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Is the ‘animal world’ open to change?

It is important, I think, for each of us to be open to the ideas of others.

Shifting my own opinion is a good thing.

I am certainly wrong sometimes. And my ideas are always changing.

Like everything else, the “animal world” has become a place where it’s difficult to listen.

A few people are shouting, full of strong opinions, telling others what to do.

A woman wrote on That Mutt’s Facebook page that she sees too much “abuse” posted – prong collars, shock collars, support for breeders, not enough welfare posts. I politely suggested she stop visiting my page if she found it so offensive.

I didn’t hear back. I guess she was hoping for an argument.

I consider myself a dog trainer, although not a professional, but I do not believe I know what is best for anyone else’s pet.

Many of my posts include training tips such as how to teach a dog to heel, but these are only my ideas. People should adjust them to fit their own unique situations. I’m trying to be more conscious of this. My writing is evolving.

Many of my other posts are critical of the lost and damaged animal rescue system in the United States. This is a deeply emotional topic for a lot of people.

I am critical of shelters and rescues, although I hope most individuals within these groups are trying the best they can.

What troubles me most is when a small percentage of these animal lovers turn on one another – ignoring emails, banning volunteers and even rejecting foster homes because of pride or delicate egos. This does not help the animals.

Every time I post criticism about rescues, a small group of people will comment about how rescues always know best.

Rescues should never be questioned, they seem to imply. Rescues always know best.

Is that so?

Even if the rescue has no standard procedure in place for evaluating aggressive dogs? Even if its “shelter” is not open to the public? Even if the board members can’t define their official responsibilities? Even if its volunteers allow their own dogs to fence fight with the dogs for adoption? (Talk about stressful!)

Rescue groups always know best.

I obviously choose to offer simple (and sometimes more difficult) suggestions to these organizations all the time on this blog, and most readers are excited to hear ideas. They offer their own (often much better!) suggestions. Some of my friends are involved with rescue groups, and they teach me a thing or two every now and then!

It’s only a small group of people who react defensively and take it all personally. Everything, of course, is about them.

At a national conference, one woman told me her shelter director does “retaliation killings.” If a volunteer says anything negative about the shelter, then his or her favorite animals are the first to be killed. Volunteers there are afraid to speak out and afraid to show affection to the animals. This happens, I’m afraid, more often than we realize.

Yes, our shelter system is very, very damaged.

Those who are open to ideas will join the discussions, here and elsewhere, about topics related to dog training and dog sheltering and how to obtain a dog and everything surrounding our life with animals. The majority of people will share their successes (or struggles) with others. Most of us will, at some point, change.

The rest will get lost in the arguing, I guess. That is their comfort zone, an area where they feel productive. I’m not sure what to say about people like that.

It seems every issue – from gun control to what you should feed your dog – must be divided. No room for middle ground. Civil disagreement long gone.

From the outside looking in, that world seems like such a loud, lonely space.

There is nothing useful there.

No reason to shout back.

Black lab mix on his bed with a striped collar


Wednesday 30th of January 2013

I just watched this video and it reminded me of this post. I'm not sure if those commenting might find it of interest. It talks about the whaling debate, and the polarisation of sides, with compromise 'not being an option'.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 31st of January 2013

I'll have to check it out when I make the time, but yes, that sounds like a good example. Thanks for sharing.


Tuesday 29th of January 2013

I couldn't agree with this post more.

As someone involved in the rescue world, change can be very difficult to achieve. Many people who have been involved with rescue for years and years aren't receptive to change, and if you suggest it, then you're challenging them and people get offended. It's a never ending struggle of trying to tread lightly and walk on egg shells.

I used to think that people burnt out because of the sad stories and endless cruelty, but more and more I realize that it's actually because being in rescue is like being back in high school -- you always have to look out for that knife in your back.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 29th of January 2013

I appreciate your response, Mel! I think you are right!


Friday 18th of January 2013

The problem is when people stops listening and gets too assertive with what they believe is right, to the point of judging others for doing what they don't agree with. Like one of the most controversial debates for example - the definition of dominance. We often see two extreme sides arguing - one side believing in the flawed dominance theory (Cesar Millan, dominance theory based on the flawed wolf studies), and the other side negating the existence of dominance. Neither would listen, and both sides can be pushy with what they believe in. And sometimes, they wouldn't even forgive the people who are in the middle - you either join one of the sides, as they don't approve of your balanced view.

Once, I tried to post the following article, from an ethologist:

Ethologists and even some positive trainers do acknowledge the existence of dominant/submissive behaviors, and they do have an agreement on the correct definition of this. By reading a few books and articles from professionals, I came to realize that, and it made me wonder why is the definition of dominance is so wrong and confusing over the dog community.

But then what happened when I posted this on a neutral/positive forum? Only one or two guys understood that, but the majority not only thought the article was too technical, but also misunderstood and was too reactive about the "dominance" word. Sometimes, people who are into purer positive ways are just driven by their own emotions and moral judgments, so that they might not even be open to learn what is scientific and real facts. They would tell you how science proved this or that, but then they cannot even look at the real facts. This is as bad as old school trainers (not average prong collar users - I am one myself by the way -, but the old school guys believing in the wrong dominance theory plus most of the training focused on punishment) not being open to newer methods, just coz theirs has always worked.

So in the end, we simply can't change someone who isn't willing to listen anyways. If we feel what we are doing is right, then why care if we have someone that disagrees with us without particular good reason?

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 18th of January 2013

Yes, you make some very good points. The dominance issues in dog training is the perfect example. I try not to use the word "dominant" not because I don't think dogs are dominant/submissive but because a lot of people won't even listen once they hear those terms, no matter what the context is.


Wednesday 16th of January 2013

I've noticed that raising a dog, like having a child, is something people get very defensive and opinionated over. When we got our puppy my brother in law, whose dog was 5 at that point, had all sorts of 'advice' about what we were doing 'wrong' with our dog. It had just so happened that we had chosen a very different style of dog-raising than they had. It was so easy to get defensive and nasty in the face of this! (When it was suggested that I let my puppy freely roam the house and then punish him if he had an accident inside the house I flipped out completely haha. That's what they had done and I was doing the exact opposite in every way!). Now I've realised it's always best to say "we've found that X works for our dog..." rather than "dogs respond best to X" , because as soon as you make a blanket statement it is open to criticism!

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 17th of January 2013

Ha! I have to laugh at this only because it is so true, and we all tend to get defensive about our dogs. It's only funny when it happens to someone else.

I try not to give suggestions to people unless they ask.


Monday 14th of January 2013

I get too opinionated on my own blog sometimes, but I feel like such a noob in the dog blog world, rescue world, etc. Egos make ugly bed fellows.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 14th of January 2013

Haha! :)