Catching Flies…

As pit bull advocates, we often find ourselves in a position where we need to stand up for the dogs we have come to know, and thereby, come to love. In fact, this can be true for many things in life. When we have a passion for something, be it political stances, social policies, child welfare, or religion, we are occasionally thrown into situations where our loyalty is tested. In what circumstances are we willing to defend that which we believe in?

It is important to me that people judge my dogs as individuals.

It is important to me that people judge my dogs as individuals.

For me, I believe loyalty to be one of my best qualities, and this is something that I am very proud of. I am a devoted friend, wife, sister, daughter, and pet owner, sometimes to a fault. I am not a fighter, I am certainly not intimidating or imposing, I don’t have a celebrity status to influence those around me… but because I enjoy writing and am always honing my abilities, I carefully choose my words as my greatest defense against those that try to tear down the people and things I care most about. At the same time, it is important to me to maintain a gentle approach. I am a firm believer in the old saying that ‘you catch more flies with honey, than you do with vinegar’. Because of this, even when faced with someone who disagrees with me, I try my best to remain calm, yet assertive, and to avoid accusations. I do not believe that anyone is going to absorb what you say, if you are offending them while you are saying it!

With all of that being said, I learned a valuable lesson last week that I would like to share with all of you.

Our friend J. over at Peace, Love, & Fostering shared this post on their facebook page last week. If you are interested in dog training, as well as the changes in perception our society is making in regards to dogs and dog ownership, it is certainly worth the time spent reading it. I would be interested in your honest, respectful, perspectives. (If you plan to do so, I would appreciate it if you would read it before you read the rest of this post, so as not to be influenced by my opinions!)

My reaction to this post was multi-faceted. I read it and felt such a strong relation to many of the points the writer introduced. She shared many important thoughts that are, in my opinion, so necessary to convey to well-meaning animal lovers. At its most elementary, the piece was about the science behind force-free dog training, why it is more effective, and how many of those who claim to love dogs and advocate for them, are really just muddying the waters when it comes to what is best for the dog, and conveying that to the public.

For those of you that do not know, force-free training is essentially just that: an approach to dog training that enhances your relationship with your dog, avoiding physical manipulation or intimidation, while reinforcing behaviors through positive association.

What upset me so much was not the content, but the writer’s approach. In my perspective, she has this incredible opportunity to convey a point. She is obviously intelligent and talented as a writer, and please understand that I respect her for this. She put a lot of effort into this article, as was evident by her extensive source list. She has a unique perspective on the subject, which could produce positive waves of change in the worlds of dog training and ownership. However (and perhaps, BECAUSE of how valid her argument is) I absolutely shudder at her approach and tone. She continually criticizes and downright ridicules anyone with a different perspective than the one she feels is ‘right’… even if their perspective just comes from a naive and uniformed lack of knowledge or understanding. She is essentially condemning anyone that utilizes force or tools of punishment in an attempt to produce changes in a dog’s behavior. While I absolutely agree that there are better ways to train our dogs, and that our dogs DESERVE a better approach, my question remains: What dog owner would *ever* went to take advice from someone so condescending? And, with such a valid argument and the unique opportunity of a vast audience, shouldn’t that be her goal? I respect her perspective, but I worry that those who may be on the fence and considering a transition to force-free training, will read her article and be so turned-off that they refuse to remain open-minded. To me, her approach simply was making the rest of us who are proponents of force-free training look like judgmental wackos!

In one particular selection, she criticizes those that support forceful training: “but they seem thoroughly intent on attacking anybody who suggests otherwise”… which is exactly what her article does. It attacks anyone that disagrees with, or misunderstands, force-free training. If she believes that a forceful approach is ineffective with dogs, why does she employ such force when communicating with her own kind??

My stance is this: Whether the topic is politics, racism, poverty, etc… If the point of a diatribe is to truly bring about change in the uninformed or ignorant masses, why would you ever take a position of judgmental arrogance? You are not going to change any minds with that approach, and are then effectively just talking to hear yourself speak, or to hear others who already agree with your position, compliment you for it. Whether or not your argument is valid, if you take a judgemental and aggressive approach, the intended audience will never be open to receiving it in the manner in which it was presented.

At the same time, I found myself wondering if perhaps the writer’s purpose was not primarily to evoke a change in readers’ perspectives, but instead to garner attention and inspire conversation. And if in fact that was her goal, perhaps that is not all bad. If she can get the attention of the masses, perhaps some of them will be more willing to listen to the more moderate, respectful arguments that support and share her same perspectives.

Furthermore, there is something to be said for blogging, in that it is an emotional release for writers. Sometimes we have something on our hearts, and we need to express it. Occasionally we need to open up the floodgates, and let the words organize our thoughts and our hearts, without censoring every emotion or editing every accusation. While I believe that when our blogging has a purpose, we have a responsibility to put that goal first at all times, I also know that sometimes we need to write what is on our hearts, as it comes to us.

The bottom line is that when we blog for advocacy, regardless of the subject, we hit a strange paradox: while our blogs serve as an opportunity for self-expression and self-discovery, I believe that we also have a responsibility as advocates for the cause. Certainly, some of us more than others (we will get there someday!), are standing under a spotlight as the poster children for our causes. All we can do is keep our missions in mind, and hope that our words are received in the way that we intend them… I have certainly made mistakes and omissions in things that I have written, but I am sure to stay open-minded, while processing all of the feedback I receive.

I am genuinely interested in hearing you reactions to this article! I would appreciate it if you would all stay respectful, but I do want to know… did you agree with the writer’s opinions? What about her approach? What was your initial reaction, and how did that compare with your perspective once you’d read my own? As advocates for pit bulls, how do you think we can best approach those that don’t understand our dogs? I value your opinions!

Hang in there... it's almost Friday!

Hang in there… it’s almost Friday!

9 thoughts on “Catching Flies…

  1. “If she can get the attention of the masses, perhaps some of them will be more willing to listen to the more moderate, respectful arguments that support and share her same perspectives.
    Furthermore, there is something to be said for blogging, in that it is an emotional release for writers. Sometimes we have something on our hearts, and we need to express it. Occasionally we need to open up the floodgates, and let the words organize our thoughts and our hearts, without censoring every emotion or editing every accusation.” . . . . . Thank you.

    This is the best response to my post I’ve read to date.

  2. I hadn’t looked at this post from that perspective. People rail at each other from both sides of the training camps with such regularity that such strong words & judgmental tones do not even make me pause anymore. For as much as animal advocates of all shapes & sizes love our pets, we sure can be hostile towards each other! I think the comparison with global warming was an interesting & new one and for that, the post has the potential to make some readers realize that how they’ve been training is junk. It’s a refreshing perspective and I think that there is a silent majority of folks who utilize force based methods only because a trainer, breeder, neighbor etc introduced them to it & it worked for them or helped them manage a frustrating behavior problem better. Like she said in the post, it’s not the fault of the lady with the doberman so much as it’s all those so-called experts. I don’t believe those so-called experts are going to abandon the dark side because of a honey-coated blog post so in that sense, I don’t object to the tone of the post. If it had been directed more towards average dog owners than yes, I would have strong feelings about tone.

  3. Honestly, I do think bloggers regularly and unintentionally sound a bit judgmental when in posts about training, likely due to the emotion involved although this person is much more straightforward. I think the analogy to climate change is appropriate here, as it is difficult for even a scientist who can explain the studies that led to climate change being considered anthropogenic to sway the mind of someone who has been fed extensive pseudoscience and misinformation. I would love to see someone do a post on the science behind training though – for all the references I have seen to science-based training as that blogger discusses, I haven’t seen any discussion of the experiments that have been done to come to various conclusions about behavior and that could be quite interesting. I have seen a couple publicly available studies referenced on websites, but typically they are taken greatly out of context in a pseudoscience type fashion. But then, I’ve never had library access at a college with an AVS department to explore the research and should probably take advantage of my husband’s access before he finishes grad school.

  4. I also read this article right after Peace, Love, and Fostering posted it and, dare I say, I think I had the exact same reaction as you (shocking, I know.) I DO agree with what she is saying, but I am with you that she is delivering it all wrong. If I wasn’t of a like mindset I can almost guarantee that I would have stopped reading it and her point would have been lost with me. Being sarcastic by nature, and agreeing with the point she was delivering, I did stick it out though…but not everyone is sarcastic and that’s something we should keep in mind!

    Like you said, it’s a very interesting situation we find ourselves in: we want to express ourselves but we also want to do what’s best for the breed, cause, etc we are advocating for. I feel that the larger our audience, the larger our responsibility. And the more important the cause (for us this is literally lives we are talking about) the greater our responsibility, too. If we were blogging about shoes styles I would be all for sarcasm and whit, but I just don’t think it has (too much) room in these types of debates.

    Also, “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is probably my most quoted saying! Just ask Rich, I really do say it all the time! Great post with excellent points!

  5. In general I lose interest quickly in articles or posts written with that sort of approach or attitude. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling strongly about something you believe in but I think there are better ways to express those thoughts or feelings. There are many grey areas in life and what works for one situation won’t necessarily work for another.

  6. Pingback: One-Year Anniversary | And Foster Makes Five

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