A client recently told me she had previously worked with another dog trainer who guaranteed to “fix” her dog’s issues for life. She felt disappointed when that promise didn’t come true. I felt her pain. I’ve experienced that heartbreak before in own my life. How many times have I searched for and chased “the guarantee”, the easy fix, the escape from reality? The promise of something better with minimal effort on my part. How many times have I walked up to another human and said “X is causing me problems, fix it. I don’t like how this is working. I want something better, shinier, brighter, less complicated, less work. And I want a guarantee it will be fixed pronto". The crazy thing is I’m not talking about getting my dishwasher fixed. I’m referring to internal stuff. Big messy stuff. Career struggles. Relationship struggles. Sentient being struggles. The turmoil that comes from deep within and manifests in my own behaviours that I haven’t always liked.
I think we often approach our dogs’ behaviours with the same attitude: Fix it. Get rid of it. Make him stop lunging and barking at the dog across the street. And do it quickly at whatever emotional cost it takes.
But here’s the thing I’ve learned. Our dogs are emotional beings and there’s tons of evidence of this coming out of an exciting new field of research exploring canine cognition. We’re discovering our dogs are far more complicated than we ever imagined. Their brains are not dishwashers or furnaces that can be easily fixed overnight and certainly not for life. Our dogs require effort. Time. Understanding. Patience. Deep breaths. Love. And of course a behavioural modification plan ~ but I’ll save that for another post.
Instead of a “fix it” approach to our dogs (and quite possibly ourselves and those we love ~ human and non), I’m proposing something a little more empathetic. Something much more realistic. And something way more humane. A re-think on the fix it now / guarantee for life THING we all think we want but know deep down is impossible.
This re-think business looks like this…
- Decide you want to build a trusting relationship with your dog
- Commit yourself to a force-free, humane way of working with your dog
- Recognize a huge part of your dog’s behaviour can be positively influenced by YOU
- When things are overwhelming or you’re just not sure, find help (ideally from a well-educated force-free / positive reinforcement trainer)
- Most importantly, accept there are no easy fixes or guarantees when it comes to behaviour. Yours. Mine. Our dogs. No such thing. Some behaviours are easier to modify than others but there’s no such thing as a “fix”.
- It’s a journey, regardless of who it is ~ our dog, our child, our partner, ourselves. We learn, we grow, we evolve, sometimes we fall and take a few steps backwards, but we don’t fix. We fix robots. We don’t fix emotional beings. We transcend.
And holy smokes can we learn a lot about ourselves from our dogs with this re-think approach. There’s liberation in knowing the goal isn’t to fix. Suzanne Clothier articulates this so well in her book “Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs”.
“Of all the gifts that animals can offer, perhaps the greatest is this opportunity to delve deep inside ourselves. Without judgment or timetables, with patience and an amazing capacity for forgiveness, animals are the ideal guides through our inner landscapes. In moments of glorious agreement as well as moments of frustrated disconnection, our relationships with our dogs serve us well, gently nudging us to a greater understanding of the dynamics of two beings in willing partnership and to new insights into who we are. Once we begin the journey toward the authentic connections we long for, we cannot help but be profoundly changed, often in ways we did not expect but welcome wholeheartedly. A life lived in relationship with an animal has the power to make us both fully human and more fully humane. And this spills over, as a fullness of soul inevitably does, to other relationships, weaving its magic across our entire lives."
Canine coaching Tip #3: There are no guarantees in dog training. No easy fixes. But there is transcendence. Ask yourself, how can I positively impact my dog's behaviour tonight? Tomorrow? For the rest of our lives? And now go do it.
Check out https://www.dognition.com if you want to learn more about what your dog’s thinking. It’s super cool.