I work with many students. My job is to listen, and to help. I hear the word “stubborn” used often, for many breeds. While I could let this be a trigger word for me, I like to substitute it in my mind as the student telling me they have not yet found their dog’s motivation. Then it becomes a fun game and a challenge of getting to know what that particular dog finds motivating!
Is it play? What kind of play? Is it sniffing? So many dogs LOVE to sniff! Is it food? What kind of food? Many dogs are food motivated, but it depends what food to treat with based on the difficulty of the skill, the level of distraction around them, if they have scheduled meal times, etc.
I love helping my students see their dogs. I love bringing joy into their relationship as they connect and bond and better understand one another. I like helping students learn it’s less about “stubbornness,” and more about knowing what it is we are asking of our dogs, how challenging that may be, and what, in that situation, may be rewarding for the dog. Sometimes we have to go over how well established the skill is and if the dog really knows it. Then, we go over the dog’s reinforcement history for the skill… have they found value in doing it on request? And sometimes we go over why we want or need it.
When helping students consider why they want a behavior I frequently use examples… I often asked Lucy to “sit,” next to a dog for a cute photo. She would look at me, knowing the request, and not do it. I wondered first, why? She knows this skill with me in a variety of situations and around many distractions, and she’s certainly motivated by Stella’s as I always have them on me when working… Rather than ask her again, I considered her situation, she prefer NOT to sit next to the new-to-her dog or puppy she just met. I was having her pose, but she wanted to be sure she could move away quickly if the dog suddenly got too close into her personal bubble. Once I moved her a farther distance, to change the environment for her, she was happy to sit! I no longer ask her for sits when posing with a pup she just met. I was being stubborn… And the pictures are just as cute!
Our dogs often communicate with us. And all behavior has a reason… Maybe they don’t know the request, or maybe they are more motivated to do something else. If it’s a skill we need, then we should revisit training and work with our dogs to get there!