What style dog training do you do? Have you ever wondered what this might say about your relationship with your dog? This was a question that plagued Jessica Greenebaum before she did her research. She is with the Sociology Department of the Central Connecticut University.
Her research compared the two most popular methods of training which she called “traditional dominance – based” and “reward – based” methods. She studied these two different approaches to see whether the methods of the trainers involved reflected anything about how they perceived the relationship and status of dogs in family life. Her research interested me because as a “cross-over” trainer, I have been involved in both approaches and so see both sides of the coin so to speak.
She briefly traces the evolution of thought regarding animals starting with the sociologist George Mead. Mead believed that animals only reacted instinctively and therefore lacked personality and cognition. He essentially said that since animals could not speak, they could not think. Current sociologists are apt to to give animals more credit in some ways, therefore affording them, especially dogs, “personhood status.” A good example of this “personhood” status are the “Yappy Hours” that are popular for people and their “fur babies.”
Dogs As “Tools”
But we (Americans) seem to be conflicted about this as well. After all, we have dogs that are used as tools and these dogs are likely to be seen as “objects” and more expendable therefore. Think for instance of the dogs who serve in the military as bomb-sniffing dogs. (You can read some of their fabulous stories and the sacrifices they have made at The United States War Dogs Association.) We have some dogs who serve, protect and assist. I am not suggesting that those involved in handling these dogs are not emotionally attached to them as individuals, but rather that they can be conflicted about their relationship.
And on the other hand, we have many who treat their dogs as children and members of the family.
So can the method you use to train your dog and the trainer you chose reveal anything about how you may fall on this issue?
Traditional vs. Reward – based Training
It appears that it can. According to Greenebaum the traditional methods often reflect a perceived “dominance” over dogs, whereas the “reward – based” approach emphasizes our “companionship” with dogs. She points out that in a training class, it is often more about training the humans than the dogs.
Because of this the training that takes place can also shape the attitude and perception of the pet parent’s role and relationship to their dog. If you are a trainer, this may raise some questions for you as the implications can be far reaching. I often have entire families in my classes which is great. I love having the chance to deal with and educate future dog parents. If the children are old enough, they are often a big help in setting up distractions for “sit – stays” and “down – stays.” But it also presents the opportunity to have some input hopefully and opportunity to shape their perception of the relationship they will have with their dog.