There is NOTHING in this world that upsets me more than labels. I don't mean the tags in the backs of my shirts, nor the pieces of paper stuck to my chest at social events and competitions. I mean the words we attribute to things that we don't fully understand. It happens all the time in regards to people's dogs. Every day I hear someone call their dog stubborn, stupid, aggressive, or lazy. Or maybe even manipulative, vengeful, or dominant. Or the "a word'... Alpha. I immediately pity those owners because they have put a wall up between them and their animals. I also feel bad for the animal, who will never truly be understood. And my heart aches for the relationship they could have but never will as long as the owner still uses labels to define their dog.
This is because when we label something, we close a door of understanding. We are telling the animal that we don't care what their reason is for their behavior. We stop listening. We give ourselves a false sense of explanation when really we have no understanding of why.
We as humans, do this when we run out of information. Our dog doesn't do the behavior we ask and we call them stubborn. A dog lunges at another dog and we label them aggressive. We call our dog and when they run the other way, we call them willful, or stupid. But a dog is none of these things. A dog is a living, breathing, thinking and feeling creature. Deeply connected to it's own perspectives and experiences. To quote Dr. Susan Friedman "Behavior is not who you are - it is what you do."
When we run out of information, we label. We blame the animal. But what if we simply asked "WHY?". Why did you go the other way? Why did you growl at me? Why are you sniffing everywhere? Why won't you look at me? Then, armed with the knowledge that no dog is inherently a label, find out the source of the issue. Why did you got the other way? Because whenever you call me, playtime ends.... Why did you growl at me? Because I never really liked hugs and I really don't feel well today... Why are you sniffing everywhere? Because I am feeling overwhelmed and confused... Why won't you look at me? Because you 're pulling on me...
Dogs are not labels. They are NOT Alpha, Selective, Dominant, Aggressive, Stubborn, Manipulative, Independent, Aloof, Stupid, Lazy, Vengeful, or Spiteful. They are not doing things to make you feel a certain way. They are responding to the situation presented to them. All dogs are doing the best they can with what is presented to them. If they're not succeeding in the way to expect or require them to, that is our fault, not theirs. And and it's our responsibility to help them.
Describe the behavior, and trace it back to it's cause. Don't stop listening. Don't stop asking why. Create a relationship that tells your dog you care what they are experiencing and will encourage and support them whenever they need it.
For more information in how to better understand, interpret, and know the why, visit:
Susan Friedman's Website
Suzanne Clothier's Elemental Questions
Suzanne Clothier's Article on "Hard to Train" Dogs
Effectiveness is Not Enough by Susan Friedman
Unlabel Me Campaign
Behavioral Observations Facebook Group