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  • K-9 Magic

Think Like a Dog

The most profound moment of my dog training learning came not from training my dog, but from a simple game of hot and cold. It was at a working dog training seminar and it was one pivotal moment that has always stood out when I think about all the seminars I have ever attended.

The instructor wanted to teach us what it was like to be a dog. To have no knowledge of language. To be surrounded by others that want something from you, but you have absolutely no idea what.

Unfortunately for me, I was picked to play the dog. I knew very few people at this seminar and I felt overwhelmed at having been picked as the 'dog'. They pulled me out of the room and then they all agreed on the task I was to do. Something as simple as flicking on a light switch, but I had no clue what my task was to be. Since a dog didn't speak the language they could only clap and try to communicate when I was approaching the right thing. I would have to try things and try to figure out based on their applause if I was right or wrong. The experience was frustrating to say the least and it took a long time. I would end up taking a tentative step and waiting to see if I was stepping in the right direction. Was this the right move or was this the wrong move? I had no idea what the expectation was. I didn't gain much from communication other then I was going in the general right direction. After a frustratingly long period of time I figured out that I was to go to the light switch on the back wall and flip it on. I was immensely relieved when I finally got it right and my time as the 'dog' was over.

The instructor pointed out what I was going through in the exercise was like what a dog would be going through. Our dogs were in a room with a bunch of strangers. They don't speak the language and communication with others is limited. They don't know which direction to go. They are somehow expected to figure it all out based on trying different things and waiting to see if that is met with approval or disapproval. On top of it, dogs are completely different creatures that do not think the same way as most humans do. We should not be surprised or angry when our dog 'doesn't get it'. We should be amazed we can train them to do such amazing things. We should be astonished that our dogs can figure things out as well as they do. And if they get it wrong, we should think about things from the dogs perspective. Dogs have a hard job. We should play a game of hot and cold now and then and think about just how difficult it is to figure out what it is someone wants if you can't explicitly tell them. It's not the dogs fault we are expecting too much of them too soon. Think like a dog and think what would help you if you had no clue what the other person wanted from you. Many times if we break things down just a little bit further, it will let the dog have that light bulb moment and flip the light switch of understanding on.

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