Would you be comfortable if your child’s math teacher described her as headstrong or stubborn because she wasn’t doing well in class? Would you assume the teacher is right and your child is willfully choosing not to learn her multiplication tables? Or, would you consider that your child may not fully understand her lesson and needs additional help?
If you’re like most parents, you will do whatever you can to help that child learn and understand more easily. I am thankful that my parents did just that when I was struggling with my multiplication homework as a young girl. Math simply wasn’t my strong suit and I needed a bit of extra help and patience from the adults around me.
I am also grateful my parents understood that labeling a child stubborn, stupid or headstrong does nothing to assist her in her learning process and actually affects the way others see her. Labels are very sticky, you know.
Now I’d like you to consider a similar situation, but with another family member, your dog. She isn’t coming when you call her. She’s jumping on guests, even when you shout “No!” She is such a headstrong dog and must be so stupid because you have told her a thousand times!
Ah, but have you stopped to consider that she is a completely different species? Do you realize that she doesn’t speak your language? Have you considered the “why” behind her jumping? Perhaps this is the best way she knows how to greet a new person she is excited to see. How much time have you spent teaching her what you would prefer she do instead of jumping on guests?
The compassion and understanding with which we see our dog’s learning process should be the same as how we see our child’s or our own. In fact, our dogs may deserve even more compassion once you realize they are taking instruction from a completely different species. I know I would have trouble learning a new task from a giraffe or hippo.
Humans start preschool at three or four years of age and the majority of us attend school regularly until we are at least eighteen. Then many go on to earn college degrees or gain certifications in a trade of some kind. Every year we are taught by professional teachers who are certified to instruct and develop curriculum. Think of how much learning and training that is.
It is up to us to teach our dogs what we want from them and we must remember that it doesn’t happen overnight. Teaching any new behavior or skill to any species takes consistency, patience and lots of practice. It simply isn’t fair to expect them to become fluent in a completely foreign language without the proper instruction and compassionate guidance.
When they fall short of our expectations…we need to step back, assess the situation and consider how we can effectively help them succeed. This may include calling in a professional force-free trainer to assist you both with this new skill. I believe if we afford our dogs the “latitude of learning” that we extend to ourselves, we will be much happier with the results of our training and our dogs will be happier, too.
Tiffany Lovell, CSAT, CPDT-KA, AAI, operates Cold Nose College, Space Coast in Brevard County, Florida and offers force-free training and behavior consulting. She specializes in private in-home coaching & training, separation-anxiety training (local & remote to anywhere in the U.S. & internationally) and behavior consults. (321) 757-2059; coldnosecollege.com