When I get a new client or talk about training with another trainer there are often a lot of labels used. I myself use labels to help reframe a guardian’s mindset. I hear words tossed around like:
While I have a general idea of how people usually define all of the previously mentioned words it’s not really helpful when I’m trying to come up with a way to change their dog’s behavior.
So step one is to define what you mean by each of the labels you used. What behaviors are you seeing. Is the dog growling? Is the dog walking around with a tail tucked? Is the dog chewing on items in the house? Yada yada yada… Yeah defining the behaviors you see takes longer than just labeling a subset of behaviors but it’s really important.
Why is definition important?
I’m a dog trainer. I change the behavior of dogs. I can’t make a ‘dumb’ dog ‘smart’ but I can teach a dog to sit at a door and wait to be released and I can teach a dog to come when called.
I understand that my first contact with people is often when they are most frustrated. Their dog is digging up the backyard, growling at guests, or jumping all over the baby. Unfortunately, when people label the dog as ‘X’ they are putting the blame solely on the dog. The dog’s guardian is not taking any responsibility for allowing the dog to be unsupervised in the yard, allowing guests to pet a dog with his tail tucked, or for not putting a gate up between the baby and the dog.
Labels also suggest that the dog is unchangeable because this is who he is. You can’t make a ‘dumb’ dog ‘smart’, duh! 😉 However, I’m a trainer I can help a dog learn to sit to greet people, and I can teach a dog that he can walk away from guests instead of growling, I can even teach guardians to enrich their dog’s life so they won’t be so bored and dig up the backyard!
Language is emotionally charged and often biased to the way we are feeling in the moment. It is very important to know that if you want to see behavior changes you must stop labeling your dog and start describing what you see and what you want to see instead! The words you choose to use either as a dog trainer or guardian matter. Choose the right words.