The Cost of Cherrypicking
Credit Where Credit’s Due
Two Sides of the Dog Business
The dog business is full of people who appreciate and admire dogs, who want a better life for them and the humans among whom they live. These people are dedicated to bringing out the best in all parties, and are committed to continuous learning and self development. This is a community of sharing, encouragement, mutual support and help, generous mentoring, and dedication.
But there’s also a shallower side to the industry: a paint-by-numbers approach to dogs that’s more focussed on the business model than on facilitating genuine and lasting change; a quick-fix, plaster-over-the-cracks, market-a-product approach that, although far less common, is quite insidious.
And one of its most well-used tools is the rebranding of the work of others.
Scarcity and urgency are the mode of marketing; chummy language that makes you feel like you’re a friend; sparkling graphic design in attractive fonts and coordinated colours. But the product is the same-old-same-old: someone else’s thinking and work stripped down and reduced to the barest elements. This skeleton of a method fits better with the one-size-fits-all-approach designed for Everydog (as much of a work of fiction as Everyhuman) that is so prized in the land of “dog training recipes.” Even if followed with great care, the GUARANTEED SUCCESS that the sales pitch offers will be difficult to achieve because the “product” lacks the depth of the source from which it was appropriated.
Complexity of skills development, reward delivery, and foundational actions or movements are bypassed, so that the hapless customer can watch a trainer proclaiming to get the dog from A to B in a flash in a video neatly edited with all the slickness of a washing powder advert, the patter to camera a misdirection away from the confused dog who’s being used as a crash-test dummy for quick fixes.
And the clients of these harvesters, if they enter the business themselves, teach these watered down, stripped back, hollowed out protocols in turn, transforming the original ideas into the punchline in a game of Telephone, where, with each whispered utterance the idea becomes more distorted, less recognisable.
What often remains is a mere shell of its former self, so detached from the origins it had in a complex web of thinking, experience, and knowledge of the originator. The further that a method is removed from said originator, the more divested it is of those roots, and the weaker it becomes. Sometimes this can be a good thing: as ideas are transmitted, they can be improved, altered, adapted to meet new demands. But even in this case, it is important that we trace their origins so that we can understand their trajectory – where did this idea arise?; where did it lead?; how did it fit into a larger body of work? This appropriation without credit isn’t just a display of a lack of intellectual integrity – although it certainly is such – but it does a great disservice to the ideas or protocols, and to those they are intended to serve.
It’s in the origin of ideas that their rationale lies: the experience, knowledge, and values that underpin them; the ways in which they are integrated with oeuvre that can, perhaps, provide deeper insight and further rationale for their existence. To take any idea out of the context from which it emerges is to erase this complex origin; to oversimplify, reduce, and dilute; and to further entrench the idea that dog training is a matter of mere template-style recipes rather than a complex understanding of canine learning and dog-human interactions.
Giving Credit Keeps Us Accountable
There’s a humility in deferring to the expertise of others, and a congruence that increases trust in us. When we admit that the ideas we’re sharing are derived from the work of others, we demonstrate our own commitment to learning, we give our clients the tools to explore deeper and learn more (which is bound to further strengthen their relationship with and commitment to their dogs), and we position ourselves within a network of expertise where we acknowledge the importance of the methods we transmit and the weight of the experience, research, and knowledge behind them.
Pound Shop Protocols are those that circulate without attribution: throw this spaghetti at the wall and see if it sticks; there’s another one where that came from. If we care enough about our methods, though, then we ought to be honest about where we learned them and, of course, about the fact that there may be gaps in our own understanding: “I’m not sure; I’ll have to go back and re-read/re-watch/send an email.”
Creativity Breeds Creativity
On a more human level, though, rebranding someone’s ideas whether to profit from them or not is taking advantage of their generosity in sharing their work, and will stifle that creativity. If we, as a collective, passively accept that the dog business is a place where any one person’s ideas exist to be scooped up, resold or redistributed, without credit or due care, then people will be reluctant to share their ideas publicly, which will impede and inhibit sharing, will erode trust, and will ultimately disadvantage the dogs for whose benefit most of us entered this world in the first place. An industry acknowledges and honours the complexity of the work in which it is involved needs to treat its own methods with the care that they deserve, and giving credit where credit is due is a good first step.