By Sean O’Shea
Relationships are real things. You and your dog have one. It might be healthy, balanced, and awesome, or it might be toxic, disrespectful, and disheartening. Or maybe it’s somewhere in-between. Whatever it is, it’s been built by your interactions. What you’ve allowed. What you haven’t allowed. What you’ve asked for. What you’ve reinforced. Who you’ve been and how you’ve behaved.
Everything you’ve done has been information your dog has used to determine your relationship. All this information has told your dog who you are and what role you wish to play in his life. It’s also informed him about the rules of life. What is and isn’t okay, what is and isn’t expected. It’s created the framework your dog makes all his decisions from.
While trainers can teach your dog commands, manners, and what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, your dog is simply too smart and too emotionally evolved to take that information as universal. Just like you know who means business and who doesn’t in your own life, so does your dog. Eventually, if you don’t keep up the work, if you start to slack, your dog will see the cracks. He’ll realize there’s two sets of rules: the ones he knows, and the ones you actually enforce. And he’ll choose the latter. Not because he’s a bad dog, but because he’s opportunistic…just like you and me.
Like us, when authority and rules are foggy, or not consistently enforced, we tend to take advantage of them. Whether we like to admit it or not, it’s always consequences – or the possibility of them – that tends to keep us on our best behavior. The more predictable and dependable, the better our behavior tends to be. And of course, the less predictable and dependable, the worse our behavior tends to be.
Our dogs are reading us. All the time. What are we enforcing, what are we allowing? They’re taking this information and deciding what needs to be adhered to and what doesn’t, who needs to be listened to and who doesn’t. If you ask for less than what the trainer asked, you’ll get less. If you ask the same, you’ll get the same. It’s in these moments that you create your relationship dynamics.
And while us trainers can build the foundation for the new, more healthy patterns and choices to stand on, it’s only you – the person your dog lives with, the person who enforces the rules, structure, and expectations daily – that can make these changes permanent.
We can only give you the tools to start you on the path, we can’t build the relationship. That part, the hard part, is up to you. Your dog is too smart to have it any other way.
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