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The Politics of Dog Training
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The Politics of Dog Training

"So what kind of training do you do with your dog? R+? Alpha? Balanced?" You're a new dog parent and have no idea yet how loaded that question is. Be very, very careful how you answer, or at least answer as carefully as you would the question "So what are your politics? Left? Right? Moderate?" This isn't an article on how you should train your dog. It isn't even an article on what the different types of dog training are. These are words of affirmation telling you that only you know what's best for your dog.

Maybe you don't know where to start and maybe you have no idea what's best for your dog. Don't worry - as your relationship with your dog grows, you'll figure it out. You'll make mistakes along the way and people will disagree with your views. And that's okay. Not everyone's politics are the same.

Here are some ways you can start your dog training journey (so this article isn't a complete fluff piece):

Find a community to lean on

Instagram is a great place to connect with other dog parents and learn through other people's experiences. We've all struggled, whether it's with basic obedience or reactive dogs, and for the most part, Instagram has a pretty supportive dog community. As with all of these recommendations, take things online with a grain of salt. What works for one dog might not work for yours because every single dog is different. Even within households, what works for one dog may not work for the other, and it's good to keep that in mind and do what's best for the dog that's in front of you.

Read.

Books, articles, forums, anything you can get your hands on. The best way to figure out what your views are on different dog training methods is to learn about them. Books and online articles are a great way to learn about training methods from a more objective perspective. Forums can be a good resource to learn what other people are going through - you'll often find that you're not alone in the training challenges you face with your pup.

Here are some book recommendations that you can buy online from these Black-owned bookstores:

The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell (from Eso Won Books)
This is a great book on our relationship with our dogs and how they interpret the things that we do, down to the most subtle body language.

The Puppy Primer by Patricia McConnell (from Pyramid Books)
A good introduction to first-time puppy owners. It covers a wide variety of topics, not just about your puppy's behavior but about our behavior and how it affects them.

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know by Alexandra Horowitz (from Cultured Books)
Another book not specifically on dog training, but on dog cognition and behavior.

See a trend here? When I talk about training, I'm typically not referring to teaching a dog how to sit pretty or hug another dog (as cute as that is, and Kono definitely needs to learn that trick). I believe that training is about teaching your dog how to behave at home, in social settings, around other dogs, and around other people. It's about being a leader and providing guidance, and the best place to start is by understanding them.

For those of you interested in learning more about balanced training, Google is a great resource for plenty of articles or podcasts on the subject. I highly encourage doing your own research, and keeping an open mind while doing so. And the reality of it is that your training philosophy may change over time, as mine did (which I'll write about in a future article).

Watch YouTube videos

If you take anything with a grain of salt, it should be YouTube. YouTube videos should be watched with a handful of many grains of salt. YouTube's a bit of a Wild West when it comes to strong opinions on how you should or shouldn't train your dog. Again, like politics, so many videos seem to be someone pushing their own views on everyone else. Lean into it, and learn what both sides have to say.

Listen to dog training podcasts

Podcasts can be an incredibly productive use of your time driving from point A to point B. While there aren't too many dog training podcasts out there (way more articles and videos), they do exist and can be a great way to get ideas on how to motivate your dog or provide more mental stimulation for them.

Overall, the best way to learn what works for you is to research both sides of a specific training method. Instead of just searching for "Why positive reinforcement is the best way to train your dog," take time to research "Why positive reinforcement doesn't always work." Approach it the same way you'd approach a presidential primary - just be informed.



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