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Brian’s Bite-sized Behavior Bits

A Certified Dog Trainer (IACP-CDT) and member of the International Association of Canine Professionals, Brian Bergford has extensive experience as a Dog Behavior Specialist and is the owner of Altitude Dog Training. He also owns Uptown Dog in Longmont, Colorado, and functions as the Director of Training and Behavior for this center which provides Behavior- and Pack Work-driven daycare and boarding. Brian specializes in Pack Work, People Development, Basic through Advanced Training, and Behavior Modification and Rehabilitation.

March 2015 – Don’t take it personally

Anyone who has owned a dog has felt the pangs of frustration that come from being ignored. It is easy to fall into the trap of becoming offended when living with, and training, our dogs. Your new puppy squats right in front of you and adds some “color” to your new carpet and you are not too happy; your older dog lunges and shrieks anytime she spots a rabbit and embarrasses you in the process; your male dog just played fetch in the back yard for thirty minutes, but upon reentering the house decides it wasn’t enough, steals an orange off of the kitchen table, and refuses to give it back.

Don’t take it personally.

“Why shouldn’t I?” you may be asking. For starters, once you make it personal (and you have to make it personal – it isn’t inherently so) you’ve turned it into a battle of wills. Why on earth would you want to engage your ego and commit yourself to a scenario where one of you has to win and the other has to lose? It’s the ultimate in relational sabotage.

If, however, your motivation is to strengthen your relationship with your dog and help advance her training, instead of yelling or getting upset with her, you will ask yourself questions like, How can I help her understand what is expected of her? This is a great question, and finding the answer will produce vastly different results than if you reproach her because you “can’t believe she would do something like that” to you. She’s not doing anything to you; she’s just doing it. And while it may be easy to accept this on an intellectual level, de-personalizing your interactions with your dog is a discipline that takes time, patience, and a commitment to showing love by working to improve the situation, instead of just getting what you want out of it and moving on.

Think of it this way: if you’re teaching your child to tie his shoes, do you take it personally when he doesn’t get it on the first try? What about the tenth, or the twentieth? You are tempted to get frustrated, but realize that this will cause you to get angry, thus creating a toxic learning environment and making matters worse. So you breathe, remind yourself that he’s just a kid, and smile as you encourage him to try again – this time with better results.

Now imagine instead that you had caved to your frustration and identified with thoughts like, He’s fiddling around because he knows it annoys me. Regardless of whether or not this is true (and it probably isn’t), getting offended is going to take a simple behavior like shoe tying and turn it into something else entirely – something you’ll eventually regret. Your child will sense your negative emotions, become intimidated, and have difficulty learning because he’s knows you’re unhappy with him.

It’s really not that much different with our dogs. Regardless of how many times you’ve worked with your dog on an issue, keep a cool head and focus on finding solutions that bring you closer together instead of breeding conflict. When issues pop up, focus on becoming a better communicator by patiently teaching your dog more desirable manners, and when you start to notice her behavior getting under your skin, take a couple deep breaths, choose not to take it personally, and come up with a plan to make things better. If you’re at a loss for what to do, you can review literature online or find a local dog trainer to help. Stay positive, stick with it, and have faith that a solution is on the way.


Content Copyrighted 2015. Brian Bergford. All Rights Reserved.