Thank Dog for “old school” dog trainers!

“Cutting edge.” “New.” “Innovative.” “Modern.” “Science based.” “Humane.” Force free.” “Balanced.”… The list of  attributes dog trainer’s use to describe themselves is overwhelming. Almost as overwhelming as walking through the dog food isle trying to pick the best food for a new puppy.

It’s hard to keep pace with which rendition is trending and which has become So yesterday. 🤢

There does seem to be one commonality amongst the influencers today though, and it isn’t a description that is aspired too. No, it is uttered more sneeringly. Dog training gurus curl their lip slightly when they say the words

𝑶𝒍𝒅 𝑺𝒄𝒉𝒐𝒐𝒍

I’m ashamed to admit, I did it at one time. But I’m done with that now. My rethinking isn’t because I’m now… old…but because I’ve had my ego knocked down enough times to have learned that there is always more to learn.

Old school is a badge of honor in many circles. It attests not only to a sense of tradition within a trade, but to having actually done the time and earned the cred. Tradesman that learned a skill, honed it and passed it down. Tradesman that gained respect through years of sweat equity.

In the fashion world, old school and retro are the epitome of cool. 😎

I’m wondering if we can get back to that in dog training circles? As it stands now, the term is used as a slight. It’s meant to disparage another trainer or the techniques and tools that they use. The verbal sparring began when the profession began splitting into camps in the mid-80’s. The dividing lines were drawn up in the Skinner box.

old school dog trainers

Individuals committed to using only positive reinforcement and negative punishment in their training grew self-righteous. Repudiation of two of the four quadrants meant they were the new, they were innovative and science based….anyone that continued to embrace all four quadrants of learning theory was not only deemed out of fashion, they were labeled as uneducated neanderthals. Considering genetics and understanding drives as part of a training plan became blasphemy. The new religion had no place for those that did not conform. Being just a Dog Trainer was no longer an adequate moniker. It did not do enough to validate one’s superiority. 

I don’t take issue with trainers deciding which religion they want to practice. Having a preference for what tools to use or not use, is irrelevant to me. As long as there is competency in the application and the dog is not compromised, there may be multiple roads that lead to the same destination. But, what is happening in the dog training world is not about choice. It is about control. Control that has greed at its root.

Once a dog training religion attempts to gain the competitive edge by enacting legislation to ban the tools they simply don’t like, it’s time to draw a line in the sand.

Here is a caution to ALL that don’t want tool banning to enter into this profession:

When you are marketing your preferences, be aware of your word choices. Your techniques may be different from your competitor, but casting aspirations and derogatorily labeling others is not only unprofessional, it supports the false narrative being used to limit our choices.

Are there some lousy dog trainers out there? Yes of course there are. There are incompetents in every profession. And we should consider it our professional duty to report anything that crosses the line into inhumane or cruel behavior. But inhumane and cruel do not go hand in hand with tools or choice.

When it comes to marketing, I have no problem with trainers pointing out techniques they believe to be inadequate. BUT if that someone isn’t willing to follow up their opinion piece by sharing video proof they can provide a better solution….well, as a consumer paying for a service, I’d advise you request said trainer either put up, or shut up.

I’ve observed a LOT of dog trainers over the years. Some could easily be categorized as old school. They have certainly been training far longer than me. I am thankful for the wealth of experience that has crossed my path; I’ve learned some valuable tidbits from those encounters. Shared wisdom has helped me through situations and behavioral cases I may not have been able to otherwise solve. Those old schoolers may have had an approach different than mine, but the reservoir of knowledge they drew from was deep and diverse.

I have been training dogs since 1994. Before that I was a vet tech. I’ve gone to many seminars and workshops and worked privately with trainers that I knew could make me better. I’ve watched trainers demonstrate things that I won’t replicate. I continue to learn something from just about every encounter I have with another professional. I even learn things from my students when I am the one teaching.

My tool box includes: remote collars, clickers, food and treats, prong collars, leads and leashes, toys, long lines, check cords, head halters, muzzles, target sticks, place boards, and even (gasp!) a retractable leash. Some of those tools I use more than others, but I’ve found a place for all of them. 

If someone refers to me as 𝑶𝒍𝒅 𝑺𝒄𝒉𝒐𝒐𝒍, I’m okay with that. I figure it means I’m seasoned enough to have earned a badge denoting more experience than most. And I will joyfully pass along some of that knowledge. I hope those coming after me carry on the proud tradition of just being called, a Dog Trainer. 


  • I threw a pillow at my dog to interrupt her barking and jumping up at the TV. It worked! She came sat next to me on the sofa and continued to watched the dogs on the TV , suspicious but none the less calm.
    I’ve just realised that it was a version of bonker’.
    I guess that’s old school !

    • Welcome to the “old school” club…where we believe is ok to have fair, effective consequences for undesirable behavior. Hope you and your pup can settle in and enjoy a good movie together!


  • I love the way you think. And I am a proud old school trainer been training dogs for 50 years. Learned from so many. Some I learned what I didn’t want to do. Love using all different tools. Keep up your great work. You make so much sense and are all about the dog. Don’t need a label.

    • Thank you. I appreciate your kind words. All about the dog AND the owner is what we are supposed to be. Sadly that is being forgotten in this movement to ban tools.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you Robin. I was feeling SO depressed after yet another wet query from a young person who was pursuing a career in dog training online and was “nearly ready “ to start their business.
    After twenty years in the business, a six year apprenticeship with a renowned training institution and intensive interactions with people like Diane Bauman, Michael Ellis and your own sweet self, I was STILL nervous about hanging out my own shingle…. HOW do we inform these young wannabee trainers about the YEARS of intense learning curve and humbling experiences we went through in order to call ourselves dog trainers???
    Your considered blogs should be made viral.

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