"Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character."
Dogs are amazing. In my life as a dog advocate, professional trainer and perpetual student I have seen something really very special.
Dogs who have changed people’s lives, over and over again.
Different dogs, different people and different lives but the pattern has always been the same. People realising that their dog has shown them something crucially important or changed their trajectory in life to something more suitable for them.
I too live with a life changing dog. A dog who crashed into my life like a wrecking ball. Who made everything different practically overnight. A social life wrecker, a deafness causer and someone I apologised for over and over again whilst simultaneously getting into fights with strangers (yes, that actually happened, not my finest moment) while protecting him.
You might relate to this, or you might not. You might have a dog who is less vocal about their worries, you might not even see those worries, or perhaps they don’t even have them.
Or perhaps you do have a dog who is testing your skills. Maybe you have lived with dozens of dogs but this one is an enigma, or maybe you are getting your first dog and just want to get things right for them.
I’ll tell you this though, with my hand on my heart, your dog will show you how to be the best person you can be and have the best life you can have. If they shout louder, you might not be getting the message they have for you. But one thing is for sure they will have a message for you, and if you open your heart and mind – you will be able to receive it. So don't be afraid to let your dog guide you - sometimes they shout, sometimes they whisper, but they always have something important to say.
We have created this unrealistic and human centric environment for animals in what we consider to be ‘developed countries’. We consider them pets. We put them in cages, kennels and hutches and have a rigid set of expectations of them. We don't consider how they feel - spending their entire life as a caged 'pet'.
We often hear animals being called ‘it’ and we expect them to fit into a little set of rules to be a good family pet. A life that the kids can play with. A 'pet' who’s fur we can cry into on a bad day.
And if they don’t meet out expectations or stay enthusiastic yet trouble free housemates, we have cultivated a belief that we must train them, and then they will behave better.
Dogs are also considered family pets.
Dog training is the most common type of animal training.
But what about what the dog wants?
Or how they feel?
And what about all the lessons we can learn from them?
What if we stop trying to impose our will onto them? Imagine if your dog could do so much more than being a good family pet.
I urge you now to give pause on the idea that your dog might just need more training and instead step back and watch them better, learn their language, question their beliefs, and improve their agency.
Dog training has been the go-to response to the family dog simply showing us their needs for too long. It’s time to rethink the place of dog training.
It’s time to have a much better and more enriching relationship with our dogs, where creating different responses and behaviour through training is a small part of the bigger picture -and not the whole canvas.
Let's spend every interaction with our dogs as an interaction where we remember it's their life too. They have a right to have a say in how they live and what happens to them. They only have their life, it's our job to make it the best life it can be.
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