This post is a guest post by Miranda K. Workman, MS, CABC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KSA. We are honored to share with you a situation that proved that modern dog trainers can in fact come together to bring awareness into the community.
At a recent TEDxBuffalo presentation about building community one speaker said, “Community begins where there is conflict.” Those words came to life for me on October 17, 2015. As a certified behavior specialist, I meet many people in my professional career. One of those individuals is Melissa Henchen, the president of Going to the Dogs rescue based in Perry, NY. A newspaper in her local area had printed a story about a local trainer who presented outdated information about canine behavior. The article was filled with references to humans as alpha wolves who give direction (never affection). It was an article that was completely void of current scientific understanding about learning theory, canine behavior and ripe with anthropomorphic explanation about cross-species social relationships.
After reading this article it was clear that allowing this outdated information to go without comment was a disservice to the pet owning public who are part of the readership for this paper. The rescue president and I knew this was an opportunity to educate the public. We just needed to decide how to do it. We decided a direct response to the paper would be the best course of action. 24 hours later I had finished the first draft of a letter to the editor of the paper. After sharing the draft with the rescue president, we talked about who would sign the letter…then it hit me. This should be a community response. Not a response from one, two, or three individuals. We needed to “rally the troops.”
Over the last few years there have been a few opportunities when training and behavior professionals, leadership from various rescues, groomers, daycare operators and others have come together. Most of those meetings were informal social gatherings as we all started to get to know one another. Although our philosophies were aligned, there had been little formal effort to communicate with the general public about science-based training focused on positive reinforcement. This opportunity gave me a reason to get everyone together with a specific and formal goal. Oh…and with a deadline.
I worked on reaching out to my colleagues and other contacts in the Buffalo, NY area. Melissa reached out to those in the Rochester, NY area. Once several people agreed to participate, we used social media to collect everyone in one virtual location to discuss the letter. Realizing that media is like capturing lightening in a bottle, we knew we had to act quickly. A quick response would maximize the effect as the previous article would still be in the readership’s consciousness.
Although there was some debate and we ended up with a third, final version of the letter, after 24 hours of bringing the group together we had twenty-two individuals who were willing to stand together as a group to educate the general public. The letter was published – in its entirety including references – seven days after the original article aired. We posted the letter on social media and found supporters across the nation who joined with us by adding their signatures in the comments of the online version of our letter. By networking with others, even members in our online communities pledged their support of the efforts of this new community in WNY.
Through this conflict, I am confident and hopeful that a new community has been forged. I have already reached out to those twenty-two signers to create a regional education organization. No doubt more will join us. The sum of all the parts of this new community will no doubt become very a prominent whole in the larger community of Western New York. I am already preparing to plan the first meeting where this new community will begin to determine our mission, vision, guiding principles and goals. As a group we will work to coordinate action plans to fulfill those goals.
Ultimately, it was by being both diverse and inclusive that we met this time-sensitive goal. I hope that we will continue to be diverse in this new community’s membership while including all those who share our desire collaboration for the sake of education about current, science-based behavior and training information in our larger community.
About the Author
Miranda K. Workman, MS, CABC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KSA has been President and CEO of Purrfect Paws Animal Behavior Center since its inception in 2006. A voracious reader and tireless researcher, she strives to understand and apply the most “up to date” developments in training and behavior.
She has over 14 years experience in applied animal behavior and training. She is an experienced behavior specialist with a well-respected reputation including being listed as a WNY expert by the Buffalo News. While she works to rehabilitate many different behavior concerns of pet owners, she especially enjoys working with multi-pet households, aggression and feline behavior problems.
She also served from 2007-2011 on the Board of Directors of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Inc. (CCPDT); three of those years she was President of the Board and was responsible for the creation and implementation of the Certified Behavior Consultant – Canine certification exam. Currently she serves as the Chair of the Cat Division for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Inc. (IAABC).