Speaking Up

In my personal life, I am a very direct and honest person. I sometimes unintentionally offend those who prefer a more subtle approach. But in my professional life, my opinions are much more tempered. I can’t educate if I am not heard. Shaping works on people too. But I don’t believe in ignoring a potential educational moment. So I always speak up when a situation presents itself to do so.

I have recently read a couple of blog posts written by other rewards-based trainers with completely opposing points of view. One involved a rather confrontational approach to other trainers who use more traditional methods. Challenging people in such a way that creates defensiveness is not a good opportunity to educate. So I cannot support this approach. I know personally that the confrontational approach does nothing but alienate people. Ears close and nothing is learned.

Now the other end of the spectrum is not speaking up at all. In this case, the target audience mentioned is a client using a tool I might not agree with. The truth is, I don’t get many clients hiring me who use tools that I don’t support, but occasionally I get some wedded to the choke chain as a collar they use on walks, because, well, you know, they just always have. Or the e collar is the favored tool because it never occurred to my new client that it was not a good choice. I would never keep quiet just because they seem fond of this antiquated tool. But I also would not alienate them by making them defensive about using it. So asking if it works for them is not part of my MO. They often think it is working just fine. I just set about showing them the better options, so that the choke chain or prong collar is left collecting dust hanging on a hook.

Asking if something works creates the wrong kind of dialogue. The answer that you get may not be the answer that you expect to get. I know these tools don’t work as well as plenty of others and they create more problems than they have ever solved. So reframing the situation into an offering of a much better solution that they didn’t even know that they needed goes a long way towards being heard. My goal is to be heard and to make a lasting positive impression on clients so that their dog can benefit from what his or her human has learned.

When someone hires me to give them advice for the benefit of improving their dog’s behavior, I have to assume that they want their money’s worth. So keeping silent in this case makes no sense to me. But I make sure that my voice is heard by making sure that something is in it for them. Creating a defensive situation helps no one, least of all the dog. But neither does keeping silent. So as behavior professionals, let’s make the dog our first priority. Make sure that your voice is heard properly.