Blog: The Problem with Cult Followings

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

One of the best things to ever happen to the positive dog training community is the advent of social media and the internet.

Now at the click of mouse or the flick of a finger, we can access a wide variety of information from a number of different sources. This could range from online webinars and workshops, to e-books detailing dog aggression or loose lead walking, to Facebook groups for almost immediate feedback to training questions and videos.

Not only has that lead to a massive source of free information, but also allowed the expansion and founding of a number of different organisations, ranging from the APDT to the IMDT to KPA.

Never before has there been so many industry leaders, trainers who stand out from the crowd and have proven themselves worthy of a social media following. Trainers like Kay Laurence, Ken Ramirez, Grisha Stewart, John McGuigan, Kathy Sdao and Hannah Brannigan just to name a few.

What fascinates me the most with the advent of all of this content, all of these organisations and all of these people to learn from, is how there seems to be desire to only focus on one or a few of these things.

I’ve spoken to a number of people who only seem to gravitate towards a certain dog trainer in the community, or a certain organisation. They will swear by them, and attend all of their courses. But only their courses.

I’m not going to generalise and say that every dog trainer in the industry does this, because they don’t. But I feel like it’s quite common, especially when someone spends their first few years in dog training circles, that they’ll stick with just one course provider and only a few speakers.

This, I think, is due to the comfort of familiarity that we become accustomed too. We find a group of people we enjoy the company of and plant ourselves firmly in their camp. This in of itself isn’t an issue, provided that you are still accessing all the other learning opportunities available to you.

I’ve met trainers who are veterans of the industry, who only seem to swear by one person’s teachings or way of thinking. I’ve met dog trainers who have been in the industry as long as I have, who are fixated on an organisation that they think is ‘the best’.

Again, there is nothing particularly wrong with this, I just think people view it from the misguided perspective of ‘I like this person or organisations way of doing it, so that’s the only way I’m going to do it’.

I was very similar in my own approach. I used to be obsessed with Ian Dunbar and thought his way was the ‘only way’ for the first few years of my dog training career. Now I’ve not only widened my experiences, but also question all of them as well.

This cult following of one ethos or organisation can cause a number of issues, which will all transcend back onto your clients. If you only know one way of teaching a behaviour, then one day that way will not work with one particular dog.

I’m not a fan of the term ‘toolbox’, so I just prefer to use learning history. Our learning history should be broad and well-travelled simply so that we can bring to our client’s multiple ways of teaching a behaviour or looking at behavioural problem.

Take fiction reading for example – imagine if you only read a genre from one author. You might trumpet that author as the best, and they very well may be, but you’d be missing out on a wide range of perspectives and authorial voices. This can work for any form of media, imagine only watching movies directed by Christopher Nolan? TV Shows produced by HBO? Video games produced by Sony?

I want to really push other dog training professionals to attend events where they don’t know anyone. That’s why I’m issuing a challenge – Two Heads Are Better Than One.

This year I’m going to be undertaking the UKCSD’s Scentwork Instructors course, taught by Rob Hewings. If you haven’t been on any UKCSD courses, you are seriously missing out. I would argue they are the best quality scentwork and tracking courses on the market today.

Despite that, I am currently taking Raffi through the Talking Dog Scentwork Scent Accreditation scheme with Pam McKinnon. I have absolutely loved his first Scent 1 workshop. This is so I can eventually become a Talking Dog Scentwork Accredited Trainer.

This is because I want to do learn from two different masters of the field. I want to be challenged by both of them, and consequently challenge them. I want to know why they do things the way they do, why do they do things differently. And I have already learned what differences I like and dislike and how I can implement them in my own training.

Two Heads Are Better Than One is a challenge wherein you, the reader, attend two CPD events on the same topic with two similar speakers. Even better if it’s two separate organisations. I want to see people branch out of their comfort zone and learn something new, even if the topic is the same!

Let’s crush 2019 and make it our year.


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