The Cost of Cherrypicking

by | Jul 12, 2023

checking picking from a pyramid of knowledge nad experienced

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. 

land of recipes</p>

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.


checking picking from a pyramid of knowledge nad experienced

The Shell

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.

Why Bother?

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.

be honest and give credit

Key Reading

Think carefully

We cannot presume a cue is a reinforcer unless we can shape a new behaviour using that cue as the marker. Read carefully. Think carefully. Consider multiple perspectives. Sometimes it seems easier to let someone else do the thinking for you and just copy, but we need to become thoughtful trainers.

Why add fun?

When an activity gives intrinsic pleasure we do not need to add fun.

The Value of Experience

The non-experienced, or current generation of imposters, have attended a course, read a book, got a certificate and have yet to gain experience to deepen their knowledge or understanding of the subject, protocol, method …

The Spaces Between

At the heart of learner-centred education, the teacher acts as a guide whose role is to elicit rather than to impart, and learners quickly become empowered and equipped to transfer their knowledge and skills to new scenarios.

Don’t Let Them Learn

Becoming aware that we share our lives with premier learners, dogs, is about saving you frustration, despair, anxiety and endless hours further down the road.

50 years a student of sheepdogs

In recognition of my half-century of being a student of collies I want to celebrate their skills as masters of my learning.

A Family of Multiple Dogs

Another addition is not just an extra bed and bowl. It is important to build a home that is healthy, content and well-balanced.

Shaping by rewards

When I see a dog showing a behaviour that is heading towards potential conflict, my first question is “what rewards are available?”

Do you see what I see

Doing better is the reward from doing the work. This work needs to be the right work at the right time with the right intent done in the right way.

The choice of lure

Luring teaches trainers essential skills. We learn how to use suggestion and guidance to shape behaviours. We learn how to explain dynamic movement in the cues from our hands. In combination with reinforcement, luring has without doubt, been one of the skills I value most as a trainer.

Top Training

Nose Target. No thanks

Nose target is a popular behaviour taught to many dogs, and other animals. It seems easy to teach and have practical application, but it is often not such a pleasant experience for all dogs. There are many other options available that give the same practical benefit, without the unpleasant extremes.

The Power of Passive Learning

Active learning: the learner takes active choice of what to do, how to respond, is attentive and making conscious effort
Passive learning: little conscious effort, reward is delivered for minimum effort.

Going Shopping

This is a joint travelling adventure. It completely resets the learning and can easily extend the reinforcement process.

One dog watching

The other dog working
or ….how to train the spectators to quietly rest and watch whilst you work, play, teach a single member of the group

A Day of Learning

A no-training day does not mean he gets a lazy day lying idly in the sun. Learning is still happening and this is significant and important for his development.

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

Release cue or stay cue

Many of us begin with teaching sit or down, and this is one of the earliest experiences of training with reinforcement. Is the sit, or down, going to be a terminal behaviour, or a temporary position?

Cue Seeking

Being an active learner and seeking opportunities for more rewards

Not all lures contain food

“the direct use of the reinforcer to elicit the behaviour”
This should always be foremost in our mind, in that many alternatives lures are available.

Evidence of learning

When we use the words “teach” or “train” child, person or dog, the operative term implies that the process is under the ownership of the teacher or trainer. What your teacher thinks you have learned may not be what you actually learned.


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