Thursday, May 12, 2016

Privilege in Dog Training

As life takes me in some interesting directions, I have become more and more aware of the different types of privilege found in the world of dog training. In my review of When Pigs Fly, I observed that many authors of dog training books take it as a given that we all have a large fenced yard. They recommend we practice agility foundations and loose leash walking, and not venture off the property until we have mastered these skills at home. Great if you've got fenced acreage, but the authors rarely touch on what to do if you have a very small yard, or no yard at all.
chihuahua wearing large stuffed squeaky toy
Most of my product photos are taken in parks because my yard is tiny and ugly.
Photo by Erin Koski, who also has an ugly yard.

Most also assume that readers have a number of local friends or family members willing to assist with training exercises, or access to an outdoor space with few distractions. Does your family hate your dog? Just moved to town and haven't made any friends yet? Don't own a car with which to drive to a park that isn't crazy busy during all daylight hours? I guess that author's book just isn't for you.

Pointing out these sorts of assumptions often opens one up for criticism. I've been told I'm uncooperative and difficult for pointing out that Dr. Karen Overall's original Relaxation Protocol calls for the handler to take 30 steps to both the right and left of the dog in the same exercise, but my tiny house is only 40 steps from one end to the other. In that same discussion it was suggested that I take the clearly obvious step of renting a room in an indoor training center. I guess they didn't know that dog training is almost exclusively an outdoor activity here in sunny California, there isn't such a place in my entire county.

I think the world of dog training could become a little more inclusive by acknowledging that our individual experiences are not universal. There are plenty of devoted dog owners living in tiny apartments and rented rooms. Not everyone owns a car, especially in urban areas. Dog training infrastructure varies enormously between geographic areas. In some places activities like agility may happen almost exclusively inside dedicated indoor training facilities, while in other areas it happens largely in people's yards and in public spaces like parks. Some cities have high population density with very little open space available. One person may have tons of helpful friends and neighbors willing to help with training exercises, another person may be rather socially isolated.

Privilege means failing to recognize how awesome your situation is, and that the same may not be true for others. The result is that some of your audience, large or small, can end up feeling invisible, or like they have no business owning a dog at all. Or they might not feel that your message is for them at all. While I love Jane Killion's work, I rarely feel like I can apply it in my world of pavement and tiny yards so obviously she must not be writing for people like me. She's writing for people who have enough land to meet their puppy's exercise needs without going for walks off the property, without so much as acknowledging I exist.

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