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Building Autonomy with Trust

I was scanning thru some videos on Facebook the recently and because I’m a parent and a dog trainer my feed is usually split between dogs, and babies. Sometimes, I come across some stuff that, unbeknownst to the creator or poster, I apply to both dogs and kids.

I came across a short story from Dr Justin Coulson. If you want to look at the video check it out here. While the majority of the video talked about how to create an independent child with good values and judgment his take-home message was very empowering for the animals that we keep as pets.

He compared control, telling (our animals) they must do something because you said so, with autonomy, teaching (our animals) the rules and the why behind the set of rules and allowing choice. I’m paraphrasing here and inserting animals in the place of children but it applies to both species. 

“Force creates resistance. But great relationships build autonomy, which allows us to leverage trust, which builds massive influence.”

Dr. Justin Coulson

So often we teach our dogs to “insert behavior” and then we require it because we said so. We so often forget to teach them the concept and how it benefits them in the long run. For example, I talk about teaching dogs who struggle with other dogs to look at their owners when they approach another dog. Owners understand that. However, until we’ve taught the dog that their owner will move away from the barking dog when they look at their owner the dog has no idea why we would require that and they so often don’t comply. When the dog doesn’t comply the owner’s response is to ask harder, louder, more physically which only makes the dog more worried. “Force creates Resistance” and when we have this resistance training becomes a much longer process.

However, when we build autonomy and allow the dog to make the correct choice on his or her own, this allows us to “leverage trust, which builds massive influence”. This is why in my training plans we always go at the dog’s pace. If they’re not performing a particular behavior I ask a set of questions: 1) Does the dog understand the behavior fluently 2) Does the dog understand the cue 3) Is the environment different? 4) Is the dog feeling okay physically? 5) Is the guardian feeling okay today? 6) Is there anything else that I’m missing? 7) How can I make the next repetition successful so that I can continue building this behavior?

Allowing choice feels slow to us “Hoomans”. However, in the long run it builds autonomy and trust and makes things so much easier in the future because we can trust them to make the choices we want them to.

Clicker Training Autonomy Choice
Blossom loves putting her paws on the FitBone.
Photo Courtesy of Kristen Rush Photography 

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