I recently wrote a blog about the importance of asking “Why”. If you don’t know why something might work, don’t try it!
Now I want to refine that discussion.
While I need to know why something might work before I try it, I do not need to know if it WILL work. WILL is a completely different question than WHY, and often it is not answerable until the trainer in question gives it a shot. It’s also worth noting that the technique might work for a different trainer with different skills or a different dog but that’s not relevant – it has to be effective for the team under consideration.
I’m a pretty big fan of experimentation because I think we can learn a lot that way. So, in addition to knowing why something might work, ask yourself one more basic question and then consider branching out into the world of “What happens if…”
Can you read dog behavior well enough to know if the dog is happy? I have two basic categories of dog behavior; happy behavior and unhappy behavior. If a dog is showing frustration, worry, or lack of interest in playing my games, then those all fall in the unhappy bucket and I will change my approach instantly. But what if the dog is happy? If the dog is happy, then whatever I’m doing is causing no harm, so I can continue. Happy or unhappy. Simple!
I see dogs as individuals. I don’t train high drive dogs the same way I train low drive dogs. I don’t train dogs prone to worry the same way I trained dogs prone to overconfidence. I don’t train intense dogs the same way I trained tentative dogs. I treat them like individuals, and that means that the right approach for one dog may be the exact opposite approach for the next dog.
Now I just start to experiment. What happens if? Because I understand the why of whether or not it might work, I can usually tell pretty quickly if this is the direction I want to continue to pursue. Signs of success should show up quickly! And if not, I’m perfectly happy to switch direction and go to another option, as long as I can figure out the “why” for that one too.
Why might it work, and is the dog happy?
As someone said recently, if you’re a new trainer, it’s probably smarter to go with the safe approach. Don’t go running off in random directions if you have no idea what you’re doing, and in particular if you cannot answer the “why” question.
But if you’ve been around for a while, why are you sticking with the recipe? That’s fine if it fits your temperament but if not, then try something new and see what happens – you might discover some missing pieces of a puzzle. And anyway, the worst thing that happens is you don’t progress or you go backward. No worries; if you’re an experienced trainer you can fix it back up and try something else.
Why might is work and is the dog happy. That pretty much covers it.