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Philosophy or behavior?

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You had a bad training day. You got angry. You yanked at your dog, jerked them around a little bit and generally behaved badly. Ugly stuff.

What happens now?

One answer is to blame the dog. The dog deserved it. The dog is stubborn and hard. There is no other way to train such a tough dog.

You can certainly handle your cognitive dissonance by rationalizing that your dog is harder, tougher, and more stubborn than other dogs – you had no choice!

The other option is to be logical. Accept that humans make bad decisions. We react without thinking. We get upset and do things that aren’t great, emotions over logic, and that will never change because no one is 100% logical.

Now, step back and decide what you’re going to do next.

When you make a bad decision, you can change your philosophy to match your behavior, or you can change your behavior to match your philosophy.

Rationalization is the name of the game within the human condition. It’s your choice what drives you but you do need to be mindful and make your choice consciously because unconscious decisions rarely leave the individual accountable.

Logical decision-making or rationalization?

The most common reason for bad behavior in dog training is a human who doesn’t know how to do better at that time. They don’t know how to handle a problem, or they lack the skills to apply the training correctly. And maybe on top of that, they had a bad day, so they’re not in a good place to do better. Behavior happens. Human behavior too!

What happened yesterday is not important.  I’ve heard tales that would make your skill crawl and still…they are not important.  I can move past those stories because I don’t think they define the person standing in front of me.  They define the person of yesterday and that is no longer relevant.  The question needs to be this:

What are you going to do about it? Make a conscious choice and remember to keep the reality of human error front and center.  You did not show bad behavior because you’re stupid or because you’re a crappy trainer or because you have a bad dog.  You showed bad behavior because you are human and you are learning.  You are balancing what you believe with what you know and that can be pretty hard to do when it suggests you are lacking. And frustration often shows as aggression – for both dogs and people!

If you don’t know what you should’ve done then that’s fine too. There’s a lot of information out there these days. People to talk to, groups to join, and directions to explore. Not knowing how to handle something within your philosophy doesn’t mean you need to change your philosophy. It means you need education. Hopefully, you can get it in a safe space.


About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

6 responses »

  1. Brilliant Denise. Sometimes it can be a long road to become a logical trainer. A lot depends on your general temperament. In the end its so worth it :-), But I believe it will for ever be a work in progress.

  2. Been there. Done that a long time ago before I had concrete long term training plans and goals and steps laid out to achieve them.

  3. Denise,

    I love the way you write, you’re thought provoking and down right timely blog posts makes me a better teacher for my companion. I’m grateful for your strait forward pose.

    The guilt that I occasionally feel from being a flawed human dealing with a brain injury and a reactive dog can be overwhelming, and this post has helped me to reevaluate me. I’m not the person I was. But I can still do right by my dog with the reality of me today (even though I may have a moment of frustration). My take away? I don’t need to be perfect to be effective. Just be the best that I can be with mindfulness and of good mechanics.

    To hell with the nay sayers, I’ve got this. I’ll stop listening to those who don’t have an educated opinion, and listen to my 30 years of past experience.

    Thank you!

  4. Hi Denise

    Last April I behaved badly at a trial. I had been working real hard with my Brittany who mostly runs off in arenas where there are potential of birds (who would have thought). She did great on Saturday and then on Sunday she ran off, tried to climb the wall to get to the birds and then pooped in the arena. I was modified. Cried all the way home. I wasn’t mean to her but she had to listen to my crying lecture all the way home. I have tried to redeem myself and learn from my mistake and behavior. I have not trialed since but we continue to practice.

    The trial comes up again in April. Any last minute advice?

    Thanks. I really love all your work and wished I discovered you when my Brittany was a puppy. My 8 month old is getting the benefit.


    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Absolutely loved this.. and it came just in time. Thank you for all the work that you do and I enjoy immensely all of the great things you share!

    • Thank you Denise. It is so important to remember that we are (I am) human, and that is why I am imperfect (to put it mildly). Onward through the fog. Thanks to you and FDSA for being a lighthouse.


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