Animal to Animal

By Sean O’Shea

Even with all the high falutin training tools and time tested training approaches, there’s still one factor that is the wild card. The one factor that can often override tools and techniques: the animal in you. 

Even though we like to think of ourselves as operating from (and in) a higher place – a place of intellect and complex problem solving – when it comes to living and interacting with our dogs, even great tools, techniques, and smart minds can be overridden and ignored when there’s an animal to animal imbalance. 

Here’s how it works: Your dog is taking in all the information you’re sharing. You’re asking him to heel, to place, to recall, to listen, and if you’re using good tools and techniques, you’ll share consequences for your dog breaking established and known rules. But all these commands and consequences are only part of the conversation you’re sharing. 

You’re also sharing who you are fundamentally. The animal in you, all the time. 

And if the animal in you is softer/weaker (nervous, insecure, anxious, fearful, unsure, overly-soft, lacking confidence, or emotionally needy) than your dog’s animal (who might be confident, assertive, pushy, strong-willed, secure, certain), you can run into serious problems. 

Sometimes the imbalance is that the human is seriously compromised in the elements listed above, and the dog takes advantage, and sometimes it’s simply a matter of poor luck. This occurs when a seriously assertive dog shows up in your life. And of course there are all sorts of degrees in between. 

Dogs, like kids, will push what are obviously weak boundaries – because we’re all programmed to push them to see how strong/dependable/safe they are. The parent can’t be weaker than the child, attitude wise, and expect to have the child listen, respect, or adhere to the parents rules and guidance. And so it is with dogs as well. 

All the best parenting tips in the world won’t create a respectful relationship if the parent isn’t able to muster a believable, fundamental strength and balance that the child can buy into. Same with our dogs. 

When I see owners who struggle with dogs that flourish with other handlers, (and if the owners have been sufficiently educated on tools and techniques), I know that there’s an imbalance that the dog is perceiving. A fundamental animal to animal imbalance. 

And that’s the final, and usually the most challenging frontier. To do the hard work of resolving and shoring up our own inequities – the stress, the anxiety, the lack of self-confidence, the uncertainty, the worthiness issues, the emotional holes that make us needy – so we can present a believable and strong enough animal to our dogs, so that listening to us makes sense. 

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5 comments
  1. Chuck Bruhn said:

    Ahh gosh Sean, you mean I really do have to work on myself! Damn!

  2. Nancy said:

    I understand that to be true. My sweet 3 1/2 yr. old male will not come to me all the time unless I have a treat. If he knows we’re going out without him, he won’t come to me because he knows he’s going in the crate. How can I get him to come all the time?

    • Watch Sean’s numerous free training videos on his website http://www.thegooddog.net. You need the right tools, the right attitude and the right techniques. Sean teaches them all in his videos; no secrets withheld. Start with the basics: no freedom that isn’t earned (no free access to furniture, humans, food, toys, affection, etc.), waiting at thresholds, an immaculate heel, impulse control, long down-stays, etc. Once the structure is firmly in place, you can relax the strictness a bit and see what happens. Meanwhile, very likely your pup’s disobedience will already have been completely solved. And you will have a much happier dog. Dogs thrive on rules and structure; everything else is chaos to them and causes stress, anxiety and bratty behaviour, as they try to “figure it out” by themselves. When we turn dogs into our “furbabies,” our children, our emotional crutches, we ruin all but those few rare dogs who are so incredibly stable that they can withstand our many indiscretions.

  3. johanna said:

    excellent!
    ..and so true…

    the glimmer of hope is that we humans CAN improve ourselves if we do commit assiduously, in order to meet some or all of these animal challenges.
    and then…….the rewards for all are truly great and gratifying!
    🙂

  4. Doug H said:

    It was a well-written and accurate description of the basics that people have to learn and use in handling an animal. A dog is a lower animal… not a ‘furbaby’, not ‘part of my family’, etc. Doing dog rescue and dog training over 20 years, I see the difference between professional trainers and amateurs, and some rescue volunteers are the worst offenders. Making excuses, making up dog back-stories, and attributing motivations and feelings to a dog is misleading to others and oneself. It’s the ‘anthropomorphism’ that is described in the important book ‘Culture Clash’. Real dog love is respect for the special animal developed by humans… and supplying what the dog needs : training, security, shelter, and food/water.

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