Control is not always about connection, but connection is what makes control possible.
Connection is about two minds working together. If the connection is not there between you and your dog, you will be unable to direct him, help him or really train him.
Connection can come and go. It takes time and practice to create a steady state of connection. Typically – and especially for adolescents! – the connection changes in quality sometimes minute by minute. Your dog may be nicely tuned in to you, but you become distracted by your cell phone or a text or your own thoughts, and you tune your dog out. Or you may be very aware of your dog but he’s forgotten about you because he saw a squirrel or smelled something wonderful.
Learning to stay connected is an important goal when working with any dog, particularly adolescents or dogs with behavior problems. Think of it as a balancing act that requires constant adjustment and awareness. It’s a lot like driving in traffic! You need to keep assessing and altering your responses based on what’s happening around you in order to prevent an accident. When driving on a very quiet road with few or no other cars around, you can relax and be less vigilant — but you still have to practice good driving.
Sometimes, we get careless because we don’t feel the need for deeply attentive driving. The same is true for you and your dog. Even in quiet settings, practice quality connection. It will pay off in big ways when things get more interesting or in more challenging situations.
One clue that the connection may need work is dependence on equipment. If you need equipment to maintain control of your dog, understand you’re hanging on to your dog’s body because you’ve lost his mind! Sometimes equipment is necessary, because the connection and the dog’s skills (or yours) are not strong enough for that moment’s challenges. That’s okay! Just recognize that training is a process, and keep aiming for the highest quality connection you can have in any moment.
When you make staying connected the goal of being with your dog in any situation, training equipment becomes secondary, a way to keep the dog safe, a way to send signals in addition to your verbal and non-verbal signals.
Many dogs are well connected to their owners, right until something more interesting shows up! While this may be understandable, it can cause problems if you don’t work to resolve this. Your dog needs to understand what I call “Even though…” training.
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