The only three questions you need to answer

Nov 21, 2016

The expectations of others can be difficult. People tell us we should do this or should do that - or that or our dogs should be a particular way - and we can feel guilty when we don't meet these expectations. It is something that we talk about a lot in Your End of the Lead.

But over the years I have realised that, for me, what we choose to do or not to do with our dogs and how we train and work with them boils down to just three simple questions. Keep these in mind and you won’t go far wrong. When you make a choice just ask yourself:

  • Are you happy with it?
  • Is your dog happy with it?
  • Are you satisfied that no one else has legitimate grounds to be unhappy with it?

And that’s it. If you can answer yes to these three then you are good to go.

But just so that it is clear what I am saying, let’s just unpack this a little bit.

Firstly, are you happy with the choice you are making? Not 'is everything perfect' or 'are you completely happy with your dog’s behaviour'. But are you happy that you are making choices that suit you, your family and your life and that are moving you and your dog forward? You may want your dog to be trained to perfection or just enough to be relaxing to live with. You may want them to sleep on your bed or in the kitchen. You may walk them on lead or off and every day, some days or rarely. You may favour BAT, LAT, CARE or even something without an acronym. But are they choices that you have considered and that you are happy with?

Secondly, is your dog happy with your choice? Too many people stop with themselves. They choose techniques that are unpleasant for the dog and think that whether something works is the only thing that matters. But of course it isn’t. Asking this second question stops us picking up choke chains or forcing our dog to 'face their fears'. Our choices have to safeguard our dog’s well being. So your dog is likely to be happy when your choice results in plenty of positive reinforcement, clarity about what is expected, an environment that is managed to help them get it right, comfortable walking gear, and their physical, mental and emotional needs being met. But what these look like on the ground will vary from dog to dog and home to home.

And of course we don’t live in isolation, so the third question is just to ensure that no one else has legitimate grounds to be upset by our choices. Note legitimate. If we let our dog harass people or other dogs, or if we let them chase livestock, or if we let them destroy other people’s property – those are legitimate grounds. But the amateur dog trainer in the park who thinks you should just give them a “good whack” because that’s the way they always did it. Or those on Facebook who swear that it is cruel not to walk your dog ten miles a day. Or even the “dog psychologist” you hire, who says you should toughen up and show your dog who is boss. These people do not have legitimate grounds if you choose a different path.

So think through the different scenarios you are dealing with. Explore the options available. Learn to read your dog and see the subtle ways they express their contentment or otherwise. Talk to those closest to you about what is reasonable and what is not (because 'you' needs to include your family). And make your choices based on what works for you and your dog and keeps everyone else safe.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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