Ep. 2: Finding Diamonds in Poop Piles


Dianna L. Santos

This episode was originally aired as part of the All About Dog Sport Podcast, which has been merged into the It's Time to Train Your Dog Podcast.

Here is a shocker for you: dog training is a rather polarized activity. It is common for everyone to retreat to their respective camps, defensive, backs up, lips curled back with their teeth showing. In my opinion, this is the wrong way to go about things. Do I have preferences on how I will train my dog and my client's dogs? Yes. Are there certain techniques and tools I simply will not use in my training program? Yes. Does that mean the people who use those techniques or tools are inherently evil and incapable of having any value in their overall knowledge about dogs or dog training? No.​

In this podcast we will discuss how, as your dog's advocate, you owe it to them to always have an open mind, so you will be able to pick out the diamonds among the poop piles.


Welcome to the All About Dog Training and Dog Sports Podcast. In this podcast, we'll be talking about all things dog training. We'll also be giving you a behind the scenes look as far as what your instructor may be going through, a variety of dog training tips, how you can succeed in various dog sports, and much more. In this episode, we'll be talking about finding diamonds in poop piles. Now, I don't mean this literally, but rather we'll be discussing how it is that we can go about approaching dog training in a way that we are not discounting valuable information, and that valuable information could actually be hiding in some pretty obscure places. Before we get started in the podcast, let me just do a very quick introduction for myself.​

My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the owner and lead instructor for Dog Sport University. Dog Sport University is an online dog training platform where we cover everything from good manners training to helping you succeed within a variety of dog sports. We provide online courses, webinars, and seminars. So, we urge you to check that out if you do have any dog training needs. But without any further ado, let's get started in the podcast.​

The whole purpose behind this podcast episode is to talk about finding diamonds in poop piles, and no, I don't want you running out and actually going through all of your dog's poop piles to see whether or not there's a diamond in there and you could retire. This is a metaphor. So, the one thing that I'm hoping that we can achieve with this podcast is an understanding that knowledge is knowledge. It can always help us regardless of where it may have come from. One of the themes that I'm noticing within the dog training community as a whole is that we can be very cliquey and we can also blind ourselves to potentially good information simply because of who is saying that information.​

So, there's a couple of topics within this general idea that I'd like to cover. The first is the fact that it would be helpful for anyone involved in dog training, whether they be handler, a dog owner, a competitor, or an instructor, or a trainer, to just be open-minded, and that someone may have a completely different approach to training than you do, but they may also have something valuable within their bag of tricks that will be valuable for both you and your dog. It could even just simply be looking at things through a different lens. Or you may discount everything else that they do, but that one thing, that one different perspective, may be able to help you and your dog.​

It's also taking away some of the portrayal that we are all displaying all too often in our conversations about other types of training. So, for me, personally, I am a proud member of Karen Pryor Academy. I'm a Karen Pryor-approved instructor. I use positive reinforcement training and I adore clicker training, but that doesn't mean that if someone is a balanced trainer or if someone uses corrections that by default, I think that they're evil. I don't. I simply disagree with how it is they go about training. That also doesn't mean that if those people are doing those things, that there is absolutely nothing that I couldn't learn from them. There very well could be. There could be things that they're doing intertwined within their approach that could actually be valuable, not that I'm suddenly going to start using corrections. I'm not. But there could be something of value in there. But I'm also going to be valuing them as a fellow dog lover. Just because someone uses corrections doesn't mean they don't love dogs. They just have a different approach than I do, and that's okay.

And for anyone else who is a positive reinforcement trainer, just a word from someone within your community, make sure you're not looking down on anyone else, and this is very hard to do because, quite frankly, positive reinforcement training is still on the newer side. It's been a revolution within the dog training community, but it hasn't been around that long in the grand scheme of things, so there are a lot of people who are making a transition into positive reinforcement training, and that can be a very painful process for that person because they're almost shamed during the process. "Oh, well, you finally saw the light. What took you so long?" That's terrible. I would never wanna talk to someone who talks to me like that. That's not helpful in any way, shape, or form.​

So, we all can do better, and the same applies for those who are balanced trainers or are using corrections who say, "Ah, those stupid cookie feeders," and, "Oh, they do their little click, click, click, and ... What's next? They're just going to throw some essential oils on the dog and we're all gonna sing Kumbaya and everything's gonna be great?" There's, again, a level of just venom of how people talk about each other that just isn't helpful at all 'cause at the end of the day, I'm pretty sure everyone just wants their dogs to be better behaved, so that we can all have a better life co-existing with these little aliens who share our homes with us. That's the whole point of all this stuff. So, if we can bring the temperature down a little bit as far as how we talk about one another and we start seeing each other as dog lovers first who just simply disagree on how you can get to the same point, then that's a much better approach than what, typically, is happening out in the community right now.​

The other thing to be mindful of is the fact that there are many different ways to achieve the same goal in dog training, even within the same method of training. So, what I mean by that is, for myself, I use positive reinforcement, I use reward-based training, I use clicker training. If I'm trying to train a dog how to sit, there's multiple ways that I can do that, even under that umbrella. There is no 100,000% way, everyone must do it this way, and there's no other way that you can do it. Of course not. That's not the way that dog training works because every single dog is different. Teaching a standard poodle how to sit may not be an issue. Teaching a greyhound who's off the racetrack how to sit could take you a little bit more time. You have to be mindful of those things and be careful not to think that your way is the only way.​

Always be open-minded. Someone may have a suggestion for you. It could even just simply be something easy that you do with your body as far as how you hold yourself, maybe with where you look, maybe with where you step, maybe if you're using treats, where you hold the treat, when you deliver the treat. There's all these little intricacies that if you have an open-minded and an open approach to training, if you go to a lot of seminars, if you watch a lot of videos, if you talk with other professionals, even as colleagues, you can pick things up. Always be learning. Don't ever think, "Oh, I know how to do that. I don't ever need to know about that ever again." The second that you do that, that's the second that you're basically turning your back on you being a better professional or a better trainer, and I'm not just speaking to professionals. I'm speaking, also, to dog owners. The second that you think you know everything, your dogs have a very good way of humbling you, so make certain that you are figuring out ways that can help you and your dog be successful.​

The other big thing that I really want to ensure that we understand, hopefully, by the end of this podcast is that simply because you do not agree with someone, even within your camp of training ... So, let's say that you are talking with another positive reinforcement trainer and you are also a positive reinforcement trainer, but you start talking about training a particular behavior, and you simply have a disagreement on how you can do that, you both have completely different approaches, doesn't mean that either of them is better than the other, they're just different. That doesn't mean that that person is now somehow lesser than you are or that you are lesser than they are. It's just, simply, different. Instead, honestly listen to the person as they're giving what their approach would be and see how that may be able to apply to either your personal dog or your clients or your future students. Is this an approach that maybe you could have in your back pocket and take out if your normal go-to approach doesn't work? Again, the more tools you have in your toolbox, the better, but you're only gonna be able to develop those tools if you can learn them, and the best way of learning them is from other people.​

The other thing I really wanna nail down this podcast is a need for everyone to really understand that just because you disagree with someone, even if it's something as touchy as training methodology, so positive reinforcement versus balanced training as an example, just because you disagree with them doesn't mean that you have to hate them. Those are two completely different things. Again, just because someone wants to train differently than you doesn't make them inherently evil, it doesn't make them inherently hate dogs or want to hurt dogs or want to do terrible things to the owners or steal the owner's money or waste their time or whatever other outlandish thing that people may think. That's not the case. They simply train differently than you do. Nothing more, nothing less.

On the flip side of that, if you happen to agree with someone 'cause they do the same type of training that you do or they would approach a problem the same way that you do, that doesn't mean that you have to love or idolize them. Be very, very careful about idolizing anyone. This can be almost more detrimental than if you despise someone because if you idolize someone, then you're basically going to be looking at everything that they do through these rosy glasses where, in reality, maybe there are things that they do that don't make sense or they wouldn't apply well to you or your dog, but then you're trying to emulate what you see, and lo and behold, it doesn't work.​

So, you have to be careful with both of these extremes. Just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean that they're the devil incarnate, and just because you agree with someone doesn't mean that they're a saint. We have to be realistic about these things, and the dog world is a very passionate one, and we're all very passionate about dog training, and that doesn't mean that I want you to be less passionate, I just want you to be rational in your passion and see these people as for who they are. They are people. Take everything with a grain of salt. Just because someone has a lot of accolades and a lot of achievements, whether it be certifications with different organizations for training, whether it be titles and ribbons if they're doing dog sports, that doesn't mean that's going to translate into them being a good teacher.​

So, a better way of thinking about it is this. If you have someone who is an instructor, my opinion of an instructor is someone who can actually take knowledge they have and then teach it to a handler who can then train it to their dog. That's really hard. You then have a trainer, which, again, from my definition is someone who primarily is working directly with dogs, so they can take the knowledge that they have on how they can manipulate behavior and they can train the dog. You then have people who are competitors or trainer competitors, who are working, primarily, with their own personal dogs, so they're campaigning out with a variety of different dog sports and things, so they have the knowledge of how they can manipulate the behavior of their own individual dog.

So, from these three different categories, those are three completely different skill-sets. Can I, for the trainer competitor, can I actually communicate to my own personal dogs, so we can achieve our goals? For the trainer who's working with other people's dogs, can I take my knowledge and then relay that to these dogs that I may or may not know. And then for the instructor, can I take the knowledge that I have, translate it into human terms, so another human being can understand it enough to train their dog? Those are all really super complicated, and quite honestly, there's very few people who have all three all bundled up into one.​

For instance, there are people who are excellent trainer competitors, meaning that they have achieved the highest accolades within their given sport. They're amazing. They and their dogs are an incredible team. At the same point, they would never in a million years be able to translate that to anyone else. They wouldn't be able to share that knowledge in a helpful way to someone else. There's also some times where you may be able to have all the accolades and titles in the world, but if somewhere else were to watch that team work, go like, "I can't learn anything from you. That handling is not very helpful. Nothing you're doing is helpful to anyone else but you." and there's nothing wrong with that. But we have to be mindful of these things.

So, as consumers, even if you are a professional trainer, even if you are a professional instructor, if you are taking any classes, seminars, webinars, whatever else with anybody, be mindful of who it is. Know what they're saying and see what is valuable and then leave behind the rest, and that's okay. That doesn't mean the person giving the information is bad and that doesn't mean that you're not loyal enough 'cause you're not taking it hook, line, and sinker. Just look at things through a critical lens. What is valuable to you and what isn't?

The big thing that I'm hoping that everyone can walk away from this podcast understanding is that there really is an art to all this dog training business. I say it a lot in my classes for both Dog Sport University and Scent Work University, but it's true. You have to be an artist when it comes to training dogs, but it also applies to how you understand dog training and how you're able to internalize that, really understand it, and then apply it to whatever dog is in front of you, and if you're an instructor, to another human being, who can then translate it to their dog. This is hard stuff. This isn't easy.

So, we have to learn how to take in information so that it's helpful to us and it's useful and then how we can customize it so that it's even more helpful in the end, and that can be really challenging because there's all these other things that are attached to it. There are personalities, there are allegiances, there are groups, and cliques, and all kinds of stuff. Try to ignore all that stuff. Even if there's someone who you vehemently disagree with 99.9% of the things that they do, there may be that 1% of things that either they do, they talk about, or concepts that they at least bring to light that could be extraordinarily beneficial. Use those to your advantage. That will help you in the end.​

I hope that these concepts make sense. The big thing is that the way that, in my opinion, we should be approaching dog training is how it is that we can get the most information that we can so that we can better help our dogs. For me, personally, I learn a lot about what not to do in a situation. So, even if there is someone that I don't agree with as far as how they train, I'm not looking only for what I could do in a given situation, I'm also gonna be looking for what not to do. That's still just information. It's still learning.​

So, having an open mind and approaching this without all the emotion attached to it, that you are simply just learning, that you are trying to be the best trainer that you can be to help either your own personal dog or to help your clients. It takes some of the pressure off to join into these camps, and the more that we can get away from that really negative association of the other, "You don't do it the way that I do it; therefore, you are bad," the better it would be for our community. It can be challenging, particularly if people vehemently disagree on things, but if you can just remind yourself that the person on the other side of that topic or that stance more likely than not also loves their dog, you can still see them as a fellow dog lover, and it can help prevent a lot of issues down the line, and particularly if you are in your own journey of training. If you have more of an open mind, you will be more open-minded to other ways of training, of other ways of achieving that goal, but if you're very steadfast in how you approach things, you may actually be limiting yourself as far as any potential options or solutions that are out there for both you and your dog, which could cause issues down the line.

So, again, the whole point of this podcast is to just try to remind everyone that we're all dog lovers. At the end of the day, we are just trying to figure out the best way to live with a completely separate species within our homes and to maybe do some other fun things that are dog sport specific and how it is we can achieve our goals, whether it simply be just living at home peacefully without us pulling our hair out or it's achieving the highest title and accolade, and again, in dog sport. But we're all in this, typically, for the same reason, that we love dogs, and if we could look at one another in that lens, it can really help.

So, I hope this podcast was helpful. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.