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My name is Mary Thompson, I'm a positive dog trainer, and I said "no" today

I did it. It happened today. I was cooking something in the kitchen, and Phoebe threw herself at the door. She had just been out. I KNEW she didn't have to go potty, and was most likely trying to get out to go say hi to the neighbor dog. I needed to keep an eye on the food on the stove, and didn't have the time to let her out. She jumped at the door again. I took a deep breath and tried to ignore it. One last time she threw herself at the door and I yelled "PHOEBE NO!".

Does this mean I should throw in the towel on "force-free" training and start using shock, prong, and choke collars? Does this mean I should no longer call myself a positive trainer, or that I'm lying about trying my best to not use coercive, force-based techniques in my training? Some people might say yes, or might call me a "hypocrite", but I say it means I'm human.

Listen, I wish I was this mystical doggy Mary Poppins that never raised my voice, never lost my cool, and could fly with the help of my friend the bird-umbrella (that one has nothing to do with dog training, I just wish I could do it). But I'm not. I have emotions. I have good days, bad days and, in between days. Trigger stacking applies to humans too, and sometimes the dog's behavior is simply the final item in a long list of crummy things that happened that day. I'm a victim of the human condition and unfortunately that means that I sometimes am not at my best.

So if positive, science-based trainers also sometimes lose their cool and aren't magical, always-rational and logical beings, what's the difference between us and other trainers who might choose to use force or coercion? The difference is we don't enter training scenarios with a corrections-based mindset; we don't wait for the dog to make the incorrect choice in order to teach. We proactively teach new behaviors and gradually work on them in the real world, setting the dog up to succeed as much as humanly possible. We acknowledge that losing our cool and yelling "no!" in a human moment isn't effective training and that it's not our most efficient way to create behavior change. It doesn't mean we NEVER lose it or make emotional mistakes, but it does mean that if we do we try to plan how we can avoid making that same choice in the future! (I.E. I've been working with Phoebe on a "wait" at the door when I'm in another room so that she learns to be a little more patient, rather than continuing to throw herself at the door. So far she's doing very well with this!)

The scenario I described in the first paragraph definitely wasn't my proudest moment as a dog guardian and after I was done cooking I sat down with Phoebe and apologized for my behavior (yes, I know Phoebe doesn't speak English, but it does make ME feel better!). Phoebe climbed into my lap, rolled over, and tried to chew on my foot; needless to say, I think we're gonna be okay. Does this mean I should keep practicing my yelling behavior? No. Does it mean I should give up all of my efforts to try and train with the least fear and pain possible? Also no. This past weekend I attended a workshop and one of the presenters said this quote: "Don't pass up the opportunity to do something good while you're waiting to do something great." So, even if I can't be doggy Mary Poppins, it doesn't mean I should give up or lower my standards. All we can do is keep trying to be our best.


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