In the world of positive rewards based training a subject that seems to come up often is the dearth of men in canine classrooms. In my talks with trainers both online and “in the real world” many people have commented on this and even gone so far as to say that men seem to be more attracted to training methods like those employed by Cesar Milan.
As a man who has been on both sides of the training fence I have a few ideas on why that might be. Without trying to be condescending, I wonder if you’ve truly considered the way the animal in front of you has been taught in the past. Allow me to introduce you to him.
Outside of my formal education most of my teachers and instructors in life have been men. From little league coaches to drill instructors to my father, they all had similar ways of teaching that included…
- Very black and white instruction. Hold your arms like this, tilt you head like that, shine your boots this way.
- Praise when offered was matter of fact and not effusive. It was simply that you did something that was already expected of you.
- Criticism was frequent, detailed, and degrading. Shouting and being singled out was often a method employed.
- Punishment was considered a normal part of the process.
- Progress was not normally rewarded in increments. While not always the case, you usually had a goal and most of the time the steps to that goal were nominally marked not jubilantly celebrated.
- Discipline was a central tenant of instruction.
While this may sound like exceptional treatment to some, I believe my experiences are not much different than a typical male baby boomer (born in 1962). In fact I would say my experience is not too much different from men belonging to the generations either side of me.
Now I know that assumption is the mother of all, um, foul-ups; but I believe you won’t be too far off if you assume…
- I am probably very comfortable expressing displeasure via my voice and posture.
- I accept that punishment, be it verbal, physical, or circumstantial, is part of the learning process.
- I have very high expectations of both myself and others
- I expect that once you do something right once, you should never do it wrong again.
- I get frustrated with lack of progress.
- I don’t like to be singled out in front of a class.
- I admire discipline in others.
Now let’s continue the assumption and say that I generally have very little formal experience in teaching and I am basically drawing on habits and traits formed from my life experiences. What kind of student will I be and what methods am I more likely to employ in turn?
Will I be drawn to methods familiar to me or will I use methods that don’t reconcile with my history? Am I more likely to listen to someone who appeals to my history or someone who scorns it?
Yet even with all of my history I made the transition from training dogs based mostly on corrections to training dogs using positive rewards. So why haven’t others?
In part two of this series I will be talking about the difficulties I’ve had with this transition and why I think I’m not alone.