We cannot change the behavior of another animal unless we change our own behavior first

People are very resistant to change because it is frightening. Stepping into the unknown is often not the preferred option even if the person is not content under the current circumstances. We like to hold onto whatever familiar things we have in life rather than explore because after all the world might crumble down on us or something. If you are in the profession of training people to train their dogs you already know where I am going with this. Why do clients contact a dog trainer with a certain philosophy if they are not willing to change at all?

I am relatively new in the dog training scene in Toronto, not to mention in North America, it has now been almost one year since I started my Mindful Behaviors. And I’m a complete rookie in the business world, even though I’ve learned a lot in the past year. Of course I want to make a living being a dog trainer but I also genuinely want to get through to people and help them with their dogs. Going to strangers’ homes and going through a dog training speech in English are still new things to me, so if the communication with the client starts sliding in a direction that I’m not comfortable with I get agitated. Therefore, when I get a client, who in my questionnaires is all willing to learn about clicker training but doesn’t in person believe anything what I say, I’m in a battle that I cannot and have no interest in winning.

All the change starts within ourselves. My brilliant Finnish classical horse back riding instructor Soile Kokko, whose lessons I miss dearly, always said ‘I will commit to teaching you only if you commit to learning from me’. That is going to by my new motto from now on, I can give my best to coach a student only if they are committed to work the other half for me. I have had some absolutely amazing clients this year, who with their dogs have also taught me a lot. They have made my intention to keep training and to become a better trainer worthwhile, so thank you, if you are reading this!

The “give me results quickly with minimum amount of work” attitude is accentuated in North America. I’m gonna write this out, my intention is definitely not to offend anybody, these are just observations. North America is a fast-food culture, where people expect to be spoon fed and things have to happen quickly. Of course the same attitude leaks into owning a dog, which is very unfortunate. I realized this for the first time when the number of rescue and shelter dogs on this continent began to dawn on me. In Finland if people want a rescue dog they have to cross the Gulf of Finland and go to Estonia because on our side of the gulf shelters simply do not exist. I have only one friend in Finland who has a mixed breed rescue dog (and I know a lot of dog people!), whereas in Toronto the vast majority of my friends have rescues. In this mayhem I’m extremely happy to have met wonderful people helping all these homeless dogs. For example, WhattaPup!’s Look At Me Now program for shelter/rescue dogs is completely based on Caryn’s voluntary work.

To me the message that I would like to get across to people contacting me is a quote from Jean Donaldson’s Culture Clash: TRAINING DOES NOT TRANSFER KNOWLEDGE IT ONLY INCREASES PROBABILITIES! If your dog does not do what you want him to, it very simply and only means that you have not taught it to him/her well enough. Period. I will do my very best to help anyone willing to learn to work on training their dog, knowledge is a quality I cannot inject into your dog’s brain.

Soile Kokko, my brilliant classical riding instructor, who taught me that changes start within us.


2 responses to “We cannot change the behavior of another animal unless we change our own behavior first

  1. Excellent post!! (and I love that picture, the horse’s face looks so soft) It’s such a hard thing to navigate interactions with people who simply want a knowledge download (a training app in their brain. teeheehee. really, I don’t even have an iphone…) and have no interest in putting the time and energy into learning what they need to know to accomplish the change they want to see – and don’t recognize that their beliefs are unrealistic. I have had two people in this last week ask “at what age can I expect that my dog will be trained?”
    One of the worst parts of these conversations is that, unless the client has ethical grounds for seeking out an R+ trainer, there is always risk of losing clients to idiot heavy handed trainers who make absurd guarantees and promise instantaneous ‘cures’ because they tap right into this, as you say, “fast-food culture.”
    (and I had no idea about rescues in Finland!)

  2. Hi Emily!

    Thanks! Isn’t the horse gorgeous, he is a Lusitano stallion called Xelim, I’ve had the privilege to have ridden him a couple of times. This is the beauty of classical horseback riding: total relaxation and harmony.

    I hate those client questions as well, it’s not like training a dog is like changing the oil in your car!

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