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Dogs: Living, Breathing, Sentient Beings..NOT Robots! (So Are Their People!)

I don't like the terms "obedience" and "compliance" when it comes to working with dogs and their guardians. There are many reasons for this and top of the list is that they imply that if only one does what they are told things would be fine. Little to no consideration is given to the many factors that affect the ability to "do as you are told".

The way we view those we are training or coaching affects the way we interact with them. So many times I hear that a dog is "stubborn", "aggressive", or "vindictive" because of their bursts of unwanted behavior. Their guardians are not exempt from such judgement when life interferes with their ability to train with their dog. I have encountered descriptions like "lazy" and "lacking commitment" to describe "non-compliant" dog guardians.

These are all unhelpful labels that affect interaction. The way we view those we are training or teaching bleeds into the way we engage with them. This can affect our approach and result in less patience, poor self reflection and a lack of empathy. All of which negatively affect the learning process. Instead of taking a step back and trying to figure out what about the task is causing confusion or is not viable for that individual, these labels place all the blame on the learner and none on the shoulders of the teacher.

Don't jump to conclusions. Instead, be curious. Why is the dog unable to respond to the cue in this situation? Why has this person struggled to practice this week? What other factors are at play that are preventing the expected behavior? Are their ways you can modify your instructions so that progress, however slow, is being made?

Just because your dog readily sits on cue in the calm, quiet, comfort of your living room does not mean that they can sit on cue at the busy pet patio. This could be for a number of reasons: too much going on, concern or excitement about the presence of other dogs, the ground is too hot/cold/hard, etc. We have to build them up slowly so that they are able to respond and be comfortable in more and more stimulating environments. This takes time and management.

Life happens, setbacks happen, things do not go as planned. Take a step back, gather information, evaluate, and try again. Sometimes we and our dogs feel discomfort, are tired, are sick, don't understand, are overwhelmed, are hungry, etc. All of which affect how we learn and how able we are to follow through on something not matter how skilled we are. We and our dogs are not robots.

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