I hear the word “control” a lot in my line of work.
“I want to be able to control him on walks.”
“I need to control these aggressive outbursts!”
“How can I control her anxiety in new situations?”
“What I want is to feel like I can control him when he’s off leash.”
“How can I control that turn better?”
“I need a two-on-two-off so that I can regain control!”
“This dog is out of control on course.”
“How do I control her start line in trials?”
These “problems” seem to require a specific type of solution; one that puts the handler in the driver’s seat and doesn’t validate the dog’s point of view. I fully believe that treating dogs like the intelligent, sentient creatures they are is the route to the solutions of these problems. Maybe if we change the way we talk about these problems we will start to change the way we seek solutions.
Consider re-constructing each sentence by replacing the word “control” with “connect.”:
“I want to be able to connect to him on walks.”
“I need some connection during these aggressive outbursts!”
“How can I connect to her through her anxiety in new situations?”
“What I want is to feel like I can connect to him when he’s off leash.”
“How can I connect on that turn better?”
“I need a two-on-two-off so I can regain connection.”
“I have no connection with this dog on course.”
“How do I connect with my dog on the start line in trials?”
Reflects something different, doesn’t it? I wonder what would happen if the next time you have a problem with your dog you focused on the connection, and not the control? And be careful not to place the responsibility on her–you are responsible for opening the door to this connection.
On a walk, let him lead the way, and acknowledge him in a way he likes when he checks in with you.
On course, quiet up. Look at her face, not the off course tunnel. Smile and thank her for staying as you lead out. Breathe before you release.
When he is afraid or anxious, think about what he needs and provide it, even if that means delaying your schedule.
When you catch yourself focusing on control, think about connection instead. Oh, and I could be wrong here, but this might apply to more than just dog training.
Photo by Tori Self