Trust. Faith. Relationship. The holy trinity of training if you will. Throughout most of my training career one thing that has always stuck out to me, is the language and the very specific words we use when talking about our dogs. Now, let me preface this by saying that I love my dog. He’s my world. If you’ve been following the blog (all two posts) you know how much he means to me. He’s my blood rider, the real ride or die type of dude…but there are still rules…he’s not my baby, he’s my dude. Yes, I provide him with food, water, shelter, snuggles, but again, there are rules.
I hear all about our babies, fur babies, children, and one that hit me recently was “pibble.” I audibly exclaimed to myself “what the hell is a pibble?” Oh…its a pit bull. So anyway, lets get on with it. It’s a dog. Let’s train the dog. Often you’ll hear a trainer say “it all starts with the walk.” I would agree with this, however I’d like to go a step further and tell you that it all starts with our perception of the four legged animal in front of us. Our dog’s are amazing creatures, capable of some incredible things. But it’s important to note that no matter how you look at it, it’s still a dog. That doesn’t mean we should love them any less, but it does mean we have to love them in a different way.
I used to teach a group class, and often times I would have Roland out in the class with me. Many times I would hear people comment about how incredible it is that Roland would just hang out and watch me, staring at me intently, ignoring the dogs in the class that are blowing up with excitement and frustration. I always told them that their dogs could be like him too, they’d just have to listen to me. Not listen to my instruction, but listen to me. Listen to the words I say. “Thanks, Roland is pretty awesome. He’s a great DOG. I love him, he’s my dude, such a lovely DOG. He’s really a great PARTNER.” How did this RELATIONSHIP become this way? The answer is simple. Trust and Faith.
All of the obedience, and all of the fun that we work on with our dogs is built upon a relationship we have with them that is propped up by trust in each other, and the dogs faith in the handler. I trust that my dog will do what I ask because he has faith in me, that I wont put him in a situation that will lead to harm. When we’re actively listening to our dogs requests for space (barking, lunging) we begin to rebuild trust within the relationship.
So how does this all relate? Author Mike McConnery has said “The dog is powerful because he’s a dog. You start making him into a human and he becomes as sick, distorted, and demented as us. Thats NOT your baby. That’s a dog, and it should be treated as a dog because thats where it shines.” Earn your dogs trust by leading them. If our dogs are sheltered from the world because we’re afraid of them experiencing stress, how can we help them navigate the world and lead them through the stress? Your dog is capable of extraordinary feats, when you allow them to be. Let them experience stress. Let them be uncomfortable. Let them be scared. Lead them through it. Your relationship depends on it.