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            You’ve got to love America and our euphemisms. Euphemisms abound in the dog world. We like to use “put to sleep” instead of “kill” or “euthanize”. We like to use the term “physical correction” instead of “hit” “slap” or “kick”. We like to use the term “collar pop” instead of “choke” or “hang”. And we like to use the word “crossover trainer” to describe someone who is moving out of the realm of punishment into the realm of positive reinforcement.  Someone like me.

Shelby working on a focusing through distraction exercise at the Pet Expo. She was four months old here.

            The interesting thing about euphemisms is that even when you give something a new name, it still tends to retain the same stigma or feeling as the original word, especially in the circle that the euphemism originated. So “physical correction” may seem softer to someone who doesn’t spend much time in dog training circles, but to those who do, you know exactly what is being said, and you react accordingly. The reaction isn’t necessarily negative; it depends on who you are talking to. But for the most part, in positive reinforcement circles, you will get a little bit of a cringe or a brow furrow anytime you use the word “physical correction”. Likewise, you get the same reaction when you tell someone you are a “crossover trainer”.

I started noticing this phenomenon when I started talking dogs more frequently. It’s interesting and amusing to see the different ways people react to it, but more often than not, the reaction made me feel like I was using a particularly dirty word. Typically, I felt like I needed to follow up the statement of, “I’m a crossover trainer” with, “But I didn’t know any better, that’s the way I was taught, I thought it was going to work, I had no idea about all of this…” As I looked over some of my more recent posts, I realized I was qualifying this statement even in writing.

Up until now, even at training, when I confessed my deep, dark secret, my trainers would wince and keep their eyes focused on me like lasers every time Shelby didn’t do what I’d asked, almost like they were expecting me to pull a prong collar out of my back pocket, throw it on and pull Shelby’s back feet up to my chin. I felt like saying, “Come on, seriously? Do you really think I would pay you $120 – $150 to not listen to a thing you say? Really?”

Standard prong collar

            A couple of weeks ago, after our Tuesday night class, I was chatting with our new trainer when the subject of my dirty secret came up. I was telling our trainer that I felt like I had poisoned my cue with Smokey’s name and that I was trying to find solutions to fix that problem. Again, that immediate laser beam stare, “Do you correct your dogs now?”

“Oh God, no!” And as I rushed to correct her line of thought, she smiled and chuckled.

“What?”

She shrugged, “Nothing, that just explains a lot.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the thing I’ve noticed with crossover trainers is that they always feel like they have a lot to prove. That’s why you’re so good, that’s why Shelby is so good and you work so hard with her. Your clicker skills are impeccable and your dog is incredibly well trained for her age because you feel like you have so much to prove, so much to make up for in your own mind. I see it all the time.”

I thought about it and guessed that made some sense.

“But take my advice, stop labeling yourself, and try to loosen up and have some fun. You don’t need to be so intense all the time, clicker training is all about having fun with your dog. You need to get rid of that traditional training mentality, shrug it off and enjoy your time training more.”

I could use a little more of this goofiness in my repetoire!

            Sagely advice, I must admit. If we could all follow that advice in every aspect of our lives, I imagine the world would be a much better place. I started to realize why trainers who train with positive reinforcement seem so…happy. It’s because they are. They have fun with training, they have fun with their dogs; they obtain perfection through play, not punishment. And I know that creeps into other aspects of your life – it certainly did for me.

“Oh, and Aimee.”

“Hm?”

“You’re not a crossover trainer anymore anyway. I think you’ve successfully made the transition.”

I smiled, Shelby looked up at me, and I instantly clicked and rewarded. Touché.

This post is dedicated to Karen Pryor and all the other wonderful trainers who have altered my life so profoundly. Wish I could be at ClickerExpo - see you next year!

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