I am constantly amazed at the places conversations go to on social media. I’m sure it is no different in any passionate circles such as stamp collecting or pet rock ownership (seriously, have you seen the drama on the Canning pages on FB?) , but all aspects of the dog world are quite famous for frequent episodes of infighting , dramatic gestures and grand proclamations. So I really shouldn’t be surprised that if anything, it is worse on social media outlets than in “real life”.
At one point in my life I decided I would like to show dogs, GSDs in particular. I fell in love with the idea of improving on and preserving a breed and with the comraderie I imagined I saw at the shows. I use the word ‘imagine’, because it is quite literally the only word that could describe what I was doing – living in my imagination. While I would never paint all breeders and show people with a broad brush (but if I did at the time, it would have likely been black), my experiences in those tumultuous years left a very bad taste in my mouth. If I had been looking for a crash course in back stabbing, lying and how to form highly questionable motives I would have been in luck. Unfortunately for my pocketbook and my sanity, I was looking for what my vivid imagination had prescribed – support and working together for the betterment of the dogs. I think the word I am looking for to describe my viewpoint at that time is: naive.
Luckily, I didn’t give up on dogs all together and sorted out a path of my own (that currently doesn’t involve a show ring) where I have encountered a number of amazing people (including a few wonderful breeders/show people) who feel just as strongly as I do about dogs, specifically regarding their behavior and their welfare. It hasn’t been an easy road by any means however. Politics, egos, a plethora of badly executed or underinformed literature and hero worship have all been serious hurdles and potholes on my journey. By far the most difficult, however, has been the far too common human tendency towards line blurring during discussions or debates – the one that causes people to put out contracts on each other and dream of running them over with their lawn mowers. Yes, I’m talking about the inability to separate the desire to prove one’s point and attacking the person who has an opposing view.
Are we, in this area, any different than our dogs? In reward based training circles we talk often about how to increase harmony between our dogs and marvel often at their efforts to avoid conflict. We talk about how important it is to encourage generosity and kindness in this other species we are so devoted to, and yet behave too often like scrapping canines in full display of territorial aggression. “My opinion is the best!” we proclaim (and very rarely back it up any further than with pop literature or references to our heroes who may or may not be themselves well informed) – “My experience trumps yours and yours and yours…” . “My dogs can do such and such and were never so much as looked at sideways.” says one party. “Well, my dogs needed something different so I gave it to them.” says another. ” If you had only more experience or more skill or more Wheaties for breakfast, you could be like me.” trumpets the first contributor. ” You’re both wrong – not to mention, a couple of morons!” a third party exclaims. And….. we’re off….
Unfortunately this race has a lot of casualties it can’t afford, not the least of whom are the bystanders silently listening. We often forget that social media isn’t confined to our living rooms, despite the fact that we are sitting in ours wearing our chocolate stained pyjamas. We aren’t on the phone with our mothers and we’re not in a closed room with the other people commenting on our posts. We are, in fact, in front of a large, mostly silent audience, writing permanent phrases that are easily copied, shared and forever etched on the minds of people we don’t even know. It’s been a while now, but I still remember reading an emphatic response to one of my early and tentative questions – a response that cut me down to size through the use of some pretty harsh language and which ended in a statement about my capabilities as a trainer… all based on very little information. Thinking about it now gives me a very visceral response – it had that much impact on me. I have to wonder how it affected other people who were reading that thread and considering whether or not to post their stories.
The truth is, we are passionate people who will never agree on many of the details of dog stuff – and neither should we. This past year at the SPARCS 2013 conference held in Seattle, Washington, Adam Miklosi gave one of the most compelling and important talks I had heard in a very long time, all about how diversity in scientific circles is so very critical to the health of science as a whole. He argued that those who believe in what couldn’t be explained are just as vital as those who require unimpeachable proof. Together, they keep each other striving for better understanding and inspire the evolution of thought and method, which in turn strengthens their institution. I believe strongly that we can borrow of this wisdom to better our canine communities. While there are some absolutes on which we should all agree (and likely do already), we do not need to have everyone agree with us about every detail in order to live and interact in harmony, or at least without plotting to blow one another up. I truly believe that diversity makes the world a beautiful place, a wondrous place; a place where we can continue to learn and grow – and yes, defend our viewpoints with passion but never lose respect for the worth in the views of our neighbor.
I challenge you to not allow your passion and “right fighting” to keep us from working together for the welfare of our canine friends. When the public is being innundated as they are with the confusing methods and dominance theory spouted by the likes of Cesar Millan and Nat Geo, it is far beyond time we look for the good in each other and help each other to grow, learn and become productive proponents of this kinder method of training. The dogs are the ones who will benefit.
No small victory on social media is worth jeopardizing that.