After many years of working with all different types of animals, including several of my own, I have developed a unique training philosophy. “Tools-not-Rules” has become my motto. Each person is completely individual and unique just as every animal is individual and unique; the training approach that is successful for one animal’s needs may not be successful for another. However, what I have learned is positive reinforcement is almost always better than punishment.
After studying the philosophies of both behaviorists and ethologists, I have come to believe that both are important, both are correct, but neither has pieced together the full puzzle. I have developed a training philosophy that focuses on the fact that animals DO have feelings and emotions that can drive the way they think and act. That is not to say that animals are as evolved in that respect as humans, their emotions are raw and more akin to those of a young child, such as a toddler. Animals react to environmental stimulus based on what works for them. In many ways, this emotional capacity is what makes them such great partners in the human process, but in many ways it makes it harder to communicate.
Many of us, myself included, think of our animals as little furry children. We feed them the best food possible, we leave the lights and radio on when we are gone, and we even allow them to sleep with us. Although the lifestyles of pets have changed quite dramatically over the past few decades, we still have that small problem of communication. They don’t speak our language and we don’t speak theirs. That isn’t to say that we cannot communicate effectively but it is not without some effort, and our attempts to make them more human or attribute human emotion to their actions is our error.
For example, your pet did not urinate in your bed out of spite because you were gone all day. However, he might have done it to alleviate the stress he feels when left alone. Dogs and cats have pheromones in their urine that not only mark a place as their own but also provide comfort to them. The bed smells most like you, so that is a natural place to seek out your presence, and when you are not there, add his own. The effect is the same- urine on the bed- but the reasoning is very different.
I believe that as humans it is our job to seek out and create right relations with the things around us. We are charged not just with caring for our environment but understanding it; this is especially true for those with whom we choose to share our lives.
My goal as a professional in the pet industry is to help my clients understand and build a relationship with their pet that will enrich both of their lives. If I do my job correctly, my clients will eventually no longer need my services, but will be able to successfully interact on their own.