Dog Training vs. Dolphin Training: Why the Double Standard?



It's not often that animal training makes headlines, but it happened in Atlanta this week.

A new senior vice president of the Georgia Aquarium, José Luis Barbero, was a former dolphin trainer at Marineland Mallorca in Spain. Video (shown below) from that facility surfaced of Barbero and several other trainers allegedly yelling at, hitting, and kicking the dolphins in their care.

The public's response? Outrage. Calls to boycott the Georgia Aquarium until he is fired. Some have even said they feel he should be charged with animal abuse.

I agree wholeheartedly with the public's outrage. Dolphins are highly intelligent and sentient beings that are fully capable of learning without the use of force or intimidation. The video made me sick to my stomach. I'll omit my thoughts on keeping marine mammals in captivity--let's focus on what really puzzles me about this story.

The abusive methods used on the dolphins in the video in question--yelling, physical punishment, instilling fear in the animals in order to get cooperation--are all methods used to train dogs by people all over the world. People who call themselves "dog trainers" employ the use of fear, pain, and intimidation in order to achieve what they feel is "control" or "submission." But what have they really achieved, other than a fearful dog that is now operating with a sense of self-preservation?

A truly successful animal trainer is able to teach an animal appropriate behaviors by guiding them away from behaviors they don't want and teaching them what they do want --all without the use of force. Dolphins and dogs are two of the most intelligent, emotional, and sensitive species that exist in our world. Research has shown that a dolphin's brain has a more complex neocortex than our own, and that they are capable of complex emotions. While it seems to be an accepted fact that dolphins are highly intelligent and worthy of humane training, I think the general public is still in the process of accepting the same about their dogs.

Research tells us that dogs have the intelligence and emotional capacity equivalent to that of a human toddler. They are highly in tune with our body language and facial expressions, and are capable of learning hundreds of words. Some dogs are even able to understand basic arithmetic and that's just the start.  Leaving the human comparison behind for a moment, dogs are so beyond us in so many ways, that to celebrate their 'dogdom' means this blog would go on for days.

So I'll leave you with this. Maybe it's time that we start being as outraged with punishment-based dog training methods as we are about the video of this dolphin trainer. Aren't dolphins and dogs both worthy of the same respect?

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Positively Expert: Victoria Stilwell

Victoria Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer best known as the star of the internationally acclaimed TV series, It’s Me or the Dog. A bestselling author, Stilwell frequently appears in the media as a pet expert and is widely recognized and respected as a leader in the field of animal behavior.


5 thoughts on “Dog Training vs. Dolphin Training: Why the Double Standard?

  1. Zoey Jackson

    It didn't come across as damning all Dolphin trainers; the point was the public response to such inhumane methods. That such a huge outcry against one rouge operation, as you call it, was created when the animals in question were Dolphins - whilst negative reinforcement and punishment based, fear inducing techniques are widely excepted when it comes to canines. And therein lies the double standard.

    So please, get off your high horse and read the entire article next time...

  2. Zoey Jackson

    Yeah, gotta agree with that.

    Although, the fact is that, like a lot of livestock across the globe - many of those pigs wouldn't be alive in the first place but for slaughter. Unless you have acres, they cannot be kept as pets, what we consider pigs (as opposed to feral boars etc) wouldn't survive long in the wild without human support and they unfortunately have absolutely zero value in way of agriculture whilst alive (Chooks have eggs, sheep = wool, cows produce milk etc -- pigs in that respect have no value).

    I adore pigs and think they're brilliant creatures, but the fact is, most wouldn't be around but for farming; and so long as those farming methods and slaughtering are humane, then I don't see a problem with it. Having said that, I agree with you in that most animal lovers fail to recognise just how intelligent they are and see nothing more than a leg of ham, or strip of bacon.

  3. Rue

    I think that is the point. It IS a double standard. This is one horrible facility is a rare occurrence in the marine world, and met with outrage. Many dogs live like this everyday, and there are faculties everywhere that treat dogs like this, and teach their humans that this is how it must be done, but there is no similar outrage. There is a double standard of how the public and even trainers think that dolphins must be trained vs dogs training.

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