Force-Free Dog Training and the Animal Rights Movement

I like to think of force-free dog training as a movement. Or a revolution, when I'm extra fired up.

The science behind changing animal behavior without the use of pain or fear has been around for decades, but only recently has the culture of dog ownership shifted to make room for this rich scientific method. After all, modern dog training was born during WWII when dogs were recruited to serve in the military and trained to perform using only their patriotism as motivation. Today, you still see remnants of this contagious storyline in authoritarian dog training methods based in notions of pack leadership, discipline, structure, and showing him who's boss. Heck, I believed it all, too.

Perhaps like me, you never wondered why we don't approach cat behavior problems by trying to show Felix who's the boss. Or why it doesn't occur to dolphin trainers that intelligent marine mammals would want to perform for us out of respect. There's a lot of fish in a pound of respect, apparently. 

It's perhaps one of the world's greatest ironies that our undying love for dogs inspired us to weave a complex fantasy around what makes them tick. It's arguably more a reflection of who we are than who they are.

While more and more dog trainers are becoming skilled at changing dog behavior without pain or fear, the global animal welfare movement is also gathering strength and resources. Gone are the days when zoos, circuses, trophy hunters and factory farms can expect to follow nobody's welfare standards but their own, and with impunity.

We're made for each other, people. We have the same message: It doesn't have to be this way.

Movements are more powerful when they join forces, when they exploit their similarities. Many of my dog trainer colleagues are vegan, vegetarian, or something in-between because being inspired to lessen the suffering of dogs dovetails with being inspired to lessen the suffering of all animals.

This weekend I and my colleague Allison Lamminen are appearing at the Twin Cities Veg Fest to talk force-free dog training and compare notes with thousands of local simpaticos. Who knows where this will lead? We have a lot in common!

And symbolic to the occasion, a little something fun for you: homemade vegan dog treats. 

Vegan Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Dog Treats

Vegan Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Dog Treats

Vegan Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Dog Treats

1 cup white flour

1.5 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup pureed pumpkin, fresh or canned

2 tablespoons flaxseed meal

6 tablespoons water

4 tablespoons peanut butter (without xylitol)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together the flaxseed meal and water in a small bowl. Set aside until it becomes viscous.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.
  4. Roll the dough out on a floured surface to 1/4" thick.
  5. Cut into small pieces or use your favorite small cookie cutter, bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 40 minutes.

NOTE: This baking method yields very dry biscuits with a long shelf-life. For more aromatic, softer biscuits, bake for less time and keep refrigerated.