I spend a lot of time thinking about connection. What does it mean? What are the benefits of connection? Does it change over time? What gets in the way of connection? What are the components of deep and meaningful connection? Is it volitional? Does it require a plan? Can you measure success? Or is it entirely visceral? Is it perhaps something magical and out of this universe? And what about connection across species? That’s where it gets really complicated.
Or does it…?
I also spend a lot of time thinking about dogs. I’m a canine behaviour coach. Which is a fancy way of saying I’m a dog trainer. I became a canine behaviour coach because I’ve always felt a deep connection to dogs. But why? What is it about this interspecies relationship that draws me in and gets me waxing philosophical about the meaning of connection? Ironically, it wasn’t until I started studying the science of behaviour change that I could fully appreciate why this connection to dogs is so profound. Science has lead me straight back to my heart.
These perspectives I have, echo the work of the brilliant behavioural scientist Dr. Susan Friedman, who in her course "Living and Learning with Animals", details how behaviour has three key components; A, B and C.
A is what happens right before the behaviour occurs (antecedent). B is the actual behaviour. And C is what happens right after the behaviour occurs (consequence). Here’s the crazy math on this business of behaviour. Behaviour is 2/3’s environmental and only 1/3 the actual behaviour. Perhaps that shocks you! I can hear your response, "Really? How does that make sense with my misbehaving dog?" My response is: "the question we need to ask is '...what does this mean in terms of connection?’ ”
I think it's quite simple but not always easy (believe me I understand) and definitely requires work.
I believe it starts with committing to a philosophy of how you will care for the animals in your life. My philosophy is in line with the AVSAB recommended standard of care (bottom of pg. 2) and guides the way I train my own dogs as well as my clients.
The philosophy manifests like this...If you’re kind. If you’re patient. If you’re willing to pause and observe. If you display respectful behaviour (antecedent), most dogs will respond with generosity and goodness of spirit such as move in your direction (behaviour) to solicit your physical affection (consequence). If the dog enjoys physical affection, they’re much more likely to offer this behaviour in the future. Notice the emphasis is on self. Connection requires an awareness of self as much as it does the other being.
This might shed some light on my earlier question about forging an interspecies connection. Is it complicated? I think the answer is no. It’s actually quite simple. However, it takes patience, commitment and little bit of soul searching. Which leads me to my very first Canine Behaviour tip….
Canine Behaviour Tip #1: “If you want to change animal behaviour you have to learn to see, read and change your own behaviour first.” ~ From The Secret History of Kindness: Learning From How Dogs Learn by Melissa Holbrook Pierson.