As someone who grew up in the writing community, I have a lot of respect for the author/reader contract and a healthy distrust for those who break it. Since the term “force free” is simultaneously loaded and ambiguous, there’s a lot of room for misunderstanding here just based on the title. I thought it would be useful to write up a synopsis of what the readers of this blog can expect from me, and what I expect from my readers.
I identify as a force free trainer. To me, that means that whenever possible I avoid the use of pain, pressure, intimidation, discomfort, startle-response, blame or punishment in my interactions with animals. I choose to follow the Humane Hierarchy developed by Dr. Susan Friedman. I reinforce behaviors that I like, and either ignore or prevent reinforcement for behaviors I dislike. My tool of choice is a clicker (or equivalent marker).
This blog is a platform for self-education and polite discussion about training animals without the use of aversives. And that’s it. That’s the whole agenda.
This blog is for everyone. I teach people with vastly different levels of dog experience and background knowledge. The content of the posts here will reflect that. Some of the posts will be simple “how to” articles geared toward first time pet owners. Some will be heavy on theory and assume a basic understanding of behavior, geared more toward people who like to geek out about the science. Most will be somewhere in the middle. If you aren’t the target audience for the first post you see, keep scrolling. There’s something for you here.
I am force free, but I am not the dog training police. I am not here with torches and pitchforks to forcibly convert the masses to my training methodology. This blog is not geared exclusively to other force free trainers, and I am writing with full expectation that people with different training backgrounds will be in the audience. If you are reading this with the genuine intention to learn more about force free training, regardless of what methods you use currently or used in the past, then I promise to write to you with civility and respect, even where our tools and ethics differ. I am able to speak passionately about my methods without the need to demonize people who do otherwise. And I ask that the readers on both sides of the aisle extend that same atmosphere of civility and mutual respect to the comments section here. There’s enough “us versus them” mentality in the online dog training community already without anyone willingly adding to it.
I am not perfect. I am human; I err. I am relatively young in my dog training journey and I have made plenty of mistakes already. Please don’t conflate my individual shortcomings with failures of the force free ethos as a whole. I aspire to be open and honest about my flaws in this blog, because I believe in the value of learning from the mistakes of others. (As the quip says, “Learn from the mistakes of others, because you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”) I try to find the teachable moment even in the big mistakes. I am a proud person and admitting flaws is difficult for me, but I do think it’s important to show the whole picture, warts and all.
My dogs are not perfect either. They’re wonderful and I wouldn’t trade them for the world, but I don’t hold any illusions that they are the Best Trained Dogs Ever. And since they can’t speak to tell me otherwise, I’m extending my warts-and-all philosophy to them as well. Sorry pups.
The bottom line: In all things, I encourage you to find the good.