When we were first contacted about this particular case (dog not pictured), I have to admit, my first thought was, "Why did you wait 8 years to address this?" and I will tell you that I did in fact ask that very question when we arrived at his very pretty suburban residence.
The answer was simple... in its simplicity. The behavior wasn't a problem until a baby entered the picture. It was totally manageable and simply not a big deal. Now, the point of this article is in no way, shape or form to pick on the owners of this dog. (They were actually fabulous and the dog turned out to be SUPER smart, very motivated, and a way willing participant in his own rehabilitation!) The reason I am using them as an example here is because they really helped me helped them by being completely honest, and therein lies my point.
I don't feel anything can efficiently by gained in this industry (dog training) by sugar-coating things, whether that is on the part of the client OR the trainer. I am not doing anybody any favors my minimizing, dancing around issues, or trying TOO hard not to hurt your feelings. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE people (I'm like the golden retriever of the human world.. lol) and I have total respect for dignity, but I can't help the dog or the human by being too nice... That is a lesson it has taken me years to learn, and easier said than done! (Saying it & practicing it are indeed two different things, and just like the dogs, I, too, am a continuous work in progress! And I'm very thankful for that.)
This situation frequently presents itself with regard to aggression in dogs. I can't even tell you how frequently I am on the receiving end of conversations that go like this:
"She's just fearful, she doesn't growl. Well, she doesn't bark, she just growls. She barked that one time, but never, NEVER bites. She'd never bite. Except for that time that she just nipped my niece.. but it was just a nip.. It was just a warning. She didn't bite. Just that one time, she broke the skin.." etc.
You see where I'm going with this? A bite is a bite is a bite. It's teeth on skin (clothing counts). There are different types of bites.. I'll allow that in. There are inhibited bites, there are more intentional ones.. but a bite is a bite. Hate to be the one to point it out, but it is what it is. Let's stop sugar-coating it, recognize it for what it is, and see how we can move forward together to change this. This is the attitude I HAVE to bring to my job, in order to be able to help.
Problems begin in dog training when people aren't honest, and that starts with the self, not with the trainer, although there are certainly consequences of that carry-over. A lot of the time, people have a hard time acknowledging the reality with their own dogs, and that can mean many, many things, from the fact that many owners treat their dogs like human babies, to the fact that their wittle fwuffy wuffy sweethawt pibble has teeth and CAN in fact bite someone. It can be extremely difficult to get honest with ourselves when it comes to our dogs, especially when our behavior is contributing to issues.
I think the knowledge to be gained here is that regardless of how uncomfortable something is to talk about, it's extremely important for clients to be honest with their trainers, and for trainers to acknowledge that there IS such a thing as too nice, and when we step too gingerly across that bridge in dog training in order to preserve someone's feelings, it can be to the detriment of the dogs, and sometimes downright dangerous. It's important that clients know what the real potential is for a given behavior, and sugar-coating it doesn't help anybody.
"Your dog has all the symptoms and is on its way to biting someone."
"That is NOT friendly behavior."
"Your dog has zero respect for you."
"YOU are the one causing that behavior."
You can likely see in just reading that how harsh some of these things sound - (imagine being the one having to say it! Although some people have way less issue with that than me :) - but sometimes, that is how people need to hear it, and I am doing them no favors by being vague. No matter how "harsh" I might sound, I am always delivering the information from a place of love, with a desire to help & move everybody forward in the best, safest, most effective & fun way possible in order for everybody to achieve that harmony in the household and a happy relationship with their dog. I want the dog to feel the same peace & balance that they have given me. I appreciated it so much last weekend when those clients were totally clear, no reading between the lines, no p*ssy-footing around the issue, just, "This is what it is. This is why we haven't addressed it. This is what we need to have happen," to which I am easily able to respond, "Thank you for your honesty. This is what I think. These are the consequences if we don't make some changes. And don't let laziness be an excuse not to do the work. Let's DO this!" That's my kind of appointment! :)
(In case you were wondering, the prognosis on the 8 year old Frenchie referenced in this article is excellent, and his owners were fantastic clients that reminded me not to pre-judge, remember always what I just reiterated about honesty, and I thank them for the experience!)
As always, love it or hate it, thank you for reading, and contact us anytime for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org.