Human Confidence in Dog Training
We are often told how important it is to be confident and assertive in our dealings with other humans. I think that is true even more so with our dogs, some more then others. I first saw this with Libby, my golden girl. We were taking our 100 acre test requiring us to
find multiple people in 100 acres. At that point I was using two squeaky toys with Libby. On this particular occasion, Libby found her first subject. Then she decided she valued one of the squeaky toys over the other. She would not return it to me. The tester indicated if I did not get her back to me immediately we would fail.
Looking back now, I can see all that did not yet know about dog training. Libby was very well trained by that point, but she also had an edge to her. She knew her commands, but she still did what she wanted when she wanted because I did not know how to truly reach her and make her my mutually respected team mate and partner. Libby did not respect me.
What happened on this particular occasion was armed with the knowledge if I did not get her back to me we would fail, my tone of voice and body language changed. Looking back, I can see how I was pleading with her before that. I was tentative and timid. I was a "Please come back if you don't mind". I was not serious about it and Libby took it as such. I was not someone worthy of her respect. But becoming desperate something happened. I lost my patience, I stood up for myself and I told Libby "you will get over here right now". Same words, but I told her clearly with my tone of voice and body language. And you know what? She listened. She immediately stopped fighting and came back over to me. We did ultimately fail our test that day after another similar incident over a dead animal in the woods, but it was a critical pivot point for me as a dog trainer. We made some big changes, and came to our next test a lot more of a team. That test we passed and Libby went on to become an operational wilderness search dog.
My next dog Quincy really honed in the point of being confident. In the beginning with him I still was not confident enough and he took advantage. He decided he should be the leader
and it cost us dearly. It was not until I stopped being so tentative that he decided to respect me. As I gradually learned how to be more confident, Quincy and I developed into one heck of a team. My relationship with him is what I hope everyone can experience. Partners, best friends and a relationship of mutual respect. We are equals in our relationship. Neither one of us is pack leader. Instead we are a team. When we are out searching he has to listen to me on boundaries but I have to listen to him on what his nose is telling him. He has to listen to me without question or he could be injured or killed in the field. But yet he also has to know to question my judgement and tell me I am wrong when I am being a stupid human that can't smell anything. After training Quincy and learning to be more confident, I have been a lot more aware of it. It has helped tremendously with my search dogs that have come after him.
It is also something that I try to pass along to all my clients because it is something I saw frequently in classes and home sessions. People are often politely asking their dog to sit. "Please sit if you don't mind" If you don't give commands like you mean them and expect the dog to comply, then with many dogs they will consider it an optional command. It is not yelling. It is simply telling the dog the command in a firm tone of voice rather then a tentative one. It is not an end all be all. You still have to train your dog on that command and practice in different places and circumstances. But it will make a difference in the long run with your human-dog relationship. Be sure of yourself. You can do it!