Phone calls, e-mails, texts, and letters. Pick the week or year.
someone: I want my dog to sit, what class would be best for us?
Well that depends. And the question asking begins. And almost always, no it is actually always, the position in question is what most people believe to be the catalyst for the human/dog relationship. It’s not, just going to point that out right now.
someone: If I say sit you must sit.
Not necessarily, it depends on why, what, how, where, and I am a living being so give me a reason?
Dogs sit, lay down, come, and stay, all on their own, we are no geniuses in this department. All we are doing is putting a word or hand signal to something a dog already does with their body. Fun positions to work on if you are looking to build your skills, because any dog at any moment would be happy to work with you if it’s fun and interesting. However it isn’t what makes the relationship between you and your dog tick. Far from it.
If there was a way to start a new conversation, a new narrative with dog owners, and have that spread into the dog lovers community, this is what I would hope for.
PARENTING – One of the best moments of bringing a puppy or new dog into your home, is you get to have the realization that you are now a parent. This new living being will be counting on you for good information about life.
And you learn that you cannot be reckless with their heart.
TEACHING – You teach your dog about the human world each and everyday. We as humans confuse each other, we must be the weirdest thing to happen to a dog.
So learn to be the best and least confusing teacher possible. You can pretty much go to the moon and back with that.
Explain, show, teach, and work through life skills together. Teaching is something you do with your dog, not to your dog, and the more you practice your teaching skills, and the more creative and artful you become, the more inspiring your relationship with your dog.
Think back to the best teacher you had in your life, and WHY they were a good teacher. Chances are they were present, attentive, and made you excited about learning! And usually it was the teacher who never dumbed anything down, but rather elevated your skill level and taught you HOW to become an inspired learner. Really think about that teacher and try to have those attributes with your dog.
Just to be clear, it for sure won’t be the asshole who sat behind his desk and passed out handouts for you to figure out on your own. It won’t be the guy who humiliated and intimidated you in your morning class. And it won’t be the teacher who ignored you and never acknowledge your presence. And it won’t be the teacher who made the wrong career choice a long time ago, and crushed your curiosity and desire to ever want to learn, and shut you down.
LOVE – Love is the foundation for everything good. And every living being expresses their love uniquely. Love can be expressed through words, physically, with food, and sometimes with activities, or gifts. But what is important is that your dog is receptive to the love you offer, and that it is equally love for them. Because if your dog HATES being touched, and you give love physically through touch, than it is not love for your dog. If your love is cooking and feeding your dog, but you have a dog that eats out of necessity not pleasure (like most Border Collies), than your love effort of food will be lost on your dog.
You have to make sure that your love is flexible enough to meet what your dog perceives as love too.
Love is not a permissive act, it is almost always purposeful.
FEAR – Fear spreads faster than love, and is held onto longer than any other emotion we have. It’s sad but true. You should never put yourself into a position where your dog fears you as there is no good outcome, ever. To purposefully harm, intimidate, humiliate, or physically correct your dog is to drive a big ol’ fat wedge of EGO into the relationship. You will have fringey behavior at best, but for sure create a dog that has to watch, or rather watch out for you and be tentative, and cautious in their thoughts, actions, and life in general.
TRUST is the absence of FEAR.
The old adage that humans are the Master to their dogs can go one of two ways.
The historical definition of MASTER is the owner of servants or slaves. This is a relationship generally filled with fear, intimidation and humiliation. And I have never seen a successful Team, who views their dog as their property, where they are in charge and their dog is to obey every wish and dream of the person. Think Stockholm Syndrome if you need a clear visual.
But MASTER can also define a person as having great skill or proficiency in an art or activity. And we all know that to become this highly skilled is a lifetime goal, not a one week, one month, or one year goal. BUT HOW COOL to have this stirring around inside of you, and working towards this.
You have a choice, choose carefully.
LOOK BEYOND THE BEHAVIOR – All too often a dog owner will start a conversation with what a dog is doing or not doing that they want to change in some way. And in this all too often conversation, they never bring up their culpability or responsibility in this equation.
someone: why isn’t my dog doing this ‘xyz’ behavior right now, when I KNOW he knows how to do it?
What ever is going on, or not, that is the symptom. You always need to look for the cause. Look BEYOND the behavior.
For example, if you have worked with your dog on some amazing complex trick, and then one day your dog stands there and looks at you, ask yourself a bunch of questions. How are you feeling, how is your dog feeling, is this working for your dog, is the environment causing this, a noise, OH WAIT, whadayano, I’m sitting down and thinking about a phone call I just had and am totally disengaged with what we are working on. You not being engaged and part of the training session is the cause, the symptom is your dog not working. Sometimes dogs are the best objective reflection of ourselves. Like it or not.
Whether your dog barks at another dog, or growls out the window, won’t lay down, or does fifty spins instead of one, take the time to ask yourself some specific questions, and when you find the cause, it will give you something to work on that will be productive, and cause less conflict and friction in your relationship.
FUN, PLAY, and SILLINESS – Be a part of each others lives that doesn’t require hard fast rules sometimes. There is a reason why schools have play grounds and jungle gyms. Playing is a successful way to make mistakes, and to learn, and to self express. And if we want to learn more about our dog, and want our dog to learn more about us, play is vital.
Being an observer and watching your dog play, engaging in the fun, and allowing yourself to be silly sometimes, is more than okay, it’s essential for an honest relationship. And it’s fun. And we should never stop playing no matter our age. And when we are silly we aren’t filled with EGO. And. And. And.