At Wildflower, we believe in giving animals agency in the protocols we use, a way for them to signify that they are okay to proceed. The company was founded around this one ideal. And while we could say that we have always listened and tried to be kind, we did not apply this same level of agency to our client interactions.
In fact, we had been taught not to. The paradigm of the training and behaviour modification world is one of compliance, ten page pre-consultation forms, command and control and clients being punished for not following procedure.
There is no individual to blame, it is simply a pressure that all trainers feel. It can be seen in the horrible gossiping about clients in Facebook trainer groups or the ridiculous hoops that new clients are made to jump through in order to be deemed worthy.
And it is spurred on by the complexity of human-human communication as compared to the clarity and joy most of us find when working and communicating with other representatives of the animal kingdom.
It rears its head when we read in a form that an owner is contemplating giving a cherished dog away.
It is in the questions of whether or not they have to use food or about the cost of our services.
Bullshit. It is us.
The parent concerned with the welfare of their children and their friends is 1000% sane and understandable.
Having to carry around bags of slimy treats in the hot sun is indeed inconvenient and understandable to question.
And frankly, I'm in the industry and I can't understand 95% of the fee schedules of most behavioural programs.
The things being said by our clients are not the problem. It is our assumptions and emotional reactions that we must start examining.
And I want to be very clear here. We are as guilty as anyone in the paradigms we had adopted and were unknowingly using.
And changing this has not been easy. It's been one of the hardest things we have ever undertaken, but also the most rewarding. We now work hard to create a shared frame with every potential client.
Creating a shared frame with our clients is about stepping forward and meeting them halfway. It's about entering an alien world that feels less safe than our own. And sometimes it's about leaving significant parts of our worldview behind.
It's not about abandoning our beliefs, it's about creating a place where we can truly connect with another human. Only then can we both understand and communicate. Only then can we be compassionate and loosen the filters by which we see and react in the world.
It's about ensuring that the science and philosophy of what we do with dogs is also applied to the humans.