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Your Dog Is Always Learning

Sally Gutteridge
Dog people culture is funny. Like every other culture it has evolved through the use of social media and the ability to sit in our own homes learning from and discussing with strangers. This can be an excellent thing and it can also be a little bit sinister. Dog training has a variety of methods and, whilst some have evolved wonderfully into kindness and understanding, others are a little scary. I’m not going through the history or methods here, but it’s important to know one thing, if it puts the dog out of balance, through fear, force or punishment it’s not a suitable method.

We must remember that any kind of external environment will create a change in the dog’s internal environment. So when we see a dog being treated unkindly we can be certain that the cells within the dog are all responding in a bustle of reaction. We might see stress signals and recognise them, what we can’t see on the outside though is the inner turmoil accompanying those signals. If we were to consider a dog barking at another dog, for example, and not consider the reason, we are overlooking the dog’s inner state. We could even go a step further and say, “this behaviour is difficult and needs to change” and start trying to change the dog without considering their internal or external environment.

Canine Coaching is the name I prefer for behaviour change. It’s softer on the tongue and means something slightly different to training. To coach a dog is to help them find their inner resources, to build their resilience and confidence, to help them find their internal strength and apply it to their ability to cope in the world. When we coach, we observe, tweak, question and build the dog’s confidence. The most extreme opposite is force based training where the dog’s beautiful, resilient inner state remains untouched and the behaviour on the outside is challenged with threats, thus pushing it back into the dog. This causes suppression and tucks away the dog’s true potential, his feelings and fears are hidden underneath all this new suppression and he becomes unbalanced.

If we are to coach a dog to change their behaviour, it’s usually because of a problem either with them, for them or for us. If we consider ourselves as half of a whole with our dogs, we can’t possibly think that the dog’s behaviour is isolated, or unconnected to our own. Whether you are on board with the empathy connection yet or not, the fact is that we undoubtedly affect the behaviour of our dogs. Something simple like walking them too close to a thing that unnerves them, or accidentally dropping a plate with a crash will affect our dogs. With this in mind, and as most canine professionals will tell us, the dog is usually the easier part of a dog and guardian equation, the real issue is us. .

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