I was recently told my young dog (8 months old) really “needs to learn” a specific skill (an aspect of self control).
To my own surprise, this friendly comment infuriated me beyond any reason. When I wondered about what exactly upset me so much, I had the following thought process.
First off all, the comment was absolutely right. While I have worked on self control throughout my puppy’s life, this particular skill could use some improvement. This dog started out with any kind of control NOT being her strongest suit – from controlling herself to not bite shoes, arms, faces, over not stealing every piece of food in our house to her compulsory need to make every dog, no matter how disinterested or even aggressive, play with her. It is a process. It is not finished by any means. Therefore, the intent of the comment was totally true and appropriate.
So let’s talk about the part that I didn’t find appropriate. It was the word “needs”. Now if I had been told “You need to work on this skill”, I would not have felt hurt at all. But it was “She needs to learn”.
Impulse control is still taught with a lot of aversion here. Verbal corrections, time-outs, leash-pops, you-name-it. In my opinion, once punishment is involved control can NOT be self control anymore, it is external control (but that is a topic for a separate blog post). What the comment sounded like to me (and probably I am interpreting way too much into it) was “She has to go through this correction process to develop the skill.”
Here is where I disagree.
My dog owes me nothing.
She didn’t sign up to learn tricks or agility or obedience. She was not born to be trained by me (or anyone else, for that matter). Her existence and her life with me is not tied to any purpose I might have in mind (a reason why I never say I have an “agility dog”. I just have a “dog”.).
A vet recently told me “You are everything for your dog. Her friend, her teacher, her lawyer, her nurse, you carry the responsibility for her whole life.”
What great words.
I owe my dog everything.
I owe her that if I want to teach her something, I will make the experience as fun and awesome as possible. This is why I need to learn; I have to find a kind way to communicate this skill that so far I have not been able to communicate as well as I should have.
Let’s stop saying our dogs need to learn blablabla. Instead let’s start saying we need to become better trainers every day, making every training joyful. Not just the stuff that is easy to make fun (like retrieving) – but especially the stuff that is harder to make fun. We owe them.