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Yes, but.

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On occasion I will encounter a hardworking, enthusiastic trainer with a truly challenging dog.  I have to think hard to come up with advice that will help the team establish a workable training plan, and even then, I often have doubts about how the team will progress, especially if the handler is on the more novice side.

Invariably, if the handler is engaged, patient and focused on the silver linings when they appear, the dog gets better and better and better!  Over time, I am amazed at what an optimistic and patient handler can do, even with less than stellar skills and applications.

And on occasion, I will encounter another kind of team.   The handler may be quite skilled indeed and the dog appears to be relatively normal but with some random flukes or shortcomings.   My first impression is that we’ll have a fairly straightforward training progression. And then this happens:

Me: Does your dog like toys?

Handler: No.   I worked at it but he doesn’t play.

Me:  “That’s okay. We can use food and throw it.

Handler:  I can’t throw food. If I throw food then he sniffs.

Me:  If you don’t want to throw food then we could use a Manners Minder at a distance.

Handler:  He’s afraid of the sound of the Manners Minder.

By the time we’ve gotten to this point in the conversation, I know what the problem is, and it has nothing to do with the dog.

I have a “yes but ” handler.

While all of the above may be true, the dog may not enjoy toys, and the dog might sniff, and maybe the dog is sound sensitive or has some physical issue, the difference between this case and an engaged and optimistic handler is their willingness to look for solutions with me; to work with what we have and grow our success from there.

To make matters worse, some handlers seem to take a certain joy in having an “impossible” dog.   They’ve been to all of the trainers! Their situation is absolutely unique! Unfixable!  It’s not the handler’s behavior or their handling or their skills. It’s the dog. 100% the dog.  No one could fix this dog because it’s that unusual.

Now we have a “yes but” handler with a serious passive aggressive streak.

The fact is, even if the dog IS perfectly normal, if the handler is determined not to find success with their dog, then that is the way it will be.

The most correct application of a technique will not work if the handler is determined not to let it work.  The handler will do small and unconscious things to sabotage their own success. The dog can feel it; this expectation of failure. This determination to fail.  And the handler can prove to everyone what they knew all along – their dog is “different”.

Are you a “Yes, but”? Do you have a long list of motivators that you cannot use, techniques that cannot work, places that you cannot go, issues that cannot be resolved, and trainers that could not help?  Do you always have a reason why each technique or suggestion is not going to work? If something does work, do you ignore that success and instantly move on to a new concern without appreciating what was accomplished?  If you feel a subtle sense of vindication when the trainer fails to help you then that is about you and not about the training at all; you’re being a passive aggressive “yes but” handler.

Your job is to actively try and engage your trainer to solve problems and find a way to work around challenges. Your job is to remain positive and focused on the points of success so that you can grow from there.  And if your situation is so extreme that this is not possible, then your job is to ask yourself why you are continuing at all.  Retire that impossible dog!

Or sit down and take a hard look at your behavior.  You can change, but not if you don’t become aware of what you’re doing. If it occurs to you that others might think this is how you behave, but you see it differently, take a moment to think that through.  Regardless, the solution is the same; either change your behavior and learn to become a teammate with your trainer and dog, or consider a new hobby.

If you decide to stay on your current path;  if you’re a “yes but” who opts not to change, then you will win. You will be right. Your dog will not succeed. Hopefully, that’s what you had in mind in the first place because you will get your way.

Or today can be the first day of your new path.  Find what is right in your dog’s behavior and rejoice in that!  Fixate on your successes and grow them, a tiny bit at a time.  Make sure your team feels appreciated; both your dog and your trainer.  Work hard to find reasonable workarounds to your challenges. See what happens.  You might find that training is a lot more fun with your changed attitude.




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.

15 responses »

  1. A very good message. You do have some editing issues though, repeating sentences and paragraphs that I don’t think are supposed to be repeating. Then again it could be my phone being weird. I’ll leave this comment in case it’s the former.

    • WordPress has some editing flukes with repeating sentences and paragraphs that started several months ago -it’s very frustrating! However, I have cleaned them up (again) and….hopefully they’ll hold.

  2. Hi Denise,

    I so value your work and reading these posts. Thank you for pointing out the importance and impact of optimism and positive thinking in dog handling. My congenital optimism has served me well in my relationships with dogs.

    Also, I found what looks to be a cut and past whoopsie in this gorgeous post and hope that it feels helpful that I am pointing it out. (See below.)

    Thanks for all you do!!


    Handler: He’s afraid of the sound of the Manners Minder.By the time we’ve gotten to this point in the conversation, I know what the problem is, and it has nothing to do with the dog.

    By the time we’ve gotten to this point in the conversation, I know what the problem is, and it has nothing to do with the dog.I have a “yes but ” handler.

    I have a “yes but ” handler.

  3. Love this to Venus and back. !!!
    “Venus” is my “troubled” , young dog, and I’m willing to go to Venus and back to help us both. I don’t have anyone close who specializes in the matters of Venus, so I’m very grateful for the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy Instructors
    I’ve had the “yes , but” clients. I never want to be that person.
    Thank you for this.

  4. Oh but the desperation of the poor trainer who has one of these come to them for regular training, and tries to explain why their poor dog is so frustrated and anxious, and see their poor dog sink into an abyss of despair, when yet again the owner sets the poor thing up to go wrong yet again. All of us know one of these, and just try to make the dog’s life easier to no avail. Sad trainer.

  5. Spot on, Denise! Spot on. Thank you four your insightful training advise and observations. I find it reassuring, motivational, and so in informative.

  6. Sheri Morrissey

    I loved this and thank you for helping the somewhat novice but passionate trainer thrive!You state:”Invariably, if the handler is engaged, patient and focused on the silver linings when they appear, the dog gets better and better and better!  Over time, I am amazed at what an optimistic and patient handler can do, even with less than stellar skills and applications.” I absolutely love dog training and I absolutely love my dog!  I have heard many times “you are so lucky to have such a cool greyhound” I smile and say “I sure am” and think silently to myself .. and I made him that way because of all the hours we work together, how much I admire him for who he is, and how very hard I study dog training ideas and theories! Thanks Denise!

    Sheri and Pirate

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad

  7. I’m not a professional trainer, but whenever co-workers in my office find out that I train and compete with my dog, most of them immediately start describing some behavior issue they imagine their dog has
    Co-worker “My dog doesn’t come when I call her.”
    Me: Oh, really? tell me more.
    Co-worker: “Well I let her out into the (unfenced) yard in the morning and when I go to call her in in the afternoon, she doesn’t come.”
    Me: Is she still in the yard?
    Co-worker: “No, that’s another issue she has–she runs off.”
    Me: Sigh.
    When I try to suggest ANYTHING, the yes, buts begin. I’ve learned they really don’t want to solve a problem; they just want sympathy for what a bad dog they are saddled with. Now I just nod and make an excuse to get the hell out of there.

  8. Predetermined failure. They have already decided the dog can’t, won’t, isn’t. It is a very easy to fail when you have already decided to & aren’t willing to do anything differently or even consider it! Drives me batty!

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  10. Actually, there’s a step before the ‘Retire that impossible dog!’ that might not get the ‘yes,but’ response, bring in a non-trainer (NT) that the dog doesn’t know. Have the NT “train the dog” with the ‘yes, but’ standing by as an observer only. The “yes, but” may initially attribute the particular approach used as the reason e.g. dog likes your treats better than mine / has more experience doing that than me (hence the non-trainer aspect)
    May take more than one unknown NT before getting the human response along the lines of, “why does the dog want to do things with the NT?”.
    Note: for personal examples I’m referencing, did take several non-trainers, each using very different approaches (clicker, toys, tug, treats), to get the ‘yes, but’ to realize wasn’t the dog.
    No, doesn’t work for all ‘yes, but’ situations (3 / 5 that I’ve experienced — 2 were accidental non-trainer situations which sparked the ‘yes but’ light bulb ).

  11. Pingback: Articles I’ve Enjoyed Recently | Little Brown Dog Blog

  12. I have 2 “yes but”s right know, and they’re killing me, because both of their dogs are clever, eager, and willing. One dog, I wish I could steal to compete with, but every compliment I give is met with “yes but.”

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