Many years ago I sat in on a behavior consult with Trish King. She spent 90 minutes listening to and supporting a very unhappy woman who wanted to talk about her long list of woes. Honestly, I found her hard to take; I had this overwhelming urge to tell her to grow up, take some responsibility for her situation, and stop whining.
Her neighbors hated her because her dogs were barking excessively. Her house smelled horrible because they were peeing all over the place. She was scared of being evicted from her complex, frustrated with the dogs, and angry at pretty much everyone. She just wanted it to stop.
90 minutes. 90 minutes Trish spent listening to that childish woman rant. 90 minutes, and never a mention of how to fix the dogs. And at the end of that 90 minutes? The woman was done. She had said all she needed to say. She felt heard, supported and ready – for the next step.
From there, it only took 30 minutes to give the woman a plan to work with her dog. The steps were relatively simple; now she needed to implement them.
It didn’t matter how the dogs got in this boat; what mattered was that a seriously distressed human wasn’t going to hear anyone or anything until she was ready. And that took….90 minutes.
When people are frustrated, angry and resentful, they cannot learn. Their defense mechanisms step up from every direction and ensure that any hint that they have made mistakes cannot come to the fore. Being right and telling your human learner the things you need to say are a waste of time until they are ready to hear you.
Start with your human. Get them on your team.
That consult made a huge impression on me. I still think about it to this day, and it has influenced all of my training since that time. I owe Trish for that.