May 12

Wow...When did Animals Become a Religion?

I have walked in almost all aspects of the "dog world"...not just dog training and doing some behaviorist work, but I have shown dogs for decades, I have been a regional rep for a couple of different purebred dog rescue groups, have worked as a volunteer at animal shelters and  with humane societies, have owned a boarding kennel where I also did grooming and training...I even bred a few litters of show dogs many years ago, back in the early 80s.  I have greatly enjoyed my life in the dog world, and even now while fighting a physical illness, I still enjoying writing for my blogs and for dog magazines, and helping dog owners via emails and my ebooks. It is not quite as rewarding as "hands-on" work but it is keeping me busy until I can get back to dog training and volunteer work again.

But you know what? There is something that I do NOT enjoy, in fact that I have come to HATE, that is going on in the world of dogs. There is disagreement to the point of hatred between dog trainers who use different techniques or have different ideas on how dogs should be trained. Even mentioning the words "Cesar Millan" or "Dog Whisperer" can cause people to start acting like first graders fighting on a playground over a kickball at recess!  I am serious, maturity seems to fly out the window if a clicker trainer and a trainer who uses all types of methods get into an argument about whether or not dogs should be trained only with positive reinforcement, or if negative reinforcement and even correction can be integrated into the training process. Words like "idiot" and "inhumane" fly back and forth, not just when people are talking, but it goes on all the time now in writing, on email lists and in articles.

By the same token, people these days get all wound up about whether or not it is okay to purchase a well bred purebred puppy for their family, or if they must save a dog by adopting from a shelter or a rescue group. You know what? The last time I checked the ten commandments, there was not one that said "YOU MAY NOT BREED OR BUY A DOG."  There ARE actually  Bible verses that say that a righteous man is good to his animals, so I believe that everyone, regardless of their interest in dogs, should be kind and compassionate to them in their care. I have seen both humane and inhumane care in every type of dog person, not just in puppy mill situations. It is important to do your homework, and use common sense, to find an ethical rescue group or an ethical breeder. I personally own dogs who have come from show breeders, plus 2 dogs and 3 cats who have been "rescued" because I have the luxury of being able to own multiple pets. But not everyone has the time, the proper living situation or even the desire, to own multiple pets.

If these people wish for their only pet to be one adopted from a rescue group or animal shelter, that is wonderful. It is very rewarding to know that you gave a pet a "forever home" that formerly was unloved or unwanted. But it is also nice to research different breeds of dogs, get to know breeders until you find one that is ethical and is breeding for good health and good temperament, and purchase a dog for your family that you know a bit more about, where you can meet the pup's parents and see what their personalities are like, see if they are good with children, have lifetime contact with a breeder who is knowledgeable about the breed, etc.  BOTH OPTIONS ARE GOOD OPTIONS.

There ARE ways to get dogs that are NOT good options, and most of us who have owned multiple pets have, at one time or another, made a decision that we later regretted. I personally once paid quite a bit of money for a parrot at a pet store. Yes, that's right, a pet store. And it was a mistake. We spent hundreds of dollars, perhaps thousands, driving hours to a bird behaviorist, reading book after book, talking to bird breeders, etc. but all we learned is that it is almost impossible to get an adult Cockatoo who already has a screaming habit to stop screaming!  This article is about dogs, so I won't bore you with all my bird experiences but long story short, we discovered that we simply were not, at that point in our lives, cut out to be multiple pet bird owners. We had a child who had special needs, and I was very busy running a business and had no idea that having birds required the time and commitment that they require. We were fortunate enough to find very good homes, with experienced bird owners, for three birds when we finally made the heart wrenching decision to let them go.

Because the bird community is not one in which I was immersed (like I am the dog community), I did not have to deal with people telling me what a terrible pet owner I was, or lecturing me and quizzing me about where we had gotten our  parrots or what we had done to try to make it work out during those years we owned them. I also did not have to "justify" why we kept our African Grey but had to move him to the kitchen at Bed & Biscuit instead of continuing to have him in our home, dealing with our allergies and the bird and child's behavioral problems that fed off each other. BTW, he enjoyed being a B&B mascot, but we lost him when he was only 8, due to an illness.

Sorry to go down a rabbit hole re birds! But I want readers to know that I have learned, through personal experience, that ANYONE can make mistakes when it comes to pet ownership, and we should be more compassionate towards dog owners who have made a mistake and are now desperately trying to work with a dog that may not actually be the right fit for their family. We also should act like adults and respect everyone in our profession (speaking to dog trainers, animal welfare volunteers and reputable breeders) instead of wasting time and energy trying to catch each other doing something we don't like!

Sure, I believe in being HUMANE. But I also believe in being effective, and to be effective in solving a serious problem, such as the dog that is growling at children, it usually takes some correction. Very few human children can be raised to be well mannered and well adjusted without being taught the difference in right and wrong, including being given a consequence when they make a choice that might put their life, or someone else's in danger. Shoot, even if our children are simply choosing to ruin a piece of our furniture, we will discipline them, won't we?  So why in the world do we freak out if someone teaches a dog what "no" means, in order to keep them from destroying furniture or engaging in other inappropriate behaviors?  And on the other hand, if a dog trainer chooses to work only with dogs which are being taught a dog sport like agility or conformation, and they are able to accomplish their training goals with food treats and clicker training, that is fine with me--I admire their work and dedication!

What is NOT fine with me is this current trend of everyone becoming FANATICS, making whatever their dog preferences are into a religion. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, but I personally do not defend "religion" because millions of lives have been lost in the name of religion. My understanding is that God cares about RELATIONSHIP with his cihldren, not legalism and man-made religious rules. I believe that dogs, and dog people, deep down inside, want the same thing!  They want relationship. They want to enjoy the company of other people who love dogs. It really IS possible to learn to work together, and even solve some really big problems by doing so!

Reputable breeders can help humane societies and rescue groups with educational programs, fundraising and some may even have time for volunteer work. Animal rescue groups who get inquiries from people wanting a purebred puppy, can get to know reputable breeders from local kennel and breed clubs so that they can refer these people to the right place, keeping them away from puppy millers and pet stores. Just as breeders who are contacted by someone wanting to adopt a rescue dog can refer these folks to the most reputable rescue organizations.

When I got into dogs, in the late 70s (yes, I know I am telling my age), all types of dog people seemed to be drawn to each other like magnets, and loved socializing and learning from one another. Now it seems almost the opposite--we are way too busy criticizing one another, or trying to convert each other to our own belief system, to be true friends and enjoy each other. I wonder if it is possible to get back to being 'dog people' instead of having to choose a "dog based religion" and stick to it?

What do you think? Love to hear your thoughts--as always, comments welcome! And I have certainly heard it all, re being criticized for being middle-of-the-road, so if you want to comment on why you would want to stick to your guns on any of the subjects addressed in this article, feel free to let it rip!




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Comments (9)
  • Debi Smith  - Regarding Animal "Religion"

    VERY WELL SAID! I could not agree with you more. Children do not learn at the same pace and by the same methods - why should we expect dogs to? Fighting about training methods doesn't solve a thing. Everyone has a right to use whatever method works for them as long as the dog is not being abused. Correction is not abuse. I guess I am middle-of-the-road too because I don't believe that what works for one dog will work with every dog.

  • Melanie S  - reply to Debi re training methods

    Hi Debi, thanks so much for your comment. Are you the Debi who works with Dalmatians? If yes, perhaps that is why you are able to see things from a balanced prespective. I think sometimes the problem is that people have only worked with breeds of dogs, or mixes who are not as strong willed as something like a Dal, a Siberian or a German Shepherd. I agree with you totally that everyone has the right to use the method that works for them and the dog as long as the dog is not abused. The problem these days is that people are getting crazy about what "abuse" means. For example, some now feel that any kind of collar correction is abuse. Put a ten month old Siberian rescue who has never been on leash on a buckle collar and try to have some control! That is a recipe for disaster, and unfortunately, when a rescue dog makes a mistake, often he must pay with his life. Melanie

  • Debi Smith

    Yes, same Debi. Been there, done that. Those same people watch Cesar Milan and think he is being cruel. People forget that the dogs he is working with have been "trained" (or tried to train) with other methods before he sees them. Those methods did not work, and many times he was a last chance for the dog. Positive reinforcement will always be my preferred method of training, but it won't work with all dogs, and in my opinion only works with about half of the time with breeds like the Dalmatian.

  • Joni

    Well-said, Melanie!

  • Darcy

    You know what stinks? It is that dog people now, when they have a disageement, they do not try to work out it between each other. They waste time calling everyone in the world but the parties involved, and they waste time trying to figure out how to "get" the other person, as opposed to how to work things out. Years ago, when dog show people had a problem with one another, they did not enjoy airing their dirty laundry, but they fought it out until the air cleared. If it never cleared, or even became a legal battle, it was still their own business. Now everyone has to hear about it and is supposed to take a side. Ridiculous!

  • Jeanne Haight

    Yipee.........doing the happy dance reading your article on animals/religion. I haven't been able to figure out why some people froth at the mouth over Cesar's name, for instance, and not listening when told we were all intelligent enough to take what we needed from one trainer and dismiss the other........to separate the chaff from the wheat, per se. It truly befuddles me that people feel so strongly about something in the animal world, that they can't respect other people's thoughts. I hope this hits home to those who might recognize themselves, and perhaps soften some images. Well done, Mellie.

  • Melanie S  - Well said Jeanne H

    Jeanne, as a dog owner who has worked with more than one dog trainer, I know you know what you are talking about! How in the world do pet owners figure it all out though, now that the dog training community seems to be all about power struggles and philosophies, as opposed to being concerned about trying to help the pet owner? Again, it is like a religious person being more worried about making me a Baptist or a Catholic, than about teaching me the real things of God! It is all craziness!

  • Barry O  - Stupid Human Tricks

    Ha..it's funny how many of the very zealots of certain exclusive 'P' type training methods are so quick to chastise with such dominant, alpha assertiveness others that assume the alpha leadership aspect toward respect training...akin to the passive bearing arms. And also this ideology that instils a belief that an alpha or dominant role with your charge is parallel to 'whipping, beating or man-handling' a dog into blithering submission and the mere mention of such will cause you to be expatriated to an island somewhere into the nether region. This one formula and one formula only for training is but a stupid human trick..one that unfortunately has many trainers forcibly catering to for market sustenance. Sigh
    Totally agree and appreciate your thoughts.

  • Melanie S

    So true Barry...makes no sense at all to me that any good dog trainer would ever choose to believe in "one formula only" type of thinking.

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