Every day of every week I have a person tell me their dog is stubborn and won’t do ‘this or that’.
And just so we are clear, this is the formal definition of STUBBORN – ‘having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so’.
I’ll be honest, going by this definition alone, and some others I found on line, I have never met a stubborn dog in my life. Ever.
When I meet puppies or dogs that have been given the label of ‘stubborn’, I generally see a living being that is unwilling with their owner because they have been misunderstood.
Training, teaching, and learning can only occur when there is willingness. Fact. And a lack of willingness happens for a variety of reasons –
A dog over the skill level of the owner.
Too much social pressure.
Too much physical pressure.
Dogs that really don’t think humans are all that.
The wrong breed for the wrong person.
Expectations that exceed reality.
Rushing developmental stages.
An owner with a lack of knowledge.
A sexually mature dog with an owner who doesn’t understand what sexual maturity brings to the table.
The goals of the owner not matching the genetics they just purchased, and the reality within that spectrum.
So here are some things I do, try, and look for when I meet a dog with this unfortunate label.
I have the owner sit down and watch. The first step to take the frustration out of the equation.
I allow the dog to meet me, all of me. My thoughts, emotions, intentions, and body language all match. I stay intentional in the moment, which makes me an open book. Everything else in the room becomes scenery. The dog can choose to interact with me or not, this is our opening, our understanding.
I have zero expectations for our meeting. There is no pressure from me to perform. Come as you are, this is all good with me.
I have a ton of options for rewards, and I let the dog choose what they are most interested in. This is our agreement, and it is up to the dog to show me.
Interaction happens at various levels. Some dogs can handle social pressure, other dogs melt under it. So it is learning how to gauge each dog and what they can handle, on a spectrum of social pressure.
Then we start with super easy stuff. I call it the ‘If you can do this, can you do that?’. I will have objects on the floor to go on, in, around, over, under, and through. One paw of engagement, all paws, tentative, fast, explosive, or cautious, I take it all as the dog is trying.
If the dog puts a paw on an object, YES, and I toss the reward they chose a few feet away. This way they can leave me, and then choose to come back and reengage. And we repeat this pattern around the room. The dogs that light up with finally being understood take to this exercise with gusto, and its like seeing a diamond in the rough start to shine, a budding genius. And with the dogs who have had to live with their invisibility cloak up at all times, for self-preservation, well, a little effort shows willingness, and that is something that can be built upon over time.
This part of my interaction with the dog generally sends the owner over the edge, (I can most of the time predict it) “I don’t NEED my dog to do these things, I NEED him to do xyz”. And in that little short sentence comes the most honest and truthful moment. The needs of the owner do not count if the foundations of the relationship have never been met. And if there was never a healthy relationship, there is for sure going to be a truck load of unwillingness. This is usually a very revealing moment, and hopefully the pivotal moment where the relationship has the possibility of change.
And my hope is that realistic understanding happens.
Too much of anything is not a good thing. So keep this in mind for starters, if you are honest, intentional, and have removed expectations, then there will be open communication. With open communication you have the opportunity to be kind and purposeful, and willingness, a little or a lot, will start to appear.
So, is their really such a thing as a stubborn dog?
No. No there is not.