The Importance of Being Earnest

17 Nov
Not just the name of one of my favourite plays…the importance of being earnest can never be over emphasised!
Those of you who know me personally know that I have a very low tolerance level for bullshit…not the nicest way to define my feelings perhaps but in all honesty, and thats what this is all about, being honest, its the way I speak. I sugar coat nothing with my clients; I never make promises I cant keep and dont ever ask me if something makes you look fat, cos Ill tell ya!
Having worked with dogs for so many years, my human sensibilities and manners have been dulled and my ability to cope with the affectations of some humans has completely diminished.
I like honesty. I like all the layers peeled back and the facts laid bare, even if sometimes the truth is uncomfortable…and it s a quality I revere in dogs above all else. Never met a dog who told a lie like a human could!
Some time ago, I was asked by a local dog trainer for some help with her dog, who was aggressive towards other dogs; she had hoped he would be great as a dog to use in her business to help socialise other dogs, but instead he had attacked, with serious consequences, several other dogs and she needed to get a handle on his problem because he was on his last chance.
I had never met this trainer, I had heard of her, but had no idea of her personality, lifestyle etc, so I asked her, as I do all of my behaviour clients, to write me a full story of the dogs life, what he eats, what he does for exercise, how he interacts with people, where he sleeps etc…a full ‘fact find’ and an honest one, is the key to a succesful behavioural consultation.
She was very frank in her ‘fact find’ but I couldnt see anything  on paper that would make this dog so nervous that he would be aggressive [remember..all aggression stems from fear on varying levels]..I was really perplexed and eagerly awaited our meeting here at the ranch so I could meet this dog whose behavior didnt add up. He ate well, had plenty of exercise that was wonderfully breed specific, had been well trained and spent so much time with his family it was awesome..all the ingredients of a perfect dog, surely?
When she arrived at the ranch, the answer hit me as soon as we met…the lady micromanaged every move this dog made from jumping out of the car to having his leash taken off and running in the meadow. As we watched him run, she found it impossible to stop talking to him and kept up a steady stream of commands throughout the whole first half hour, after which point, I sat her down and told her to stop talking.
 She was dumbfounded!
 I didnt pull any punches at all, and told her that if I were her dog I would be suicidal because he was never given any option to make his own decisions, thus never given any confidence to grow in himself and learn to make good decisions.
Control is a great thing to have over a dog, but we forget so often that they are free thinking, carefree creatures with a sensible mind of their own and a keen sense of logic if allowed to develop it. Dogs learn experientially like humans do, and need to make a few mistakes from time to time, so they can grow from them.
We started to work on some exercises with her not talking at all, and showing him what she wanted by ‘guiding’ him with body language as opposed to full control and verbal commands. I wanted her to focus on the depth of the relationship she had built over the years with this dog and let that shine, instead of her words being center stage. At first, he didnt quite know how to handle it, but she persevered, at first with small triumphs, and then, over the summer when they travelled with their dog, they saw some amazing results. Two months later, she emailed me and told me that her dog had just hiked and romped with his 200th new ‘friend’ with no worries and no ill effects. Previous to this, he had not played with other dogs without fighting since he was a puppy.
Now, the reason for me telling you this is not because you’ll think Im the cats whiskers [although, of course, I SO am!] but its because what caused this to happen was the truth being told. She later shared with me that when she relayed my findings and thoughts to her husband he smiled and told her that yes, she talks too much; he clearly hadnt wanted to hurt her feelings by telling her before.
Of course the truth hurts sometimes, and it mostly offends the crap out of people, but in my world, where people come to me looking for reasons why their dog is aggressive or so fearful that they are self mutilating, or have such severe separation anxiety that they are running through plate glass windows, if I dont tell the honest truth [which is why I called this blog ‘The Dogs Honest Truth] then things don’t get fixed, and dogs get sent to the gallows. In the business of dog rehabilitation, honesty is life or death.
I am proud to say therefore that I have offended many people in my time; people who although I have warned them up front that my manner is brusque and yet honest, have afterwards told others that they actually did want me to soften the blow a little if I thought they needed to change their ways to fix their dog. In each case, though, they have been galvanised by my supposed rudeness to change and thus, save their dogs.
Honesty, my friends, in all things…please. Even if it hurts a little.

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