By Sean O’Shea
When leadership is soft and rules are negotiable, the ability to push against and resist that which our dogs are unsure about, afraid of, or simply dislike, generates more uncertainty, more fear, and more dislike of the situation. It intensifies and magnifies whatever the issue is.
The lack of believable, dependable, non-negotiable rules and leadership forces our dogs to attempt to sort out uncertain and unnerving situations on their own. (It can also create empowered little brats that quickly learn that resisting allows them to get away with whatever they wish!) For our dogs, the feeling of being the most powerful presence in their world – in a world that often is overwhelming, confusing, and scary – can be a deeply frightening place to find themselves, and one that is the cause of much anxiety, stress, and bad behavior.
Resistance is simply the knee-jerk reaction to something our dogs are uncomfortable with or dislike – an attempt to quickly create comfort in their world – but often this resistance is short sighted, superficial, and ultimately harmful. Because this resistance is much more about the avoidance of problems rather than the resolving of problems, it is up to us as their guides to help them move past resistance that doesn’t serve their long-term welfare.
The bratty dog who successfully resists offers more brattiness in the future, the nervous dog who successfully resists offers more nervousness in the future, the aggressive dog who successfully resists offers more aggression in the future, the fearful dog who successfully resists offers more fear in the future. This successful resistance reinforces that the dog is alone in this uncomfortable situation, that he needs to sort out on his own how to create comfort, which creates more stress due to the added layer of multiple options/decisions/indecision.
Think of it this way, when you have to be up at the crack of dawn to catch a super early flight, your alarm goes off, you immediately jump out of bed and get to cracking. No hemming or hawing, no let me hit snooze for the hundredth time, no putting off. Why? Because it’s non-negotiable. There is no wiggle room or flexibility in this situation. If you’re late, you miss the plane and incur all the consequences that go along with that choice. The lack of ability to resist creates an immediate and negotiation-free (read: stress-free) response. Conversely, on a day where you’re trying to create a new habit of getting up early, so you can get more done with your day, but you only have your own guilt as a consequence, you’re much more likely to hem and haw, and snooze it up. This ability to resist or negotiate creates more resistance, negotiation, and stress. In both situations you equally didn’t want to get up early, but in the first example where resistance isn’t possible, your make the better choice straight away. Another example is the child who doesn’t want to leave a store he is enthralled with. When the child protests and is met with negotiation from the parents, his awareness of the lack of non-negotiability in this moment ensures the parents will receive tons more resistance and negative reaction from their child who senses the opportunity. The parent who has patterned their child to understand that rules and decisions are non-negotiable will see the child immediately adjust his or her desires and easily comply. (Same with dogs!) What you will also see is a lack of stress and anxiety in the child due to the comfort that certainty of non-negotiable rules and leadership (parenting) create. Yes, he still wants to stay in the store, but he has learned that his desires have to be curbed when requested. We all quickly learn whether resistance gets us more of what we want in the moment, and if it does, you can rest assured we will use it.
Back to the dogs!
When our dogs are unable to resist, due to believable, consistently enforced rules and leadership, they are compelled (through us guiding them in healthy directions) to find new and better ways of coping and behaving, even if it is uncomfortable at first. Left to their own devices they will almost always choose the easier but often less healthy route that offers immediate relief from discomfort but also avoids long term transformation. The real magic is in the patterning of non-negotiable rules and leadership consistently, rather than just attempting to enforce here and there, which creates more resistance and challenge due to lack of consistency and believability.
Because our dogs aren’t always able to understand how best to move through our world, and because they often can get stuck in behavior that doesn’t serve them, it us up to us to provide the atmosphere of believable, consistent, and non-negotiable leadership and rules that our dogs can emotionally lean on, depend on, and derive comfort from.
Our leadership, when consistently shared and believable, can actually help our dogs learn to deal with and accept things that are scary, unnerving, and uncomfortable. We can actually help them override their initial negative knee-jerk response to a problem or challenge, and help them develop a better, more healthy response. And that my friends is where the magic is!
Remember, the leader (or parent) who can’t be trusted to lead when faced with resistance creates mistrust, insecurity, and ultimately more resistance.
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