Change is in the air and it is causing anxiety. As we learned from the latest instalment of the climate change debate, strong emotional reactions are not limited to the change itself—be it the change in climate or the change required to deal with it. We also quarrel over how to change people’s minds. How do we package and deliver the message that change is necessary? Is it the factual narrative of someone with decades of expertise and experience, like David Attenborough, or is it a passionate and emotional plea from someone who is young enough not to be a cynic, like teenager Greta Thunberg? I say it’s both.
We Need Both Passion and Wisdom to Combat Suffering and Injustice
We need more Davids and more Gretas to help us adapt to the changes which are an inevitable part of life and social living. We need them so we can combat suffering and injustice. We need them so we can make the world a better place for all. We need them so we can all live long and prosper.
Passionate calls to and for action are crucial to every major social change in our society. We need Gretas, so we take notice of problems, and we need Davids, so we can understand and tackle the problems. Unfortunately, we allow demagogues, salespeople and politicians to manipulate us with their one-liners and misleading promises. We are, overwhelmingly, impulsive shoppers and unaware consumers—not just of products and services but also of information—and it does not bode well for us and most of our fellow creatures.
Gretas can talk to us on the same emotional level that prompts us to buy miracle anti-wrinkle cream and magic dog training collars. But there is an important difference: Gretas have Davids behind them to back up their enthusiasm with solid scientific data. Sometimes they are even the same person.
Traditional Dog Training Methods Are Still Causing Suffering and Distress and It Needs to Stop
As a teenager I wanted to scream from the rooftops, just like Greta, about environmental destruction, about animal abuse, about social injustice. These days, I have more than my passion to add. I have made a career in animal welfare and while my focus is on dog training and behaviour, my work is relevant to community safety and human welfare.
While trying to help dogs and their people, I have witnessed the fallout from traditional training methods and equipment. The lack of change in dog training, and in animal welfare in general—despite decades of research and a heightened awareness of animal sentience—is maddening. At times I want to be a Greta and vent my frustration in a passionate speech to the world: Why are we still forcing animals to do what we want by making them fear us and causing them pain and distress? Why don’t we have better laws to protect animals and send offenders to jail instead of letting them off with petty fines for animal cruelty? Why do governments continue to show knee-jerk reactions to dog bites, such as discriminatory and entirely useless breed-specific legislation, instead of being proactive with community education programs on animal welfare and safety? Why are aggressive dogs labelled “vicious” instead of being recognised as victims? The list goes on.
Despite the frustrating state of things, I have to be more of a David than a Greta, at least in my work. I don’t change people’s minds with emotional pleas but by showing them a better way to solve their problems and achieve their goals. The ones who insist on using force—despite the known fallout from coercion, despite the risk for the animal and the wider community and despite having learned about force-free alternatives—are the ones who will be left behind.
Population Growth Increases the Risk for Aggression in Dogs and People, so Let’s Act Fast and Make a Better Future
Human societies have survived and prospered because of their ability to change and adapt. But now we have to change faster. We don’t have the luxury of space anymore. We are increasingly crammed together in urban communities and the risk of conflict is rising. With an ever growing number of people and domestic animals, complaints and confrontations become more likely and more acrimonious and mental health problems affect humans and other animals alike. We need to take care of ourselves but we also need to treat our animals kindly and with respect. A stressed dog is a much higher bite risk than a dog who is allowed to make choices and feels safe and happy because of it.
We can all be Davids and Gretas and play a role in facilitating change, no matter how seemingly small the contribution. A conversation at a dog park, a casual comment, a friendly suggestion is all that may be required to set a person and their dog on the path to success and away from tools and techniques which cause pain, fear and frustration.
The change in dog training is already here but it is not happening fast enough. This is why we need many more Davids and many more Gretas. You can be part of the change.