it’s not about winning and losing

“Don’t let your dog win!”


This phrase has been rolling around in my head since yesterday. I have been mumbling this phrase every which way, including diagonally, and sideways. And truth be told, I have felt a bit like Audrey Wood’s character, Silly Sally, who went to town, walking backwards and upside down.

This isn’t a new philosophy or saying, this has actually been around a long time. And for just as long I have been baffled by the intent of it’s meaning. Actually, ‘baffled’ may be the wrong word choice. OK, I have been astounded that any healthy and balanced person would buy into the notion that in a healthy relationship, their needs to be a winner and a loser, and that it is then deemed good!

When I hear someone say, “don’t let your dog win”, it has such a feeling of competition, lack of understanding, ego for sure, and not reading the situation appropriately. It is assuming that one species is trying desperately to control another species, and then come out the victor! The victor of what? Placement of the food bowl, acquisition of a toy, position on the sofa, who leaves the house first, who gets to feel what emotions and when?

This notion of ‘winning and loosing’, as a foundation for a relationship, is supposing that our dogs are maniacally planning our demise in some way. That they may be staying up all night and counting the tick marks under their pillow from their victories over us, plotting out how to make us have a grand fail in the coming weeks.


Sound silly? I think so. If dogs were really and truly trying to ‘win’, believe me you, the canine species would not be as popular as it is today. We would not continue to breed and promote procreation of a species that was trying to ‘win’ and take us off the planet.

Now I have met dogs that are not human social, and don’t really give a hoot about the human species. They are extremely dangerous dogs from the stand point of family pet. Are they trying to ‘win’? I have never seen the attitude of ‘winning’ even in these dogs. What I see is a dog who doesn’t think humans are all that. It is simply that clear. If you have ever been hiking and come across a bear, or mountain lion, or wolf, it is pretty much the same feeling, humans are just not all that.

And for me this is a clear reminder that we are not ‘the’ species, but a part of a much larger world, where every animals feelings, thoughts, and dreams count.

Pause for a moment, and honestly think about a relationship that is thriving and healthy … There are no winners and looser’s.

With our dogs, just as with another human, or another species, relationships are natural, they are about give and take, they are honest, and they show respect for one another. And in every relationship there will be high’s and low’s, sun and clouds, laughter and tears. The expectation of a perfect relationship, each and everyday, no flaws, will set every living being up to fail.

Warning Signs that I see in Teams that are trying to function with the notion of ‘winning & losing’ –

  1. The handler is always on a quest to change who their dog is. They have an idea of the dog they want, but are not listening too or looking at who they have in front of them.
  2. The handler uses pain, fear, discomfort, intimidation, and/or physical force to teach their dog.
  3. The handler makes every decision for their dog, regardless of the dogs skill level and/or temperament. The handler has expectations of complete compliance without complaint or opinion.
  4. The handler espouses love for their dog AFTER their dog is compliant. Love is a bargaining chip.
  5. The handler will criticize, demean, and point out what they see as their dogs failures. Their dogs successes only come from what the handler has taught them.

Signs of a Thriving Relationship that I see in Teams –

  1. Love and comfort are free. No ulterior motives, no proving oneself. You need it, you got it!
  2. There is mutual trust.
  3. There is mutual respect without the need for control.
  4. The handler accepts their dog for who they are, not what they need them to be.
  5. The handler is inspired by their dog, and in turn on a learning path.
  6. The handler does not hold grudges.
  7. The handler does not look for perfect, but rather focuses on the potential of their dog, and in turn their own skills.
  8. There is an understanding of personal space.
  9. The handler spends an enormous amount of time observing their dog without judgement, in order to learn more.
  10. The handler does not treat their dog like a subordinate or minion, but rather as another living being.
  11. The handler and dog enjoy sharing experiences together.
  12. The handler understands how to choose environments carefully so their dog can be successful.
  13. The handler learns from their dogs opinions, likes, dislikes, complaints, and joys.
  14. The relationship is a journey, over a life time, and sets no time limits.
  15. The handler is exploring options on a consistent basis to learn more and do more with their dog.

So if you ever hear, “You need to win, not your dog”, whether it is from a veterinarian, a trainer, a friend, or someone random handing out unsolicited advice, walk away while joyfully yelling, ‘WINNING’. Because that is probably the most accurate response to such a silly notion!

Have a great day, enjoy the moments, and know that you share the planet! ~ Nancy


4 Comments Add yours

  1. dayphoto says:

    Two THUMBS UP!!!! Well done Nancy!


  2. Very interesting on this important topic. Iam sure you are very right in this attitude. And I agree so much that every creature in this world counts.

  3. I sometimes blurt out “I win!” with Blueberry in some situations – but it’s tongue-in-cheek and I don’t feel any real sense of victory. I try my best to have a partnership with her – it’s give and take and our relationship is better because of it. Great post!

  4. Mags Corner says:

    Great blog post…bravo!! The pictures are fabulous! Hugs and nose kisses

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