In a recent seminar, someone commented that they needed to play with their dog in new environments even if the dog wasn’t asking to play.  If the dog refused then she would have to crate the dog.  That belief doesn’t happen to mesh with my philosophy so I asked “why?”  I really wanted to know!

The question threw her for a loop because she had never thought it through.  She was simply following what she had been told. We went back and forth a bit until she was clear on where her belief was coming from and from there, I was able to provide the best possible response to her question, respectfully, addressing it both from my philosophy and hers as well.  Going forward, what she chooses to do with the information is up to her.

“Why” is my favorite question of all!

You are training your dog. You are stuck! Everyone and their mother has advice for you, whether they have ever trained a dog or not, let alone know about your specific dog or situation.  And since random advice can vary anywhere from downright silly or dangerous to brilliant and eminently workable, I’d suggest making sure you understand where it’s coming from.

So what do you do?

Asks the giver “Why.” Why do they think you should do this? Why do they think it will work for you?

Now test their response against basic logic.  Does it meet with your experiences? Is the logic sound or do you have concerns?  And if there are gaps in the logic, can you ask the person to help you understand them? “It worked for me” is a pretty weak answer so hold out for more than that.

When I ask “Why” I am looking for understanding. I am not challenging and I make that clear with my conversational tone and soft body language.

If a person gets defensive when you ask them to explain where they are coming from, then there are a few possibilities. First, they are more interested in giving advice than helping you. That should set off some warning bells right there. Second, they have no idea why it might or might not work; they’re simply parroting back what the last person said to them. That’s fine, but I would suggest not applying that advice until you’ve figured out the answer to the question on your own, “why might this work?”  Third, the person you’re talking to isn’t very verbal and doesn’t explain things easily even though they can “feel” the answer.  Once again, you’ll have to figure it out on your own before you proceed.  And while you’re at it, decide if this is the person that you want helping you become a better trainer.

The dog world is filled with both tradition and superstition; techniques that work but not for the reasons the person might think they’re working or techniques that don’t work but no one actually follows up well enough to figure that out.  And of course, there is advice that works but if you think it through, you’ll recognize that you’re just not comfortable applying it – the “Why” doesn’t fit your beliefs or philosophy of training.

I never ever ever attempt a training technique if I don’t know why it should work. Never!  If I cannot ferret out the logic of a technique, then I’m no more going to waste my time on that then I’m going to waste my time attempting magic phrases and sprinkling fairy dust over my dog’s head. Because if on this day, my dog figures out what I want at the exact moment that I sprinkle that fairy dust and I conclude that the fairy dust caused the change in behavior…I just regressed as a trainer and as a person of logic.

And that is way more common than you might think.