What is your dog telling you?
Have you even been in a conversation with someone and they just don't let you get a word in? You feel your frustration start to build- the other person is so wrapped up in what they want to get out of the conversation that they seem to completely forget about you. Frustration builds and leads to disengagement- you mentally tune out by crossing your arms, looking away, or shuffling your feet to try to signal the other person "Hey! I'm not enjoying this conversation. I don't feel heard or respected." What's worse- they don't even seem to notice that you've mentally left the conversation.
Compare that to a great conversation- each person takes a turn and both feel like their voice is
heard. In these exchanges, we walk away feeling good about the conversation- there was give and take that worked towards achieving shared goals. We also feel good about the person we we're talking to, looking forward to our next conversation.
Training is no different; it should be an engaging conversation between trainer and dog. You and your dog should be working together towards a common goal, giving feedback and asking for clarity, knowing when to push each other and when to compromise. You're paying attention to each other- you care about how the other is feeling at the moment or how well you've explained or understood the task. You just want to be there, in that moment, because you're enjoying the conversation.
What I often see as an instructor is the opposite- and it's pretty easy to take just one wrong turn in a conversation to get to this point- where we are so determined that our dog to do a specific thing (whether it's a sit, come, or a complex agility course) that we lose sight as to how our partner is feeling or what they're telling us about their emotional state or understanding of our request. This is when our dogs start crossing their arms in their own way. It takes on a different form but it conveys the same message: This conversation sucks. We're not on the same page and I don't feel listened to.
Dogs are brutally honest in their feedback of how they feel about working with us and our training. Leaving the training ring, finding an interesting piece of fluff, ignoring you: this is all feedback. Maybe you don't like the feedback, but it is valuable feedback nonetheless that requires us putting aside our pride and taking a step back to better listen to what our dog is telling us.
If you're struggling with your dog and you feel like you're continually at odds, take a minute to think about the quality of the conversations you're having. How well can you read your body's language to understand what they're saying? How well have you given them the skills to speak your language- and how do you know that's the case?
Good dog training requires being a fluent conversationalist. Knowing when to pause, when to ask more questions, when to be clearer, when to compromise, how to check in with your partner, and when to take a break.
The good news is that it's never too late to develop your conversation skills. It's never too late to become a better listener, a more compassionate friend, a clearer communicate, and a better partner.
Do you want to brush up on your conversation skills? We can help. firstname.lastname@example.org