There is an evil that afflicts owners and dog trainers.
The evil is called "Result".
The result is what you want to get out of the dog at that moment. You're walking with the dog on a leash, and you want him to stop pulling. You're teaching the dog to sit down to get the food bowl, to sit and stay is the result. You want the dog to bring you back the ball, to have the ball back in your hand is the result.
Why is a result so important?
But, above all, what is the effect of not getting a result?
Over the years, I've shifted my focus from dogs to humans. I started observing people the way I observe dogs. In a way, dogs have taught me to understand people. We are not so different at all, on a deeper level, in our emotions and our motivation.
Obtaining an IMMEDIATE result has nothing to do with the dog.
A result does not mean helping your dog to understand, to do better, to get the food or the ball and our approval.
A result means satisfying our need to succeed.
It means silencing anxiety, insecurity, frustration, it means feeling good.
Being successful, getting a result, produces such a strong feeling of well-being that it becomes more important than why we want to get it. More important than the dog. And this explains, at least in part, the use of imposition, force and violence. We can't calm our anger until our enemy (the dog) bends to our will. Only then we feel good again.
The need for a result is stronger if we are afraid of losing control, if we are in competition, and if we fear someone's judgment. Anything that increases the feeling of unease caused by failure, leads us to want and to focus only on the result. I have been that kind of person, as an owner, and as an instructor. I don't remember when I stopped, but I remember when I understood the mechanism that traps many trainers.
And it was because of a TV show. Judge Amy.
In one episode, a man courts Amy's mother, but she always finds a problem to solve that prevents her from accepting an invitation to dinner. At some point, he tells her a story. I'm an entrepreneur, and I have many employees. Everyone has problems to solve, it’s their monkey on the desk. Every day someone tries to put his monkey on my desk, and I've learned how to stop it.
A dog considered a problem is the owner's monkey.
Owners tend to put their monkey on the trainer’s back.
The trainers, without even being aware of it, take the monkey, and from that moment on the need to achieve a result becomes to show that they are competent. To really be worth something. I woke up from this torpor, and learned to leave their monkeys to their owners. My role is to observe, analyze, interpret, give tools, not produce results. Building a result is the owner's job. People keep dumping their monkeys on me. Someone comes to a conference and expects me to show them a process that magically solves their problem of getting a result. I give you information, knowledge, tools. Listen, understand, internalize, try, that's your job.
Imagine that you can look at your dog now, that you can watch him while you work together to achieve your result. If you want to stop depending on the result to feel good, if you want to see the dog, focus on the path, not the goal. That’s it.
Life was actually easier when she used to run away from me :D
I got a young french bulldog, Sonne. When she was 4 months old she started playing with things. I was throwing something, she was running and catching it, and running away. I never asked her to come back to me, or bring anything back. I never used food, a second toy, I never even said “good girl!” enough to convince her to come back to me. She's 10 months old now. If I throw something, she goes, picks it up, runs to me and jumps on me to play again. The result was never in my thoughts, but in the path we took together, the information was consistent and effective enough to produce a retrieve.
There is an evil that afflicts dogs, and it's called "result".
You want the dog to stop pulling on leash.
For many owners, and sadly also for many trainers, this is a sufficient condition for the dog to stop pulling on the leash. You cannot do it because I don't want you to do it. You have to do it because I want you to do it.
This anxiety to see a result immediately completely erases the dog as an individual. The dog no longer has the right to have his own emotions and motivation. The dog is not part of the equation “I want it = you have to do it”. To perform the behavior we want, a dog may need a different context, more information, time to understand, a reason to change, a different emotional state, or even to resolve difficulties and conflicts that are apparently not about that situation.
Our mind tends to hyper-simplify reality, so that we don't have to process information that is too complex. The brain burns a lot of energy, and simplifying is a way to save money. To simplify, and to justify what we do, it is common (and convenient) to ignore the dog's point of view. I am not referring exclusively to the use of coercion. Also giving food to get the dog to stay close to us when he is on a leash means not leaving room for the dog, not allowing him to express who he is at that moment, how he feels and what he wants.
A result that respects the dog is built by giving information, motivation, and letting the dog choose. You get anxiety just thinking that the dog has the right to choose, don't you? It's called the “Result Syndrome”. The good news is, it's an evil that can be cured...
Text and article photos Alexa Capra 18 may 2020
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