Language shapes our perception. It affects how we feel about things.
How do you feel when you say you're dog won't do something?
Do you feel frustrated, angry, irritated?
How do we label our dogs when we say they won't do something?
Disobedient, stubborn, willful?
What happens if you change that won't to can't? Does it change your feelings?
Does it change your view of your dog?
In most cases when I hear a dog won't listen the reality is that the dog can't listen. There are so many reasons why our dogs may not be able to give a behavior we think they know.
The dog may be in an environment that is overwhelming or distracting and unable to perform commands they can at home. Most often the behavior hasn't been proofed in different environments. We assume because our dog knows sit at home they should be able to perform it wherever we go when really we need to train in different environments so our dogs can generalize the behavior.
Often times I hear a dog won't listen when what's really going on is a lack of clarity. We can be so unclear with what we are asking. Dogs need consistency and clarity. Most of what we are asking them to do are not natural dog behaviors. They want to work with and cooperate with us and it's our job to be clear on our expectations.
I often find that we are not really fully comprehending a dog's level of development. A puppy is a puppy not fully capable of all that a fully developed adult dog can do. I think most people recognize this for puppies but we fall into this trap during adolescence. They look more like an adult but again they do not have the brain development and emotional control that a healthy adult dog has. With this in mind, are we asking our dog to do something they are not quite capable of yet?
When we use the word won't we put the responsibility(blame) on the dog. If we can step back and realize that our dog can't perform the behavior we are looking for we can shift our perspective to what we can change, our own behavior. What can we do to set up our dogs for success? Do we need to practice a cue or command in different environments? Do we need to use higher value treats? If we have multiple people in our dog's life, do we need to clean up our cues and vocabulary so we are all on the same page? Do we need to remember what stage of development our dog is in and help support them through that? Are we taking into account our dog's emotional state when we are asking for something? Are they so over threshold they can't think?
The next time you catch yourself saying your dog won't do something, pause and consider what might be affecting your dogs ability to do the behavior. When we start looking for what we can change to help our dogs we are on the road to a more enriching and rewarding relationship with our dog one with less frustration and more empowerment. When we shift from won't to can't we start looking at what is influencing our dog's behavior and what we can change to support our dog's learning and get the results we want.