Show Me Don’t Tell Me

By Sean O’Shea

Few industries have as much contentious, friction-filled, vitriolic, opinionated, near-religious beliefs being flung around as does the dog training world.

Opinionated owners and trainers will noisily (and nastily) condemn the tools, training methods, and approaches being used by others. It might be pure positive trainers (or believers) cursing prong collars, e-collars, and/or any form of correction – or even saying “no” to your dog – or perhaps it’s “balanced” trainers slinging mud at each other for perceived poor training, or training that doesn’t mesh with their beliefs.

Regardless of what camp you belong to, what tools you do or don’t endorse, and what philosophy you subscribe to, it’s all talk until you show your work. Until you show proof of what you speak.

And in this day and age that should be easy enough, right? Everyone has a video recorder in their pocket today. So if anyone has some super strong beliefs, concepts, techniques, alternatives, man, I’m all ears. But first, I’m all eyes. First, show me. Don’t tell me. If your approach gets great results, show me. If you’re tools get great results, show me. If your revolutionary process creates revolutionary results, show me. It’s easy enough.

Don’t show me scientific studies, or site science-y sounding rhetoric. Don’t talk to me about the how’s and why’s and benefits of a certain method. Don’t offer strongly felt opinions. Instead, show me. Show me truly troubled dogs, before training, and show me these same troubled dogs transformed, or at least tremendously improved, after training. And show me a lot of them. Don’t show me your dog, or one dog, or even three or four dogs, show me over and over your approach creating great results – and the owners getting the same results.

If you’re getting great results, this should be easy enough to do. I know it’s work to capture before footage and after footage, and to edit it and all. I get it. But if you want your opinion to have any legs, and any chance of being entertained, that’s the price of admission today. If you want anyone to listen, to care, to change, to adopt something, simply show us its value. Easy peasy.

And just to be clear, I’m not being a chest-beater, and declaring everyone needs to show their results (even though that sure would be nice for consumers!), it’s only for those who shout, scream, bully, belittle, or not-so-cleverly undermine others. Those who shout about alternatives – alternative tools, methods, approaches. If you’re shouting, you should be ready to share your results, your proof. And lots of it.

Because here’s the thing, talk is cheap. Everyone can talk a big game. We all can declare certain tools or approaches to be the worst, or the best, but only results matter. Only results are real. Only results walk the talk. Everything else is just the easy part…talk and opinion.

Show me.

P.S. If you’re an owner trying to make sense of all this stuff, my suggestion is to follow the results. But be a conscientious consumer, and be aware that video (especially those using the trainer’s own dogs) can be made to look awfully good! Many dogs shown in the positive only camp are very specific dogs (Border Collies, Aussies etc.). Dogs who enjoy chasing a ball or frisbee or a treat more than they do chasing, attacking, or freaking out on another dog, or person. And in the balanced camp, watch for high-drive working dogs (Malinois and GSD’s) who were bred to work and do amazing stuff. In both of these camps these special dogs get used for showy videos and demos, but are not showing reality – they’re showing “ringers”. Not that these breeds can’t be a mess as well, but dog trainer dogs are usually picked for their exceptional temperament and good behavior, so it’s not a good reflection of the reality of what your dog’s behavior will look like. Make sure you see actual client dogs making progress. And make sure you see the actual clients duplicating that process.

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  1. Naomi said:

    Parenting is an area that probably has even more differing opinions and judgements. In fact, I no longer have a dog, but I still read your blogs because of the amazing parallels between dog training and parenting. Hopefully no one will track me down and drag me to court for likening my children to dogs in this comment, hahaha. I LOVE being a parent because my children get their needs met (which includes appropriate boundaries and enforcement of those boundaries) and are therefore wonderfully behaved and pleasant and we have a real relationship together. I don’t see those results with all our friends, and those families are of the camp that constantly claim kids should be left to do as they please, in the name of freedom and respect. Then again, I only have three kids. 😉

  2. tuffy said:

    yessss!!! 👍 😃
    proof is in the pudding, man!
    it’s still hard to meet/ignore/deal with these shouters and bulliers at the park though…i guess i’ve got a thin skin there.

    it’s also funny how a well-behaved dog can be misconstrued to be ”repressed”, ”robotic”, ”not free to be a dog”, etc…

    regarding breeds and training: so right! i’ve never made a video, but glad to know the truth there-
    i will say that i’ve seen some pretty messed up GSD’s and Malinios though! and Golden Retrievers (seems like when they’re crazy, they’re REALLY crazy!)
    it seems like GSD’s and Malinois, BelgianShepherds and the like, when they don’t get what they need work-wise or leadership-wise they can sometimes be more of a challenge –precisely because they are so motivated to ‘do’ something and their learned faulty responses can be pretty hard core at times…

    great post as always-you guys rock-

  3. Del said:

    Absolutely right. There are way too many trainers out there walking the walk but who do not get consistent results. We begin training dogs and their owners every single day who have been to other trainers or behaviourists and have not achieved the results they were promised. Check and verify a trainer’s background, testimonials, reviews and longevity before hiring. Word of mouth is the best advertising.

  4. Amen, Sean! I think of myself as a “balanced” trainer; but I try not to wear my judgy pants when confronted with other ideas. Besides, I’m retired now and the only dogs I train are my own. I do, however, bristle when someone tries to tell me that I’ll ruin my younger dog if I don’t train her their way instead of my own.

  5. krisinwa said:

    This is my single favorite article about dog training on the internet. If only more people who wanted to participate in the discussion paid the “price of admission”!

  6. MetisRebel said:

    Right on the money Sean. Put up or shut up.

    When people natter at me about my training or prong collar, I have a stock answer these days.

    “I’m going to let my dog off leash right here on this busy street corner. You let your dog off. Let’s see whose dog obeys and lives.”

    That’s pretty much the end of the debate.

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