Are you struggling to get cooperation from your dog? Do you feel like your dog is resisting more than he should at common tasks you are asking of him or trying to teach? It is likely you are creating conflict with your dog…and you may not even realize it.
One of the things I see often in young handlers (Young in their time behind the lead, not necessarily young in years lived on the earth) is that they create unnecessary conflict with their dogs. I often have to explain what is happening to them, but it looks something like this: Your dog shuts down and suddenly appears to not be interested in taking obedience commands. You give a correction and repeat the command … and … nothing. You start to get frustrated, and that is when things start to fall apart. This can even develop into a situation where the dog bites their own handler because of unnecessary, and often un-realized conflict. But how do you recognize conflict and what do you do about it?
Several of our pillars of dog training deal with the handler’s tendency to create conflict with their dog. Things like control, discipline and mastering yourself. But if you are not familiar with how to do these things, you are likely creating conflict without even realizing it. Watch for your dog starting to shut down. This can occur in experienced dogs as quickly as in young dogs. It is a sure sign that you are becoming frustrated, your frustration leads to anger, and your dog reacts negatively to anger. If your dog is cowering, shuts down in their obedience, or become aggressive toward you, you are likely creating conflict. First, try to recognize what you are doing that is creating this behavior in your dog so that you can avoid it in the future. Then follow these steps to recover and help you stay away from it.
1. Use Good Handling Skills
I understand that this is a very general statement that would require multiple books to really cover in depth, but today, let’s focus on one thing in particular that I see in many of my students. Bad communication. We are not only communicating with our voice, we also communicate through our body language, lead direction, and even with our emotions (which the dogs queue off of). Often we are giving multiple, conflicting messages to our dogs. The first thing to ask yourself if your dog is not responding to a command is, “What am I doing that is causing my dog not to respond?” You will soon recognize that you are often giving conflicting information, which creates confusing communication for your dog. Give clear, simple instructions to your dog and remember to praise them for complying.
2. Don’t Focus on the Bad
Frustration tends to linger in our hearts and this is bad for relationships with our dogs and with people. But it doesn’t help anyone to focus on the bad. As soon as our dogs disobey a command, we often immediately focus on the bad (the disobedience). This focus drives us into frustration and anger or confusion and before we know it, we are creating conflict. Rather start with yourself. Consider what you are communicating, and then move on. Look for the good and drive toward that.
3. Get Over It Quickly
Bitterness is the destroyer of relationships and happiness. I define bitterness as holding on to the bad feelings we receive when we didn’t get the response we wanted from someone we have a relationship with. So if you expected your wife to appreciate the fact that you cleaned the bathroom, and she hardly noticed (she didn’t react the way you wanted to), you can develop bitterness. If you allow bitterness to build up, it will poison your relationship. How does this apply to dog training? We often do the same thing to our dogs. They disobey, or don’t understand our communication (which we interpret as disobedience), and we get upset. Then, within a fraction of a second, they get it, the connection clicks, and they are moving forward with us again…but… For some reason, we just can’t let it go. We hold on to the frustration instead of getting over it and moving on. We create conflict when we don’t need to. Don’t concern yourself with minor hang ups. Remember, clear communication and consistent application of good training techniques, and your dog will respond. Focus on what you want your dog to be, not what you think is still wrong with them.