and the public is uneducated, it stands to reason that we have not done our jobs well.  If we blame the public instead of ourselves, we are the same as the dog owner who blames their dog for not being trained.