Malcolm Gladwell - Spaghetti Sauce, Happiness and Dog Training

09 Nov 2007Steve Schwarz

I just stumbled across the Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) conference site and a video of Malcolm Gladwell from the era of his book Blink in which he discusses the impact of choice and diversity in products on the happiness of people. Here’s a link to the video. You might well say: “Steve what does this have to do with dogs and dog training”. Please bear with me for a second.

Malcolm describes the notion of horizontal segmentation of product lines to better fit the desires of consumers and increase their happiness with those products. He proposes that the Platonic notion of the one truly best spaghetti sauce, coffee, or whatever is not what all people really want. He ends his speech with the statement:

“That by embracing the diversity of human beings we will find a sure way to human happiness.”

This got me to thinking about dog training methodologies (dare I say

systems). By his reasoning not only is there no one training methodology that is best for every human student (if "best" is measured by the expressed happiness of the human doing the training) there is also not one training methodology that is best for every dog (if best is measured by the happiness of the dog being trained).

So as dog handlers and trainers it is up to us to find the methodology that best leads to our dog’s happiness. This may not be the training “flavor of the month” from the national or world champion in our height division. It might also not be the method used by our favorite local trainer.

I would propose that it is up to us to ask the question, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?“. But not asking ourselves, by asking our dogs. Personally I don’t have to be happy with a trainer if they are helping me make my dog happy. I’d like the warm, fuzzies from my trainer but they aren’t necessary.

As one being trained it is difficult to even express what we need from a trainer (like Gladwell’s robust coffee example). We might have to sample many trainers to find the one(s) that can help us find happiness for ourselves and for our dogs

So it is doubly hard to be a dog trainer. Dog trainers, unlike the product developers Malcolm describes, not only have more than one set of consumers of their dog training approach (the dog and the human) they also have two species to deal with and one of those species doesn’t speak our language (and our knowledge of their language is often imperfect).

This notion of dog trainers serving two masters isn’t new, but I liked the thought that were a really dedicated trainer to embrace the diversity of both the dog and the handler they could lead them both toward happiness. A very tall order but I think there are some trainers out there who are up to the challenge.

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