Martin Luther King – How to Lead Without Force

Dr. Martin Luther King

Today we celebrate a great leader. We all know about how he helped advance civil rights and effect change around the world. We teach our children about the value of sticking to your core beliefs and allowing strong but understated confidence in the power of justice run its course like he did. But perhaps the most defining characteristic of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is his unwavering commitment to advancing his cause through the use of nonviolence.We continue to learn much from MLK, but the impact he continues to have on us as a society today applies not only to our human relationships.

The most effective and powerful leaders are able to change the behavior of others without imposing their will through the use of physical force. I wish we could all take this to heart as it relates to our relationships with our pets as well.

Despite the significant advances we've made as a culture over the past several decades in our understanding of animal behavior, there remains a virulent and undiminished undercurrent of resistance to the concepts of building relationships with our pets that are based on mutual trust, respect and love rather than pain, fear and intimidation. Despite the successes of my various TV shows and other projects, I'm continually confronted by those who believe that positive training is nothing more than a cute little sideshow that's helpful for naughty chihuahuas and earnest soccer moms.

Like Dr. King's, the battle to change people's perceptions of how we should interact with our dogs is an uphill fight. But as the evidence from the scientific community continues to mount and our collective willingness to allow others to treat pets more like livestock than cherished family members erodes, it becomes clearer and clearer that there is no alternative in sight but to win the fight.

Though the sentiment is obviously on a far different plane than the struggle over civil rights for all humans, we positive trainers, too, have a dream. We dream of a world where it is commonly understood that punishment and pain have no place in dog training. Where forced cooperation and submission through the use of intimidation and fear are universally recognized as outdated and less effective. Where positive reinforcement is celebrated as the most humane, long-lasting tool to combat unwanted behavior in all dogs - whether it's for common housetraining issues or severe aggression. Where we don't have to counteract and undo the damage inflicted on those whose owners are susceptible to the zen psychobabble of popular media culture.

On this Martin Luther King day, we celebrate the legacy of a great leader who harnessed the power of nonviolence and gentle, persistent persuasion. Let's try to do his memory justice not only by how we interact with our fellow humans, but also our four-legged companions.


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  • http://victoriastilwellfans.webs.com DeLinda

    You are definitely like MLK in the way that you are one of many that are trying to end negative relationships between people and their dogs. And it's because of this, that so many look up to you - and believe in what you say. Don't worry Victoria, we're going to make things better, one dog at a time.

    I can only speak for myself when I say that MY dog is much happier because of your teaching. :)

  • Katie M

    This. I LOVE this. Thank you, Victoria. Thank you for "getting it". :)

  • http://www.thedogtrainer.weebly.com Vicci

    Never, never be afraid to do whar's right, especially of the wellbeing of a person or an animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way. Martin Luther King

  • Dawn Tepperman, Ph.D.

    I value what you have written greatly but also believe that livestock have a right to be treated humanely.

  • Sandra

    I enjoyed the post until the comment about livestock. I understand that the statement is true and helpful in that humans do treat livestock poorly. So, comparing how some people treat dogs to the way that others treat livestock makes your point. And I understand that you are on a mission for a particular species, not all animals. (or at least that is the way this article comes across)

    However, your comment almost seems to condone the way livestock get treated. And the horrible truth is that millions and millions of livestock animals get treated far, far worse than most pet dogs get treated (research "factory farms"). To imply that livestock get treated only as bad as a dog in a household that follows dominance-based training is to trivialize the true horror of the lives of livestock animals.

    Meanwhile, the inner lives of livestock are every bit as evolved, awake, able to learn (be trained for tricks and to know their name), and full of emotion and thought as those of livestock. If one believes that dogs deserve to be treated humanely, then so do our livestock. It is my contention that when humans get to a point of understanding that all animals are as precious as our dogs, then your message will be easy to sell. It is by separating animals into categories such as "livestock" and "pet dogs" that we make it difficult to sell the very message that you are trying to sell. Because they are not different. And so if we tacitly imply that it is ok to treat livestock a certain way, then it is impossible to argue that dogs should be treated better.

    I encourage everyone to watch movies such as Food Inc, Earthlings, Vegucated, etc. Educate yourself. Then go vegan. Consider having your dog go vegan too. Mine is on a vegan kibble and is more healthy now than when he was on a meat kibble. Let's stop all the cruelty.

  • truley

    i dont even see my dogs as dogs, if that makes sense. i have 8 in total, getting the respect can be somewhat difficult and yes i do struggle..... the main bit being the barking as they are a pack monkey see monkey do, but still i do not put into fear of god into them. i use loud noises my voice and none seem to work, so i will continue to be hated by the community and get strange looks at thrown at me when walking my hounds and i take it for the love of my hounds.

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