Are You Telling Stories?

Melissa's Top 10 Training Books

By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA

“He pooped on the floor because he was mad I went out with my friends.”
“She is jealous of my boyfriend, so she chewed up his watch.”
Have you heard statements like this…or said something like this yourself? These are assumptions we are making based on a world of human motivations. When we tell these stories, we are doing a disservice to our dogs.
First of all, we are assigning motivations that are usually not true. We do this in our human relationships as well. Have you ever thought someone is mad at you because of a short text, only to find out they were driving? We told a story to ourselves as to why they sent that short text, but our story was false. In the meantime, we got angry at that person for their (wrongly) perceived anger.

When we tell stories about our dogs and assign negative motivations to their behaviors, we are creating an antagonistic relationship with them. Instead of looking at their behavior as information, we create a story where we are often a victim to their villainy. This sets our dogs up to fail because we are already thinking of them as an opponent. When we think this way, we usually aren’t very interested in working WITH our dogs to modify behavior. We just want them “fixed”. As you can imagine, if you feel this way it can be a challenge to train your dog!

The next time you start to tell a story about why your dog did something, I encourage you to take a step back and get curious. First, recognize that you are telling a story and not just looking at the facts. In the examples above, the facts are:
1. He pooped on the floor.
2. She chewed up the boyfriend’s watch.
Second, instead of continuing down the story-telling path and letting our stories motivate our anger, think about how we can prevent those behaviors from happening. Management is your first stop in training! Going back to the above examples:
1. Increase house training protocols.
2. Make sure the watch (and any other important items) are not in an area she can reach.

Now you are managing behaviors to prevent them from happening again which is WAY better than telling a story. Because what good is that story? It may make us feel vindicated at the moment, but it does nothing for our dog or our relationship with them.