Quick judgements about herding training

photo by: NatalieMaynor

My friend Aimee, who blogs over at mymegaedog, does herding training with her German shepherd dog Shelby. She trains all her dogs using positive reinforcement.

Unfortunately, most herding trainers still use pretty aversive training methods, including lots of punishment and other tactics designed to scare, force, and intimidate the dogs. Even more unfortunate, as Aimee found out at a recent clicker training seminar, some positive trainers have a very negative opinion of herding and are quick to judge those who do herding, without inquiring into the person’s actual training methods.

Here’s a quote from one of her recent blog posts that I really liked:

Positive reinforcement trainers are always talking about how they’d like to get the herding crowd and the hunting crowd and the Schutzhund crowd believing that these high drive sports can be trained using positive reinforcement. Well, how are you going to convince them if you ostracize the people who are actually doing it? It’s true, I did manage to change a few minds after the seminar was over, and someone even asked for Carolyn’s information, interested in getting her Border Collies involved. But the knee jerk reaction needs to stop.

If the positive reinforcement trainers react that poorly to just the name of the sport and to a fellow clicker trainer, automatically making snap judgments, how can they expect to convince people who already use the brutal methods of training to change course? Certainly not by tearing them down. C’mon, you’re the positive reinforcement trainers, you know how it works. The only way we can make the lives of our dogs better is by building up the trainers and trialing the dogs.

You can read the whole post here: The Herding Training Bias. Aimee has quite a bit of information on her blog about how she uses clicker training and positive training methods to work with her herding dog Shelby.

I think it will be much easier to get new people interested in positive training and to continue to build a community of positive trainers if we support and encourage those who use (or are interested in using) positive training methods, rather than dividing up into “camps” and judging those who do things differently or participate in sports we don’t understand.

And even if someone is training with punishment or methods you don’t approve of, remember that it usually does little good to tell people that they are doing things completely wrong. Most people who use punishment or harsh methods do so because they were originally taught this way or because it’s worked for them in the past. Judging and criticizing certainly won’t make people open to new ideas and different ways of thinking about things.

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