The post was well-written and it raised some great points, but one phrase stood out to me: �my ethics are mine and yours are yours�. I immediately took issues with this because it appeared to be equating �ethics� with �moral relativism�; as if my ethical beliefs are like my opinions - something I am entitled to whether or not they make any sense.
Ethical beliefs are not like opinions, they�re not vague statements of �stuff I feel� that nobody has the right to question. Ethics is a discipline that follows logical rules and, theoretically at least, generates principles that are justifiable to any rational person. There might be disagreement over premises, but this doesn't mean there's no possibility of debate.
In fact, I strongly believe that talking about ethics is important in dog training just because it forces people to confront their own beliefs in a rational way, rather than walling them off behind "well I'm entitled to my beliefs and it's all subjective anyway". The principles that inform dog training, like the desire to create strong, healthy relationships between dogs and their owners, are too important to be waved away as mere subjectivity.
Most people become dog trainers because they care about the welfare of dogs. They therefore have ethical principles about how we ought to care for dogs; giving them the skills they need to live in a human world through training is part of animal welfare. I would contend that almost all dog owners and professionals who work with dogs share the principle that causing a dog unnecessary suffering is wrong, and we have a duty to prevent it.
But caring alone isn�t a guarantee of morally right action. Being ill-informed about what dogs are and how they learn can lead to a course of action that is, strictly speaking, ethical insofar as the trainer is trying to do the right thing, but it�s still wrong because the facts it draws on are mistaken. Not understanding the ways a dog shows us that he is suffering, for example, can lead to misinterpreting being shut down through chronic fear for �calm submission�. It�s not enough to believe that unnecessary suffering is wrong if you can�t recognize it when you see it. An ethical dog trainer understands dogs and brings this knowledge to bear when choosing a course of action.
We can criticize arguments about whether an approach or a tool is morally right without insulting anyone or resorting to something like �if you do this you�re a monster� - a sentiment I�ve run across too many times in discussions with trainers. Discussing ethical principles should not be taken as an instant ad hominem attack. By paying attention to what the underlying ethical principles in an argument are, the conception of what a dog is that informs those principles, and the logic behind the argument we can judge whether a trainer is making the right decision in the tools he chooses to use.