In the eighth grade, my best friend and I sat in math class and awaited the return of our most recent test. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the A-minus on my paper. My friend was disappointed in her B. Comparing papers, she exclaimed, “That’s not fair! I got one more question right than you did, and you got a higher grade.”
Believing that I could help improve her grade, we approached the teacher with both papers. I explained to the teacher that she had made a mistake.
She looked over both papers carefully and said, “You are right, Connie, I did make a mistake. You got a higher grade than you deserved. Your grade should be lower.”
Now it was my turn to say, “That’s not fair! If you change my grade, you will be teaching me that honesty does not pay. I shouldn’t have said anything to you because I’m going to suffer for being honest.”
She smiled and said, “Connie, you don’t want to be honest just to benefit yourself. You want to be honest because you have integrity. It is moments like these that reveal who you are. You can choose to always seek what is best for you, or choose to do what’s right because it demonstrates your integrity.”
As my teacher had warned, our decisions sometimes put our best interest — if “best interest” is defined as the acquisition of money, success, popularity, and acclaim from others — in conflict with our integrity. Integrity — the honesty, truthfulness, or accuracy of one’s actions — is about who we are as human beings; integrity sometimes means that we will “lose out” on certain material or external benefits.
If I thought integrity was a moving target as a young woman finding my way, as a business owner it flies in my face on a daily basis. There is not a business owner reading this who doesn’t recognize how constant the pressure is to violate our integrity. The attorney is told that he must achieve a certain number of billable hours in order to make partner. Should she pad her hours just a little, when they fall short? Should a freelancer or contractor report the cash income she has received on tax returns, or “let it slide?” Should the coach tell his middle-school student’s eager parents his honest perceptions about their child’s talent in football — or tell them that most likely the child will have a college scholarship and maybe even make the pros? Every industry, every company faces issues like this every day.
The dog training industry is no exception. At the Dog Trainers Workshop, we have chosen to make integrity one of our core values, and we are constantly tested.
Perhaps it is a boarding client who arrives with a dog and bags full of special treats and food. No, the dog doesn’t get all those treats at home, but the client want us to give them to assuage their guilt about leaving him. I’m faced with a choice. I either quietly take the unnecessary treats and dispose of them without the owner’s knowledge, or I explain, expecting their disapproval, that I cannot risk unusual food choices while they are away because of GI upset and other health issues.
One of my personal daily challenges is to resist the part of the dog-training culture that says dog training can be “purely positive” as they define “positive.” The suggestion is that dogs should not be corrected (however mildly), and in some extreme cases, not even told when they make a mistake.
Telling owners who consider their dogs a member of the family that they will not have to discipline or correct appeals to their desire, if not their common sense. Consequently, difficult dog behaviors are not being distinguished and owners are led to believe training failures occur because of their personal shortcomings, not because of the methodology. Ultimately, this causes more dogs to be given away or, worse yet, euthanized.
Not only does this methodology lack coherence but also some trainers are dishonest about what methods they’re actually using. Frequently I learn that another “purely positive” trainer uses other methods behind closed doors, but does not admit it because dishonesty leads to greater financial reward, popularity, and acclaim from others.
When training dogs, I believe that if the dog could talk, he would tell me exactly what it is that I’m trying to teach him. I have no interest in tricking dogs into doing what I want, as the woman did who rang the doorbell whenever she wanted the dog off the furniture. Instead, I want all my owners to respond as one client did when she said, “He doesn’t know what I want, but he trusts that I will make it clear.”
Ultimately, the dogs give me the answer. Dogs trust us to tell them the truth. It is integrity that creates credibility and trust. It takes ages to earn trust, and only one instant to lose it. Though we may lose external privileges and rewards, earning trust within our relationships — including our dogs — through our integrity is ultimately so precious.
The dogs know it. Integrity is worth it.