Let me start off with a story: A few months ago I was walking a client dog through a local park when I heard someone calling their dog. The voice was angry and frustrated. The dog, which turned out to be a puppy, was running around and having a great time. As I passed by, the angry man finally captured the freewheeling puppy and smacked him on the butt and cursed the little fluffer out. This scenario alone would have broken my heart enough to take some time to get over, but when I looked away from the man and right into the eyes of a little girl watching this whole thing play out, I really lost it. When our eyes locked, my heart sank. I wanted to run to her and hug her. I wanted to take her and the puppy and tell them both that they are loved and valuable and safe. In her eyes I could see what I have learned so deeply over the course of my training career.

Side note: I am going to assume that if you are reading this blog, you recognize the wrong turns involved in this man’s recall work. That goes without saying, and this is not a blog about recalls.

This is a blog about how the choices this man (and all of us) make about training dogs are also impacting those around us, ourselves, and society at large. This recall scenario illustrates my point well. The girl, the man, and myself all have things bigger than the puppy at play, but the puppy was the fixed point around which we all spun in that moment.

In that moment I wondered, what did this little girl learn as a witness to this? That men are violent? That if you don’t do what you’re asked/told you will get hit? That it is okay to be violent when things don’t go your way? That it is okay to hurt animals?

I wonder what this moment said about the man and what we as a society can do to help him learn to express his frustration differently? Would learning to be gentle, patient and kind with this puppy help him to be a kinder, gentler, more patient parent or uncle? I am 100% sure it would. Even more, could he learn to be those things to himself? I believe he would have to internalize these concepts first to use them actionably outward to dogs and kids etc. Can dog training be an antidote to toxic masculinity? Possibly. It can for sure be an in-road.

What about me? Obviously, I cannot abscond with the child and puppy and live some utopian dream. I wanted to speak up but felt my voice silenced in my throat at the prospect of facing this angry and clearly violent man, especially with unsolicited advice. I have had men like this as clients. Usually they are the father/husband figure in the house. I often struggle with how to get them on board with my kinder more empathetic way of training. I have had doors shut in my face by men who could not deal. I am left feeling like a failure to not only the dog but to the man and every other person in the home. This weighs on me.

I think about how dog training is more than dog training at other times too…

It is more than dog training every time I teach kids how to ask permission from the dog before they touch – yes, even their own dog. We have a conversation that is really about bodily autonomy, consent, and respecting personal boundaries. I can only hope these conversations will be repeated by their parents. Can using consent-based dog training help young kids learn how to be better adults who will hear and heed boundaries with future friends and lovers? Yes, I think it can provide adults around them, i.e. all of us, these moments with dogs as teachable moments for larger concepts.

It is more than just dog training every time I talk to a woman with a dog who bites about setting firm boundaries. We talk about how they and their dog are not community property, and how they don’t owe anyone an explanation. We talk about how, “No!” is a full sentence, as the saying goes. Often these women have been told repeatedly their voice, their ‘No’ and their wishes don’t matter. These woman have told me some amazing survival and trauma stories.

If you are on a positive dog training journey then you are already part of the movement to change the world. Maybe you didn’t know it! Welcome. Every time someone sees you give your dog a treat for doing something right you are showing them it’s okay. It’s okay to give a compliment for a job well done to a coworker. Every time you take the extra time to use consent-based language to help a child ask the dog for permission to touch it, you teach them how to use this language in their own life. Every time someone sees you handle your dog’s mischief with patience you are showing them how to be patient with each other. These are big things. We are not always going to be perfect, so be kind with yourself but also remember to give yourself a pat on the back when you get it right. All we can do is try — try to ‘Live the Clicker Life’ as it is called in trainer lingo. If you want to talk about the struggles of living this life, reach out. Reach out to me, or any other positive dog trainer. Let’s talk about these things. Let’s change the world. In