Mr. George was my first stop on this journey. After I followed him on Instagram, the algorithm kicked in, offering me content from other positive training accounts, too. Was I dogfluenced? I’m not sure, but eventually, I opted for a solution to my dog’s jogger chasing that is very common in positive reinforcement training (though is used by some balanced trainers, too): I started using a ridiculously long leash. It is 32 feet long, long enough that we can play a real game of fetch while he’s wearing it, but I can still grab it and reel him in quickly if he misbehaves. It’s so long that it often attracts comments and questions.
Another confession: At some point, I started thinking about getting an e-collar for my dog. He seemed, in some ways, an ideal candidate: neither aggressive nor fearful, just a dog who might get to run around a little more freely if I could make it very clear that chasing joggers was not, in fact, a fun game.
I never did it. I don’t exactly know why; I can’t untangle my bundle of motivations well enough to fully understand them. Was I worried about being a cop to my dog? Was I just not the kind of person who uses e-collars? (In signifier terms, I’m not.) Did I simply just not want to buzz him if he did something bad? I definitely didn’t, but I can’t confidently say that was the only impulse at work.
We’re living through a funny juncture when it comes to the culture wars and the internet. The structures of the internet are evolving at the same time that the grounds on which the culture wars are being fought are shifting. Even over the past few months, I’ve felt a subtle tenor change across this particular slice of the web. It’s not that the temperature of the dog training wars has gone down; if anything, it may be going up — Mr. George has begun talking about pursuing legislation against aversive tools. But the trainers do seem to be, in a hard-to-pin-down way, more focused on dogs: Fewer threads about training techniques are devolving into fights about vaccines; I’ve seen very few major dog accounts venture an opinion about Israel and Gaza. Whether, in a few years’ time, we’ll emerge in a place where it still behooves people who train dogs to give off a politically tinged vibe and whether owners like me will still internalize those vibes, we’ll see. What does seem guaranteed — and is, frankly, kind of a bummer — is that regardless of what happens with this particular iteration of the culture wars, dogs will always be destined to become goofy, oblivious vehicles for human conflict.
On the other hand: What do they care, really? Finn and I still take walks with the giant leash. I still get comments on it and fight the urge to feel self-conscious. Finn, for his part, doesn’t really seem to mind and probably doesn’t know what he’s missing.