I watched a great video today, of Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Louis C.K., and Ricky Gervais discussing humor. One of the topics was how comedians get away with saying things that other people would be lambasted for saying. They each had a take on it, but it was Chris Rock who had the simplest, and most informative wisdom: “it’s offensive to talk about what people are, but it is funny to talk about what people do.”
This brought into clearer focus something I have been struggling to explain: when describing a dog and his or her behaviors or issues, use verbs, not adjectives. Adjectives are the diagnosis, and the diagnosis is an important part of a trainer’s job. Here is what I mean: imagine a person who goes to see a doctor.
Doctor: What seems to be the problem?
Patient: I have cancer. I think you should bleed me with leeches.
Doctor: I see… can you explain what you mean?
Patient: yeah, I saw it on television.
Doctor: Let’s talk about your symptoms, and then see what kind of contemporary approach might be best. What symptoms are you experiencing?
The dog trainer equivalent is like this:
Trainer: How may I help?
Client: My dog is dominant. I need to know how to establish myself as Pack Leader. How do I do that?
Trainer: I see… can you explain what you mean?
Client: yeah, I saw it on television.
Trainer: Let’s talk about the behaviors you are observing, and then see what kind of contemporary approach might be best. What is your dog doing that you don’t enjoy? What would you like them to do, instead?
“My dog jumps up, gets on the couch, and barks at me when I am eating, and I don’t like it. I want him to lie on his mat and be quiet while I am eating.” Now that is a sentence full of verbs! Teaching a dog to not jump, not bark, and instead to lie down and be quiet. This is a list of behaviors that we can definitely find solutions for – in both the reducing and increasing categories!
To be best served by a dog trainer, prepare a list of behaviors you would like to teach your dog, and a list of behaviors you would like to reduce in your dog. Work with a professional in a collaborative way to make a diagnosis, and find solutions that are appropriate for you, your dog, and your family. We are all tempted to use words that describe our dogs, like “dominant,” “selfish,” or “stubborn,” but once we tell ourselves that is what or who our dogs are, it is much more difficult to change what they do.