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The Problem with Perspective

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Perspective is the ability to see something from another’s point of view. It requires us to recognize another’s feelings and experiences, and to acknowledge that they might differ from our own. Exercising perspective means that we must put aside our interests as the sole consideration, and that we might alter our actions as a result. We might even choose not to “get our way” because we understand that another interest wins.

This is an amazing thing to do. It requires selflessness and compassion for others. So what’s the problem?

Perspective adds ethics to your decision making.  Once you acknowledge that another point of view has validity, your conscience becomes involved. Suddenly, it’s not all about you, and that leaves room for discomfort, guilt, and cognitive dissonance.

Having the ability to take another’s perspective does not necessarily mean that will do so. Some people choose to ignore perspective because it’s uncomfortable – it invades our happy bubble.  Others do not use perspective because they are are ignorant; they don’t know how to consider another point of view, especially if the “other” isn’t verbal or is choosing not to communicate.  And some people simply lack the maturity or social skills to make the leap.

Our desire to take another’s perspective tends to be in proportion to how closely our interests are aligned with the “other” under consideration.  When the gap is wide, perspective seems to go away and rationalization takes it place, which is a basic human coping mechanism.  There is no guilt or mental discomfort if we never ask ourselves if what we are doing might be wrong or unkind from another’s point of view.

Maybe you want your child to play football because you played football when you were younger. You loved playing – the sense of belonging, the joy of winning, the sheer excitement of the game – and you’re sure your child will love it, too.  But your child is more of a chess player.  The more you want him to be a football player, the harder it is to accept your child’s cerebral interests.  You might push your child to play. Exercise is awesome!  It’s important to get out in the fresh air!  See?  Rationalization.

On the other hand, if you don’t care that much for contact sports, then suddenly your ability to identify with your child and take his perspective gets a lot easier, because it aligns with your own point of view.  Chess is awesome!  Shame on those parents that push their children into football! It’s not that you’re a better person than the hardcore football parent; you just don’t care as much, so perspective is easier to come by.

What does this have to do with dog sports? Well, we can consider our dog’s perspective too, but we’ll have to make an effort since dogs are not verbal  We have to watch their behavior for clues.   I cannot count the number of times someone has said something along the lines of, “I don’t want to stop competing because he loves it so much!” Yet nothing that I can see in the dog’s behavior supports that conclusion. Indeed, sometimes I see a dog that is bored to tears and going through the motions in a thoroughly mediocre fashion, because the handler is determined to train and compete with their dog.  The dog may be getting some exercise and fresh air, but having a good time?  Not so clear.

How might we keep perspective?

After your next training session or competition, ask yourself two questions:

1) Did your dog have a good time?

In order to answer this question, you should be able to identify the specific behaviors your dog used to communicate this. Ideally, you should have felt closer to your dog after the session. If you didn’t feel very good about your dog when you were done, ask yourself why that is, how often it happens, and if you’re okay with those answers. And your dog? Is he okay with those answers? If you’ve decided that you really don’t care if your dog enjoys working (a valid possibility) – how unhappy can your dog be before you will stand up and take notice?

Most of us do dog sports for fun.  If you’re trying to convert your chess player into a football player and progress seems slow to non-existent, then take a moment to ask yourself how far are you willing to go with this activity if your dog is an unwilling participant.  The more vested you are in your point of view – your perspective – the less you’ll appreciate this question. That’s fine.  Sit on it a bit.  Wrestle with yourself.  That’s normal. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, when all of your hard work has been wasted on an unresponsive teammate.

Or maybe not.  Maybe you just need to reconsider your training plan and come up with a completely novel approach.  Maybe there is a way to change the training itself to make the training or competition more worthwhile to your dog

And here’s the second question:

2) Did you really ask the first question?

Take another look at you and your dog together.  Ask yourself one more time – does your dog’s behavior suggest enjoyment of your dog sports?  Or might you be rationalizing what you are seeing?

That’s perspective.  Not ignoring the question.  Not answering it without an honest evaluation of your situation.  Perspective requires taking a hard look at the situation, trying to put yourself in your dog’s shoes, and then allowing yourself to face the reality that you might not like what you see.

We need to check in with our dogs regularly.  Before trying a new training method, take a moment to think about how your dog might feel about it. Before pushing harder and harder, ask yourself, would you want to be your dog? And if you don’t like the answer, can you come up with a plan for making it better?  And if not – then what?

Today I only have questions.

Now what will you do?


About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

12 responses »

  1. Love this blog – Everyone should read it and think about it. Thanks Denise!!!!

  2. This is something that both parents and pet owners should read. Often children want to please their parents and thus commit to a sport they hate. In the case of a pet, we can only know based on their behavior during the sport…which is based off of our perception of that behavior. This is a great post to think about. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Hi Denise,

    Always enjoy your essays. I especially enjoy that you noticed this attitude from handlers: “I don’t want to stop competing because he loves it so much!””.

    This sentiment is especially prevalent in agility; I think that is because some dogs very clearly do love it. However, there are lots who are not firmly in that camp.

    There is a line in the obedience regulations that “Speed alone does not necessarily indicate willingness and enjoyment” but I think that is probably a good place to start.

    Thanks for asking the important questions. You gave me something to think about today.



    Barb VanEseltine & Belgians

    Ringer, Terry, Patt and Lollie

    Beeken Belgians

  4. There is another aspect to perspective in dog sports I recently had to consider and make a painful (at the time) decision. My awesome BC Fay has wonderful agility training and skills but after a year and a half of trialing and feeling very much like a mismatched team (her very fast and me not so much) and her taking a couple of big spills due to my late handling cues I decided this path was not right for us. I was not willing to sacrifice her body and well being to stumble through an agility career. So…she now has a fun time with obedience and my new Rat Terrier Cooper is turning out to be a perfect agility match for me. So glad I made the decision to take care of my dog:)

  5. I bought my dog, a Border Collie, planning to do agility and obedience with him. Unfortunately he had hip dysplasia, so no agility – that one wasn’t so hard. But as I got more serious about his obedience, I realised he wasn’t enjoying it. He was so anxious that if he didn’t get something right first go, he’d shut down. Even with the clicker. So after a hard battle with myself, I gave up obedience too. Eventually I got medication for his anxiety, but he still didn’t enjoy being around other dogs. So my competition dog has turned into a house dog, whose training consists of short sessions of tricks. Years later I am happy with my decision to give up what I loved to give him a happier life.

  6. I think the whole point about any sports is that we try to inspire passion and acchieve new goals by training. This goes for people and for dogs. For normal life, any sport will do. For those with higher goals in competition, they have to be careful not to loose sight of your questions.
    Of course many people and dogs will also live a content live as couch potatoes. But if you don’t reach out of your or the dogs comfort zone, you’ll miss a lot of fun in life.

    Yesterday was the first time that my dog didn’t flee in panic (or try to) from a dog that bit her – some months ago. Instead she managed to stay alert but calm and trusted my judgement of the situation. I was so proud of her, and I think she was also relieved and proud to have learned a better way to cope.

  7. Beth Harrison

    What a great job Denise! I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your blogs!

  8. Another gem! Some of us need to be bludgeoned into noticing only one member of the team is enjoying herself. Video is very telling too. Watching myself, serious faced, frustrated, doing rep after rep till Holly walked off one day. I wouldn’t have wanted to play with me either. That video totally transformed our training. Never going back there. Now we’re both having fun and finish with tails high and wagging, wanting more. I think the video finally gave me perspective. And our relationship improves with every DFSA course we do.

  9. Very timely! I have a malinois and a PRT and we do SAR. PRT is enjoying it, and so is my mali, but… She has issues with being handled, that is lifted and carried by me or other people. And she’s so enthusiastic when searching she will bully the victim for her toy. So I’m asking myself these very questions – do I go on with her or just concentrate on the younger dog? Obviously it’s questioning time…

  10. Another wonderful post Denise! You put it in a nutshell! Do we think about the dog of just about ourselves and what we like doing!! A lot of food for thought!! Thank you for posting this!!

  11. Just brilliant. Of the five collies I have owned, only one took to obedience but then she was bred for it, not a guarantee though !The young dog I got after her can’t do heelwork as his conformation is so poor. He is an active pet now but I still have obedience people regard me suspiciously as if I have wimped out of competing with him.
    Blossom is a low drive, low energy collie, very hard work to motivate to play and train. I know realistically, she is not going to go to the top and frankly her welfare is far more important than my aspirations. I have learned so much through her but if all I ever do are fun training rounds in the ring than so be it ! Even motivational training can become a form of pressure for certain types of dog and honestly, I’m not sure if I can or want to take that attitude that refuses to allow a dog to disengage if it is stressed or just not enjoying the training.
    When I was young I hated maths and was awful at the subject. My parents wanted me to do well so got me a private tutor. Did it help ? No, I feel just the same about maths though their motives were good. Time to remind myself when I think I’ll do just a little bit more heelwork with Blossom !!

  12. Great article, thank you! It really has me thinking. However, especially for those of new to agility — it’s not black-and-white. Some days, my somewhat timid, hesitant dog is clearly having a ball, going fast, and loving every moment — losing or overriding his (already existing) tendencies to be unsure. Other days, he’s slower, less-interested, bordering on that pulling-teeth feeling. Do you have any more specific guidance to help me know how to know when it’s the right thing to keep on with agility training? My sense is that although slowly, his enjoyment (and thus, ability, speed, confidence) improve, as we keep at it. My goal is not to get “Q”s, nor win anything — but for BOTH of us to have fun, and gain confidence (not just in agility, but overall).


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