The dog breeding world, and the dog training world, can be an incredibly difficult place to be.
This comes, I think, from an overwhelmingly good place. We feel very strongly about dogs and how they should be treated. We are extremely tough on ourselves; our standard are very high. However, the terrible thing about this attitude is that it so often becomes an avenue for being horrible to other people.
This is not about blowing the whistle on breeders who are really unethical, who let dogs end up in rescue or who abandon owners. This is about the infighting that goes on within the reputable breeder community, and within the reputable training community.
The root of the whole thing, I think, is not being able to imagine anything but your own reality. Because it would be difficult or impossible for me to do X or Y correctly, I decide that it's impossible for ANYBODY to do it correctly and therefore it's the wrong way to do it. This would be fine if we all just shut up, but we never do. We can't stand not to talk about it, and we tear each other down in a way that's tragic.
This was vividly illustrated to me when I was reading a training manual last night. The trainer was completely new to me but has a slick website and a high-priced program and lots of endorsements.
His methods seemed to me to be very common-sense; exercise a lot, reward a lot, engage drive. What stopped me in my tracks was his response to any question about owning more than one dog.
Don't, he said.
Dogs don't need other dogs. Dogs are stressed by other dogs. People can't adequately train more than one. Dogs don't need more pack interaction. If you have one, that should be enough for anybody.
Looking around at my floor, carpeted with various dogs, I thought What on earth is this guy smoking? But then I read his biography, and lo and behold he has never owned more than one dog at once. He doesn't say so in so many words, but he talked about his dogs and they were definitely in a single-file line.
AHA, I thought; of course. For him, owning more than one dog would be a crisis. He is smart enough and self-aware enough to know this, so he keeps his numbers very low. However, he is not other-aware enough to realize that he's mixing up his own feelings about multiple dogs with objective statements about multiple dogs.
We must distinguish between choosing something because it's right and choosing something because we don't understand the alternatives.
For example, is it objectively wrong to own more than five dogs, or ten dogs, or twenty dogs, or does our "There's no way they can all get enough attention" really mean "There's no way I could give them enough attention"?
Is it objectively wrong to give a dog a collar correction, or does our "It's cruel and painful" mean "I don't know how to do it in a way that's not cruel and painful"?
Is it objectively wrong to breed more than two litters a year, or does our "She must be a puppy mill" really mean "In that situation, I would be doing it for the money"?
Is it actually impossible to have a careful breeding program if you're selling a lot of dogs — or would it just be impossible for me?
Is it objectively wrong to lure/treat dogs, or does our "That's just bribery" really mean "I don't know how to do it right"?
Is it objectively wrong to have a kennel, or is it that you don't know how to properly care for dogs in one? Is it wrong to have dogs in an apartment or is it just that you couldn't do it right? Is it wrong to roll a dog or is it just that you can't tell the difference between a dog responding correctly to it and a dog who is not?
I see so many trainers with their YouTube videos spending 35 minutes trashing other training methods and five minutes explaining their own. And, in just about every case, what I really hear is "This method is the one I am really good at." It's the one that has always made sense to them, the one they can see working, the one that they can do very well. They don't realize that other people have the exact same feelings about THEIR method. The first thinks the second is cruel. The second thinks the first is fooling herself. When you watch either one actually working dogs, the dogs are happy and content and working well and eager. The dogs obviously don't think the first is stupid or the second is cruel. The dogs wouldn't pay to hear either one on the lecture circuit throwing bags of flaming poop at each other.
The cure for this must be that we stop looking at the people and start looking at the dogs. Is the dog happy? Is the group of dogs obviously well cared for and relaxed? Are they clean and content? Are they well bonded with their owners and the environment is stable and balanced? Is the breeding program producing positive results, an increase in soundness or longevity or temperament? If so, I may choose to leave the class and look for another one, or I may choose to run my breeding program a different way, or I may choose to not go over two dogs in my household.
But I need to realize where my convictions are based on objectives and where they are just evidence of my own abilities (or lack thereof).