When to correct, when to help, and how to know the difference
One of the biggest challenges for owners (and trainers) is determining whether a dog is confused, bratty, or just not offering his or her best.
All of them require a different approach.
If a dog is confused we always want to help. We need to repeat the exercise, slow it down, lessen distractions, break it down into simpler pieces, problem solve (is it something we’re doing unconsciously with voice or body cues?), and perhaps guide more clearly and comprehensively. Correcting a confused dog will only make things worse, obviously.
If a dog is bratty we want to address the bratty. We want to disagree, correct, demand more, be exacting in requirements. If we don’t correct a dog who is being bratty we leave them and us stuck. Once they learn they can disagree and get away with it, you’ll usually see it get worse and worse. Not correcting bratty does the dog a disservice.
If a dog is just not offering his or her best, we have to figure out why. Is the dog not motivated? Is the dog unsure? Is the dog lazy? (Yes, this happens! Manny!!) Is the dog not convinced he or she needs to actually respond? (This can get into bratty territory as well.). Correcting this when inappropriate can be detrimental. Not correcting when appropriate can also be detrimental.
Much of the art of training dogs lies here. It lies in your ability to accurately read the dog. You need to look beyond simple actions or inactions and try to uncover the true intent and mindset of the dog. And this isn’t easy. It takes time, experience, and often, emotional distance to do this accurately.
One of my biggest recommendations to improve your read and get to the true stuff your dog is sharing, is to be a sleuth. You need to be a sleuth that watches every OTHER moment. Because every other moment is where the dog will often tip their hands and show their true colors. The other moments where you see uncertainty will often help you know uncertainty is at play. The other moments where your dog is obviously bratty, contentious, or disrespectful will help you to know that bratty is at play. The other moments where your dog is slow, not motivated, or lazy will help you to know that motivational issues might be in play.
The truth is, if you watch your dog carefully, in all contexts, you’ll see confidence or lack of confidence tendencies, attitude tendencies, motivational tendencies. These other moments when you’re not actually training, when regular life is going down, is when you often get the info you need to better determine how to problem solve and move forward when you are training.
Be a sleuth and learn who your dog is when he thinks you’re not watching. It’s these moments that will often help guide you to good decision making when you need it.
P.S. I watch dogs like a hawk! I watch everything they do. So many moments that people disregard as benign or non-training moments are where I find my biggest answers and clues to how to successfully problem solve and understand the dog I’m working with.