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Are Force Free Dog Trainers Close Minded?

March 16, 2024

“Force free dog trainers are closed minded.”

This is something that I have personally been accused of a few times now, and I also frequently see in the comment section on other force free trainers platforms. So the question that I want to talk about is: Is it close minded to be selective about the sources that you learn from, and to choose not to include correction or compulsion based trainers on that list?

To watch video version of this blog, click here:

First I do want to say that I think it’s incredibly important that we do keep learning.

I’m constantly reading books, taking professional courses, and sometimes watching free content from other force-free trainers or behavioural experts. If you think that you already know everything or that there’s nothing left to learn, I believe there are bigger problems than what I’m going to discuss in this blog post.

We all have things that we can learn and skills that we need to develop or strengthen, myself included. If I haven’t changed something about my dog training practices in a year I would consider that a massive personal red flag. So, I’m not going to discuss whether it’s important to keep learning, but instead I just want to focus on whether we actually need to consider all sources of information when we are learning.

I want to share two reasons why I don’t think that me choosing not to get my information from compulsion or correction based trainers makes me close minded:

First: we have a professional duty to be using modern practices.

Some may consider this an extreme example, but I think it’s quite fitting: If I was a child psychologist, would you consider me close-minded to not take professional advice from another psychologist that states that children need force, fear, or intimidation in order to change?

I’m hoping the answer to that was an easy no.

In the field of psychology, you would be discredited if you suggested smacking or threatening a kid as a proper way of changing their behaviour. Other psychologists would not be taking your advice seriously because it’s no longer credible or valuable.

So my question to you is: why does that change at all when we’re talking about a dog?

Psychology is a tightly regulated field, but dog training is not. I think it would surprise a lot of people to know that you can call yourself a professional dog trainer even if you have zero certifications or qualifications.

Dog training is basically the wild west!

Are force free dog trainers close minded?

However, I think that anybody that calls themselves a professional in any industry has a duty to use modern, up-to-date methods.

Unfortunately, we do not have strict regulatory practices yet, but we are charging for advice that affects a living, breathing, feeling creature.

I think at a minimum we need to regulate ourselves and that includes our actions, our methods, and our sources of information. Just like psychology no longer accepts physical corrections or intimidation being used on a child, organizations such as the AVSAB do not condone compulsion training with dogs.

We have a professional duty to use modern methods, and that includes learning from others that are doing the same!

The second reason I don’t believe it’s closed-minded to be selective about information sources is that force free dog training wasn’t actually something I always believed in.

This is a more personal example, but I actually wouldn’t be a force free dog trainer if I wasn’t open-minded.

I briefly touched on this in my “Why doesn’t Force free training work?” video, but I grew up in a household that was pro-compulsion.

One of my parents was a dog trainer and it was heavily drilled into me the difficult dogs need corrections. For many years, I genuinely believed that corrections were the only way to get behaviour change, and that using them actually helped the dog!

If I was close minded, I would still believe that.

Instead, as an adult, I realized that that is complete cr*p.

Once I actually took professional courses, understood learning theory, understood how to read canine body language, and understood the importance of threshold, my entire training practice changed.

Once you can actually see the stress and fear that compulsion causes dogs, you can’t un-see it, and you typically don’t want to watch others continue to cause it.

Luckily, harsh methods actually aren’t required to change a dog’s behaviour, and in fact, they’re less effective!

I’ve admitted on my social platforms many times that I am somebody that cares about results. If force free dog training genuinely didn’t work, I wouldn’t be an advocate for it.

Part of the reason that I started my Youtube channel in the first place and why I film my videos with dogs that are actually learning with force free methods on camera is that I want to be able to show incredible transformations using kind methods.

I was indoctrinated in the compulsion world. If I was close minded, I would still be stuck there using outdated methods that dogs don’t deserve. Allowing myself to be open to new ideas is what actually led me to force free, even when changing my beliefs came with a heavy personal cost.

I don’t view choosing to focus my learning from other trainers, behaviourists, or organizations that are also using modern, humane practices as being close minded.

Instead, I personally would consider it a step backwards in my learning if I was to listen to somebody that was giving unnecessary & harmful compulsion advice.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, so I would love to hear yours in the comments. Do you think that we need to include all sources to avoid being closed minded, or do you think some sources aren’t worth learning from?

If you tried force free training in the past and it didn’t work for you, I suggest watching this video next. It covers my own transition to force free training & the things that I needed to learn for it to actually work!

Disclosure: Happy Hounds uses affiliate links. Purchasing with these links will not cost you any extra, but I get commissions for purchases made through these links. Affiliate links help me to continue to offer free resources & blog posts. I would love if you used them!

Are Force Free Dog Trainers Close Minded?

About the author:

Stephanie Rombough, DBTMc, is a force-free dog trainer in Edmonton, Alberta. She owns Happy Hounds Dog Training, offering private in-person or virtual dog training services. 

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My mission at Happy Hounds is to help owners train their dogs using positive, force-free methods. A trained dog is less likely to end up in a shelter, and a dog trained with positive methods is more likely to be confident & happy. Everyone wins!

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