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.