KEEPING IT SAFE: In mid-February, I made a trip that reminded me for the millionth time that feeling safe is important. It was supposed to be a pleasant 3 hour drive, with 2 nice ladies and a Great Dane for company. My driver was a professional driver (literally), and she drove with evident skill and care. Food, shelter, water — all were in place. My belly was full. I had a hot coffee in my hands. I was warm and comfortable. But… I wasn’t feeling safe, and that meant all the good things didn’t matter much. The iced roads were not under anyone’s control. I could feel the undercurrent of anxiety (what if we slid off the road?) at all times. Sometimes, that gave way to actual fear (what if that oncoming car crashes into us?). At times, it was difficult to pay close attention to the conversation which did lapse into shared worry & silence when we hit particularly bad stretches. We were all immensely relieved to safely arrive at our destination. Almost magically, as soon as we were safe, our ability to think, breathe, converse and interact returned to 100%.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow positioned safety just above food/water/shelter (physiological homeostasis) in his hierarchy of needs. I teach some aspects of Maslow’s work in my seminars, reminding handlers that if we violate our dogs’ need for safety, we automatically infringe upon their ability to learn, to think, and to perform. Feeling unsafe is often at the root of failure by our dogs to perform or respond as we think they should. Uppermost in their minds is that need to feel safe. When we push dogs into feeling unsafe – something we can do as easily with treats & praise as with any correction – we push them out of balance, out of what I call the Think & Learn Zone. And we push them into a place where they learn that we cannot always be trusted to keep them safe. The lack of safety is one reason why counter-conditioning and desensitization often fail. Here’s a video from one of my RCT seminars that explains more.
Honoring the dog’s need for safety is an important aspect of Relationship Centered Training™.
“Keeping It Safe” by Suzanne Clothier