In group training classes it is common to touch base with the students on how their week went. Without missing a beat they will inform you of everything that went wrong. The dog stole the cat food, they chased the cat across the yard, or wouldn’t leave the turkey poop in the field. It is so easy to get stuck on the negative that it’s time to shift the focus and start asking “What went well?” encouraging owners to focus on the positive.
There Are No Bad Dogs, Some Just Need Extra Guidance and Training
Encourage owners to look at the dog’s behavior objectively. Help them realize that the dog has been set up to act that way. They have been influenced by the environment, genetics, or information they have received from the handler. When observing the dog, help them ask “Why is my dog doing this?”
Reinforce the Behaviors You Want to See Again Rather Than Reinforcing the Dog
Don’t punish the dog for acting like a dog. Barking, chewing, pulling on the leash, not coming when called, pottying inside and so on are all normal doggie behaviors that most people don’t like. Owners usually view behaviors as bad, good, abnormal, or normal but it really boils down to desirable and undesirable behaviors which should be established by the owner.
Time to Rephrase
To replace the “bad” behavior, train an alternative “good” behavior while managing the environment to prevent the “bad” behavior from occurring. Reinforce the absence of the undesirable behavior or interrupt it with a trained behavior before it is reinforced. What speaking with clients avoid saying, “We don’t like when the dog…” and consider saying “We want the dog to …” or “We need to work on….” For example, instead of saying “We don’t want the dog to jump on visitors when they come over,” we could say, “We want the dog to lie down on his mat when visitors come over” or “We need to work on polite greetings with the dog.” It gives the owner a picture of what they do want and set an obtainable goal.
Once the goal has been set, make it a habit to check in each week with them and ask “What went well?” It will keep the client on track to reach their goal and remind them to focus on the positive which, as we know, with practice will get easier.
What other questions could you ask clients to help them think positive and gain information about their progress?