I’ve always heard that when you give a command to a dog, it’s not good form to keep repeating it until the dog complies. If I ask Grace to come, she should come—right then. Not wait until my third or fourth request, which would encourage a behavior and attitude for Grace that says, “I can come on my schedule instead of yours.”
Suzanne Clothier believes this, too, but presented the concept from a completely different perspective that really helped me think about how and when I ask Grace for something—and especially how to react when she doesn’t comply.
Suzanne illustrated this with one of the dogs who also attended the recent seminar I’ve mentioned in the last few posts. Luke is a beautiful, large, black standard poodle (at least I think that was the breed, if I’m wrong, I’d encourage any reader who was there to correct me) who had been returned to his breeder because he was becoming hard to handle. In reality, Luke was highly intelligent and was being put in situations that were physically not appropriate (such an alpha roll) and Luke didn’t like it. He was confident and strong enough to let those owners know how he felt about it. Yet the humans felt his actions were too aggressive instead of understanding they were creating the issue. When working with Luke, Suzanne recognized that his demeanor and actions were coming from a place of intelligence versus being aggressive and obstinate.
At the seminar, Luke was accompanied by Rachel, his breeder, who was wise enough to take him back from the owners. Luke did not want to leave Rachel’s side, feeling protective as Rachel got emotional talking about the ordeal Luke had been through. Suzanne took Luke’s leash and softly walked away, but not far enough to put tension on the lead. She asked Luke to follow her, in a normal tone of voice. Luke did not budge. Neither did Suzanne. But she remained calm and quiet. She waited. She gave Luke a chance to process the request. After about 20 seconds or so, she walked back to Luke and Rachel, but did not repeat the command. She didn’t scold nor console nor reward. She talked to Rachel and the group a bit more, ignoring Luke which gave him time to think and to trust the situation.
Suzanne then walked away again, same distance, same command. Asking only once, she let him think about the invitation. Rather than repeat the command, as if Luke hadn’t heard it, or pull on the leash to use force to get her way, Suzanne’s point was to respect why Luke wasn’t joining her and patiently let him arrive at the decision to obey. Her method honored Luke’s choice, but she also worked with him to feel safe to move.
After about 15 seconds, with some trepidation, Luke joined her and she praised him heavily. This process continued, where Luke started to come more quickly and confidently and at a farther distance from Rachel. Suzanne’s philosophy is to respect that the dog knows why he isn’t doing something and trust that decision. Then work to find ways for the dog to comply within parameters that work for everyone.
Luke’s resistance wasn’t because he opted to be stubborn. He had a reason. And it’s no different from when a co-worker doesn’t follow up on something you expected. It’s not their intention to drop the ball. But before we sit at our desks and fester over it, or start reprimanding, or worst of all, create a poor performance evaluation without any discussion, be proactive and evaluate potential reasons for their lack of action.
Perhaps they didn’t know the timeframe or the priority. Or they didn’t know how to proceed with the task. Or maybe they didn’t agree with the next step and felt there was no opportunity for discussion about other options.
Suzanne was clear. Always trust that the decision the dog makes is made based on what they feel is best for them. It’s not that you have to accept that answer. The point is that in order to move forward productively, you need to understand why they feel the way they do.
Asking someone to do the same thing a second time without acknowledging why the first time didn’t work won’t likely change the outcome. The best thing you can do is understand it and then address it.