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?