Why Clicker Trainers Make Me Sad

Golden Retriever sitting at crosswalk

Good job, Honey. You’re not paying any attention to that friendly crossing guard giving out candy.

Those darn people who talk on their cell phones while ignoring their dog at the end of a flexi-leash.

The person who insists her dog will listen to her off leash as she yells “Buster, Buster, BUSTER. Get over here.”

And how about that guy who yanks his dog away from every interesting smell?

On any walk, I see plenty of dog walkers who make me sad. But none are worse than the folks clicking and treating.

No Time To Talk; I’m Training

Honey and I have been practicing for her Canine Good Citizen test in high-distraction settings: the park, the coffee shop, the elementary school.

Every dog and his person is a challenge. Can Honey pay attention to me? Will she continue to listen? Can she avoid pulling to greet someone interesting?

Last week I saw a woman walking a black dog toward us. When she saw us, she made the dog sit and I heard the faint sound of a click and saw her pop a treat into his mouth.

The dog was getting excited and starting to pull. So I moved Honey up onto the steps of the church we were passing—about 20 feet away from the sidewalk where the woman and her dog would pass.

As the dog came closer, he got more and more excited. The woman worked hard to redirect his attention to her and when he was calm for a micro-second, she clicked and treated.

It was obvious they had a lot of work ahead of them. But she appeared committed to teaching her dog good manners.

Passing Strangers

A few days ago, Honey and I were walking home when we saw the clicking woman and her dog again. They had come far in just a few short days.

Since it appeared he could handle it, I simply moved Honey off the sidewalk and made her sit. We were no more than six feet away when the black dog walked by—pulling a little but mostly walking calmly by his person’s side.

As the woman clicked and treated, she met my eye and smiled.

I wanted to stop and chat. To tell her how wonderfully her dog was doing in a short time. To compare training notes.

But the woman was focused on her dog. And that’s the way it should be.

Golden Retriever looks at crossing guard

Well, you almost did it.

Finding Your Tribe

When it comes to all things dog, my tribe is online.

I was really excited when I moved to Ithaca. They have a dog training club that offers everything from puppy classes to advanced agility.

But when I read the instructions for the puppy class that insisted all puppies be fitted with a slip (e.g. choke) collar, I knew this wasn’t my tribe.

It was confirmed when my neighbor told me how his trainer in the club taught him to knee his exuberant Golden Retriever in the chest to keep him from jumping. It was ok for the kids to turn away to discourage the behavior. But adults could only teach a dog by causing pain.

So you can see why I’m so excited to see trainers on the street who “get it.” And why I’m so sad that we don’t have time to chat.

Reaching Out

Maybe I need to make up some business cards I could slip to people training their dogs as we walk by that say, “Email me if you want to have a cup of tea with a fellow dog lover.”

Or post a notice on Craigslist and hope it doesn’t attract the wackadoos that often hang out in the pets postings.

Or maybe I’ll just continue to smile and wave at fellow clicker trainers on the street and be happy that they’re there.

Do you have “dog” friends in your neighborhood? Where did you meet them? At the dog park? Volunteering? Or is your “tribe” mostly online?

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  1. I so know what you’re going through: it’s hard to resist temptation and not squeal with delight when you see someone successfully training with their dog. :) When I see someone out and about with a harness on their dog instead of something more offensive, I want to congratulate them on making such a good decision! But I’m sure I would just look crazy. I’ve thought of having a shirt that says “I’m a clicker trainer too – let’s chat!” 😉

  2. I know what you mean!

    I don’t really have any in-person dog people. I’ve emailed with a couple trainers in my area, and there is one that I think I would like, but my work schedule has precluded me from ever attending any of those classes. I’ve thought about contacting one of the Schutzhund clubs that are within an hour of me, but it’s almost a guarantee that they don’t use clickers there.

  3. I’d say ours is on-line – the folks at the rescue, the dog people I hang around with… I either met them through the rescue, Facebook or Blogging.


  4. There’s all kinds of info out there. What’s right? I dunno, but anyone that tries is to be commended.

  5. My tribe is definitely online. I don’t have one person I know that actually agrees with the ways I train my dogs and that includes the one I’ve been married to for 22 years.

    My sadness is that I don’t have anyone that I could practice with. That would be ideal, for someone who ‘got it’ and could help me with those behaviors I’m struggling with.

    Definitely business cards Pamela, you should have a business card with your blog information and contact information as well.

  6. Keep walking in the same place, and maybe one of these times you will get that chance to connect with your clicker friend. Most of my friends have dogs, so I’d say they’re all my tribe, but my online tribe of dog friends is definitely more knowledgeable and more in tune to dog-related issues. I’ve connected with a couple local rescue groups as well, which is a good way to meet dog people who really care.

  7. I do have a lot of dog friends in my community thanks to agility. We get together a few times a year outside of class as well and usually spend the entire evening talking dogs. It’s a lot of fun. Before my dog I didn’t have any local friends as I’m kind of a homebody. But when I got involved in dog sports I met many people with the same interests, and the same training philosophies. If I ever give it up, I think I might miss the people the most.

  8. When we lived in England, we knew some like-minded doggy people. It wasn’t easy finding good trainers though. Now we live in rural Spain and in this area they think that a dog that sits on request is a miracle. Sadly, most of the other dogs around here live outside, receive no training at all, and think chasing cars is a fun game.

  9. I agree with Peggy. You may eventually connect with your clicker friend if you just smile and say “hello” the next time you see her. She’ll recognize that you agree with her training methods and may strike up a conversation with you.

    On a personal note, I’m glad I have my online dog friends. I don’t have a dog of my own right now, but I’m caring for one while a family member is in the hospital. It’s reassuring to know that I can go online and ask for help when I need it!

  10. my “tribe” is mostly online as well…sure wish you lived by me…I could use training tips and a cup of coffee sounds GREAT!

  11. I created my “tribe”. I started a Dachshund Club in Seattle (one of the biggest that now has almost 200 members). We meet at least monthly for a walk and sometimes more. We chat about our dogs, any issues they may be having and just life in general.

    Admittedly, we do not all see eye-to-eye when it comes to “how to raise your baby”. Some of have similar perspectives but some of us have very different ones. Some don’t even attempt to train using any technique, they just shrug and say “that is a Dachshund for you” or “I simply cannot say no to them”. Some are very food and weight conscious when it comes to their dogs and some aren’t. For example, some feed their dog people food, again, with the reasoning “I can’t say no” which leads to their dog being overweight (which they don’t see or say “oh well”). Others are looking for help, advice or tips from others. I stick more with the people in the group that think like me.

    I consider that I have an online tribe too but what brings us together is a love for animals and blogging. Views on other things can vary quite a bit.

  12. I’m lucky to have both live and on-line tribes. In the new year, I’ll be starting a dog walking club ala SocialBulls and Jessica’s Dachshund Club but the focus will be hounds (with any breed and blend invited). We have good positive training people here and then there are the outliers….I don’t hang out with them.

  13. Although we meet lots of great dog-lovers at the dog park, I wouldn’t necessarily think of them as my tribe. We all come from various backgrounds, some have incredible training abilities while others have none…but even so most of us get along incredibly well. Our training facility is a god-send though: the trainers, the dogs, the parents…we all have a common positive training only goal and encourage one another all the time. And of course, we love our blogville friends and family who provide constant support!!

    Perhaps, next time you pass the woman and her dog, just give a quiet “you two are doing amazing!” and a smile, then she might be more inclined to talk next time you see each other!?

  14. We have a city full of fantastic dog trainers. We’ve done all kinds of classes and things. Silas and I still don’t have any dog friends, though.

    We were close, once. Silas and a little Cavalier King Charles bonded in puppy kindergarten. The CKC was the only dog there Silas wasn’t afraid of. His mom and I scheduled a play date. She invited me to go out with her “girls night out” group, even. We’d only been in town a few months, and I was thrilled that it would be so easy to meet people here. But then Silas, who in the meantime went to puppy daycare and gained a lot of confidence, spent the entire play date trying to hump little Oliver. I never heard from her again.

  15. I have a tribe both online and out in my community – and I make sure to find one out in my community with every move we do. I have found that being present among other dogs and their owners often shows me what I can learn and should expect from my dogs – because they (and myself) are perfectly capable of it. I also end up secretly congratulating myself on how friendly and obedient my dogs are in some social settings.

  16. Hi Pamela
    My tribe is also on line. I spend half of my day keeping up with my dog’s emails, Dogbook account and her blog. It’s all great fun and I learn so much.
    I’ve made an effort to connect with “dog people” in my area. I know several trainers, the owners of several pet supplie stories, I know many of the people who operate rescue services and sit on the boards of the local shelters.
    Today I had a wonderful experience at our local dog park. It is a very large park so although you do meet people and dogs during your walk, there aren’t that many. Most are friendly enough.
    Today we got to meet a wonderful dog and his owner. The dogs got to play for a long time and I got to talk with a nice young man. We shared resuce stories and he told me this was his first dog. He asked a lot of questions about what brand of food I used, what kennel I used (I told him about my great pet sitter).
    I would love to meet more people like him at the park, but am very happy for the friends I have made on line and off.

  17. I’d say my tribe is equally distributed between online and real life. I have a blog and have connected with many like-minded folks that way, but I also do dog sports (primarily agility) and see a regular group of friends at my weekly training class and agility trials. In my neighborhood I am probably considered to be the “crazy dog lady” as most folks do nothing with their dogs beyond a walk to the corner and back, if that.

  18. I’m glad you brought this up. Clicker training is no more than treat training with the noise added for .. well I don’t know.

  19. I’m glad to read that I’m not the only one whose tribe is online. I often get depressed when I’m out with my dogs. Unfortunately, it’s not because my fellow dog-walkers are too busy C/T their dogs. It’s because they are yelling at and yanking on their dogs… if they’re bothering to control them at all. And then there are all the dogs I see behind fences, their frantic running from one side of the yard to the other, the only exercise they ever get.

    I moved from a metropolitan area with a great many dog training clubs, private trainers, and Animal Behaviorists from which to choose. They ran the gamut from the old school to the progressive.

    Now, I live in more rural place where “crank and yank” training is still seen as the only way to go. A local veterinarian told one of my clients that she would never get her very soft GSD puppy to do anything, using treats and a clicker; instead, he advocated the method of highly P+ training he utilizes for training guard dogs.

    Other trainers in the area routinely tell large breed puppy owners, “You’ll never be able to control that dog without a prong collar,” on the first day of puppy kindergarten as well as advocating the Alpha Roll, knee-to-the-chest, and other methods that make me shudder.

    At a nearby Obedience Trial, a trainer (with several OTCHs under her belt) told me that my Pug would never learn to walk nicely on-leash without a prong or shock collar; too bad he wasn’t there with me that day to blow her away with his flawless heel… taught solely with R+ methods.

    Establishing my own business here has been a challenge because my R+ methods aren’t what the locals are used to. Luckily, many of my students are thrilled with the “new” concept of dog training and word is starting to get out. I soldier on, making sure that my own dogs are out and about regularly, so that my neighbors can see that training without pain and fear not only works, it builds a better relationship between dog and handler.

    In the meantime, I am eternally grateful for my online dog owner/trainer tribe.

  20. I generally don’t talk to the other dog owners in the neighborhood because I’m too busy focusing on Rita and trying to keep her calm. Occasionally I’ll be able to chat w/ someone because Rita (for whatever reason) is fine with their dog. (It’s so nice when that happens!) But at the off-leash park, we have lots of friends we see there all the time, although a lot of them are not necessarily employing what I would say are the best training methods. (We see it all there!) I also have a big on-line tribe through tripawds.com (our last dog had 3 legs) and cometdog.com, where we are all crazy dog ladies and post as if it was the dog talking.
    It’s a good mix.

  21. The One Called Donna has a lot of dog friends in our area – but they agree to disagree on the training. You see, Long Island is very correction oriented for some reason. The One Named Nick says it is because people who live here want stuff “right now” and correction training is often faster. Sad for the dogs of all those peoples, huh?

  22. I do have online friends, but I feel lucky to have an off line group of people I can talk and practice positive training with. I belonged to a dog training club for a few years and during that time they from from prong collars to clickers. At least most of them did. We sponsored some great seminars and a group of us when to the APDT conferences together.

    I’m no longer a member of the club. Mostly because while people may use positive methods with their dogs, they often forget about doing the same with people and things got crazy. I am still friends with a few though and it’s nice being able to talk dog training with someone who has the same training principles as me.

  23. First, loved your post. I admit, your headline got me at first! I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. I live in a neighborhood filled with dogs and folks who are active with their dogs and with local pet shelters. Through agility and other dog activities I have lots of pals I actually know in person. And though our blog and other social media I also have lots of online pals, many of who I’ve also been lucky enough to meet in person.

  24. In our little town? Are you kidding? We don’t see too many people even walking dogs around here, much less have the chance to really connect with anyone. There’s a certain religious sect in or town and if you aren’t a member of the church, they will be polite to you on the street, but they won’t invite you to do social things.

    It wasn’t until I was online that I really found people who have the same level of passion and empathy towards their pets that I feel. I’ve met a lot more kindred spirits online than I have in person. I’d love it if we had more people in our area to socialize with, but I think that is slow going.

  25. We do have some dog friends that we see every Saturday at the park, but we generally just walk and chat together about random things. All of the dogs are really well behaved but we’ve never really discussed training methods. Still – I feel much more connected to my online tribe!!

  26. I totally agree. Most people where I live say, “It’s just a dog.” I met some wonderful people at a dog camp who are like-minded in using appropriate training techniques for the individual dog. Check out http://www.pawstoconnect.net Maybe you could join this group for their once a year retreat to relax and hang out with other dog lovers! (As of Oct-19, the website has not been updated with information on the 2013 camp, but it is being planned for sometime in mid-August to mid-October. There is an email address for the planner on the website. If you email her and request more info, she will make sure you receive it when details are available.)

  27. I’m used to people saying I’m a bit crazy with my stratospheric love of dogs, so finding people online who feel the same way I do is a breath of fresh air. I generally feel like I can get along with anyone if they love dogs, because in my books if you treat your dog well that trumps a lot of poor behavior. So while I’m slowly finding a gang on line, I think the mutual dog lovers card might not be a bad idea – it may be the only way I get to have brunch with a being other than my pooch!

  28. Oh my – have you seen Buster and me on one of our bad days? =) This post got me thinking – I’m going to pull out my clicker again. I’ve been trying to train without it, though I have no idea why. Thanks for the post – you neighbor inspired me.