Love is patient, Love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil
but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
The Greatest Thing in Life
This blog is the third in a series that began with "Trust" and "Hope." The passage above is from Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. St. Paul's description of love is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. It's one of the most famous passages in the bible and is still frequently used in weddings. Later in the same chapter, Paul adds "So now faith, hope, and Love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is Love"
This passage also sounds a lot like modern, science based dog training to me: Patient, kind, humble, empathetic, not easily angered, not punishing when they get something wrong, always perservering, trusting and hopeful. This is what Love is, and it's exactly how I was taught to work with dogs. It's the reason I Love my job as much as I do.
The Beatles, the first musical act I ever fell in Love with, famously sang "Love is all you need". As much as I Love the Beatles, I'm not willing to go quite that far. I do think Love is the most important thing in our lives. But we also need the most reliable, trustworthy information we can find, we need to be as honest with each other and ourselves as possible, and we need to find reasons to hope when we are in danger of giving in to doubt or fear. But Love is what inspires us to do the work needed to find trustworthy information, and to find reasons to hope. Love is what inspires us to get help when our own behavior or our dog's is becoming a problem. Love is what gives our lives meaning.
As a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP) who has also been Low Stress Handling Certified (LSH Silver) and has worked with dogs for many years, I have access to a lot of trustworthy information. But even with all that information at my disposal, and the years of experience I have had working with dogs, I can think of at least one friend that has done far more than I have to help dogs without any of the formal training or professional experience that I have. She runs a rescue agency called "Coveted Canines" and has saved the lives of thousands of dogs, helping hundreds of families add a new fur baby to their loving homes. Knowing that you saved a life and helped a loving family grow and widen the circle of Love in their home is one of the most rewarding things you can do. I've been a part of that process for many families, but not as many as my friend Carly. She works very hard at it, and it's all done out of love. She genuinely loves the dogs and people she helps. She still needs to refer to professional trainers (like myself and at least one other trainer even more experienced than me) for assistance fairly often, and she is smart enough and humble enough to do that without hesitation. But the motivation for all the work she does is Love, and even though she often comes to me for advice, I look up to her as one of my heroes and role models. She's ten years younger than me, but she is who I want to be when I grow up.
My biggest heroes were my parents. They had hard lives; my mom lost the use of her hands not long after I was born and had recurring problems with her aorta that nearly killed her multiple times, my dad suffered horribly from multiple, crippling anxiety disorders. They struggled often, more than people should, and never had much money. But they were the two most loving people I ever met, I know exactly what Love is because of them. Seeing these two people that I Loved and admired more than any others die was the hardest thing I've ever had to endure. It still hurts. I will never really get over that pain, but I'll also never stop Loving them, and, most importantly, I will never forget how much they were able to endure and overcome...with Love. What they taught me about Love, and the Love they showed me, is the greatest gift I've ever received. It's the reason I don't lose hope. It's the reason I was able to start a new career while struggling with their passing.
The Golden Rule
My business is named after the Golden Rule, and the slogan for my business is "Treating every client, canine and human, the way we would like to be treated, with dignity and respect." This is a rewording of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Another way to say (essentially) the same thing is the great Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative: "Treat every rational entity as an end in itself, and not as a means to an end". Every culture on earth has some version of the Golden Rule, many of our most brilliant philosophers, like Kant and John Rawls, advocate a similar principle. It unites philosophy, religious traditions, and modern, science based dog training. The key to making this work is Love. If we Love someone, it's easier to see their wants and needs as being just as valid as our own, and to treat them with the same dignity and respect that we wish to be treated with. It's a lot harder to do that with people or animals that we are angry with, or that we hate.
We can do better
Even though science, philosophy, and our cultural traditions all agree that treating each other with the same dignity and respect is correct, we often don't. I trust the science and philopshy that confirms the golden rule, I have hope that we will all one day learn to treat each other, our animals, our fellow people, even our enemies,with the same love and respect that we all know we should. But we aren't there yet, we fail to live up to this standard often. Even +R dog trainers fail. We are people that preach "Don't focus on what's wrong, reward what is right and build on it." "Aversives are problematic." "It's just behavior, don't judge." Try to square that with the angry, judgemental, and very aversive denunciations of Cesar Millan that +R trainers say all the time. I think most of us try to be fair most of the time, but I often read comments from Positive reinforcement trainers that sound hateful, even vicious. I feel certain Cesar Millan's approach to dog training is wrong, but I don't hate him, and I'm not going to judge him. I know how easy being wrong is, I've got plenty of experience being wrong. We're fallible, we've all got plenty of experience being wrong. Most of us are wrong about a half a dozen different things before we eat breakfast. While I do think people using outdated training methods are wrong, that does NOT mean they are bad people, or that they don't love dogs. And I will not judge them. I can discuss different training methods with different people and feel comfortable being critical about bad ideas, but we should take the same attitude towards people that get something wrong as we do towards dogs that get something wrong: Be patient, don't get angry, don't use violence, don't accidentally reward the wrong behavior in some way, and make sure that you reward good behavior often. "Love is patient, Love is kind, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs"
We can do ANYTHING
We can literally do anything with trust, hope, and Love. And the greatest of these, is Love.
We have learned to Love dogs that engage in inappropriate behavior, or seem to struggle with simple cued behaviors. We don't judge them, we don't get angry with them, we just patiently try to help them, because we Love them. This approach has been spreading all over the world. It continues to spread, not just because it's nice, but also because it works. Many years ago animal trainer Keller Breland said "I can train ANY behavior that the animal is physically and mentally capable of doing." Aidan Bindoff has another quote I love on the KPA page about "never ever behaviors", a term coined by some trainers in a Yahoo group: "Given enough thought, creativity, time, and, of course, clicker training, the "never ever" behavior becomes a "must do" challenge. The funny thing is, they almost always end up being achieved! " I Love that quote, but I would amend it slightly "Given enough thought, creativity, time, clicker training, and of course, Love." If we can accomplish seemingly impossible things while teaching animals with trusted scientific methods and Love, we can literally do anything if we try to teach and learn from each other the same way: with patience, kindness, humility, trust, hope, and Love. And the greatest of these, is Love.