Often times we go to animated films and expect some form of a lesson for all who is watching the movie. It is often a lesson of being brave, heroic and most of all never to give up. I was surprised that there was a hidden message for the children to see and hopefully pick up and use throughout their life. As I started to watch the movie my dog trainer feelers started to twitch. The dragons all started to show different behaviors we often see in our K-9 friends. This range from paw lifts, lowering head, the need to please their human, tail chases, sniffing other dragons in certain places and so on. While it was cute they related k-9s to the dragons there was also something else developing. It was how the characters of the village trained their dragons. There was even talks about the “alpha” which now we know is outdated for even wolves let along dogs.
We see the village has grown and accepted the dragons, and in turn they taught the dragons how to work and live along side the humans. No force was used and all Positive reinforcement was used by the village folks. We ended up seeing is what most Positive Reinforcement trainers see, the fact the dragons enjoyed working for their human side kicks. It was also true that the dragons work harder and longer for the people of the village. The village people often used food or even play for the dragons to keep them motivated and to let them know they were doing something right thus increasing the desired behavior. The movie was showing people that you do not have to rough up your dragon which could easily be symbolic for dogs. By working along with the dragons and educating them what was needed or wanted it allowed for a stable relationship between the humans and the dragons.
I was happy to see so far in the movie it was more up to date training methods. However, what really almost shot me out of my seat was when the bad guy of the second movie appeared and how he “Trained” his dragons. It was at that point my skin crawled and a few t.v trainers popped into my head as I watched him interact with the dragons he had under his control. We saw a huge tone change as the bad guy (Drago Bludvist) enter the scene as he was gathering up all dragons to create a dragon army.
Needless to say his methods of controlling and training a dragon was that of Dominance and a use of an Alpha to try to control all other dragons. He used methods such as kicking, using his staff on dragons, and even stepping on a dragon’s face to make it clear that he was the dominant animal. We watch as he steps on one dragon’s nose, only to have the dragon literally shut down in front of our eyes (learned helplessness). It was at this point the dragon gave up, as these forceful methods were used. We also saw him hiss, and at times growl at the dragons to make sure that they all believe he was the top dog err dragon that is. While his dragons “worked” you could tell there was something missing, it wasn’t that they wanted to work more that they had the fear of god in them. After all he was called the “Dragon god”, very close to a certain dog whisperer as his methods played out. In the end we all knew what was going to come about working your animal to the ground and not teaching them what you want from him. Bullying only goes so far in the training world and often times blows up in a lot of human faces. A good chunk of my training time is often to help owners move away from these outdated methods often times they come when the damage has already been done, and we spend a long time just trying to get their dogs back to normal working creature.
By the end of the movie, we see which bonds are closer, which group is willing to work harder for each other. And at the end just like any movie the bad guy is defeated and the normal life can continue to go on in the village. I am just happy that the movie could take a little life lesson that all Positive reinforcement trainers know and that science knows to be true and help educate the future generations. We do not need fear, physical punishment, intimidation to get the behaviors we want. We know our dogs or dragons are working hard because they want to- not because they are afraid of the outcome if they do not do something correct. We do not need dogs who have develop learned helplessness and shut down to learning we crave dogs who are looking to learn and are exited to learn and most of all we our bonds with the dogs we work with to stay intact and often times even stronger than what they were before.
So thank you dreamworks for the work you did in this movie, not even sure if you realize what all the lessons you had in your story world but they were great ones.