Once upon a not so long time ago, I gave evening talks at our facility, or rather interactive talks as anyone who showed up became active in the conversation. They were free and open to anyone that wanted to come, on nice warm summer evenings, with a variety of topics, and really just a gathering of sorts.
One evening the topic was “Reactive Dogs, Reactive People, who is keeping the peace?”
My dog Franny, who was a senior at the time, but very much filled with her own opinions, came along as my demo dog. She always loved these types of evenings, as she got to socialize, meet new folks, and just kind of do her Gran Dame thing. May we all have that luxury when we are seniors!
As everyone was settling in, I watched to see how Franny was assessing the room, she loved working her way through the rows of folks. As the conversation got underway, and I shared some of Franny’s past, a question came up, “so what if you tell your dog to do something and they don’t?” I knew what this person was implying, but because of the way this question was asked I also knew that they didn’t understand what Team was all about, or how to work with a dog so work was mutually agreeable with trust on both ends of the leash.
Training is cooperation not control, on both ends of the leash. Don’t believe for even one hot minute that it is just about the dog.
So I said, “Franny is next to you, ask her something”, and within a nano-second, a loud boom came out of this woman’s mouth “SIT NOW!!!” in an overwhelming accusatory tone that I found really surprising. Franny didn’t even blink, or flinch, or move, she just looked at this woman with disdain and then slowly and intentionally sauntered away, in the most showy, blow-off kind of saunter you could imagine.
The woman said “like that, shouldn’t I make her sit after I told her to sit, shouldn’t she obey me?”
To start a conversation or relationship off with “I am right and your are wrong until I say otherwise” is dysfunctional. Dogs know this better than humans. And ‘telling’ a dog to do something is very different from ‘asking’.
Franny never really felt humans were worthy of her, and she was the perfect dog for this woman to learn from. It isn’t about massaging ones ego, it isn’t about being in charge, it isn’t about ‘man is the center of the universe’, and it is never about being right.
It is about forming a connection. I see you as another living being on the planet. I see you.
When I asked her why she yelled with a tone that implied Franny had done something wrong, she said, “because she is a dog”.
So I asked her “why didn’t you hold out your hand and let her smell you, or say Hi, or wiggle your fingers to gesture for her to come your way, or smile at her where your smile met your eyes, so there was some sort of opening, an agreement, BEFORE you asked something of her? Because you are in fact a virtual stranger to her.”
So she tried again after a long an interesting conversation with everyone who came that night. And from an honest place, and a more humble place, she tried to talk to Franny, she tried to form an opening with her, and she didn’t need to ask anything verbally because Franny just offered to be there, which was enough. Franny had hundreds of behaviors on verbal cue, and would offer them up if a person asked politely, but she would never consider working with a person who she felt was rude, pushy, or unworthy. A good lesson to learn about a lot of things in life.
Whether you are in competition dog sports, have a family pet dog, or work professionally with your dog, how you teach and how you ask counts for a lot. Instead of demanding respect from your dog, choose to respect the relationship with your dog, choose to be kind, and choose to have purpose as a Team.
I believe that more often than not, that we could all be a bit more understanding and open in our working relationships with our dogs.