“She won’t work for food.” I have had many dog owners tell me this. Of all the dogs I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with, even those who were described as unwilling to work for food, every single dog worked for food. All of them. Every single one. It took a little longer to get some of them to warm up to the idea but one thing was clear to me; it wasn’t the food itself that was the problem.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes makes this point – “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” It can be tricky business trying to teach a dog. Lots of things can go wrong and it can be hard to determine where the problem lies. That can be particularly true if we don’t want to look at all of the possible sources of the problem.
We have to be careful in what we choose to define as “impossible.” My early training with my own dog in agility taught me one very important thing. I have a remarkable ability to revise even the most recent history with my own version of what did or did not happen. I watched video of myself working with my dog. I found that I was doing things that I would swear I had never done – making confusing gestures, calling my dog’s name when I didn’t need to, giving the wrong cue, etc. If you had asked me if it was something that I was doing as a trainer that was causing the breakdown, I would have said that was impossible. It wasn’t.
It’s too easy to rule ourselves out as the problem. I’ve found that this is particularly true when it comes to our dogs. We decide that it just CAN’T be something we’re doing. We have the dog’s best interests at heart and we love them. We know what we are trying to do. We are following the instructors directions. But if our training isn’t working, why don’t we look at the thing we have the most control over – ourselves.
When we have eliminated the impossible. I don’t think it’s wise to put ourselves in that “impossible” category. Have I used the right approach? Am I being clear? Is my timing as good as it should be? Am I reading the dog correctly? I see way too many people blaming everything but themselves when something goes wrong. An honest examination of ourselves can solve lots of dog training problems.
“She won’t work for food.” Well, if I can get her to work for food, it’s not the food. Maybe we need to look at something else to see where the problem lies.