I’d like you to answer the following question with the FIRST response that comes to mind.
Do you have a stubborn dog?
Over the years, it has been my experience that many people respond with an affirmative, yes. Many times, the yes is accompanied by either a sigh of frustration or a defeated sense of acceptance.
I celebrated my birthday recently and it got me contemplating the mindset we have about personalities that are “stubborn”. A friend of mine wished me a happy birthday and noted we were fellow “rams”… meaning we both fall under the astrological sign of Aries.
Please, don’t stop reading! I promise not to go down a deep rabbit hole about birth signs and their perceived impact on our personalities. However, the perception that the Ram personality type is quite fitting isn’t lost on me.
Some people might describe me as stubborn, aggressive, or obsessive. I know, at times, I can be brash and quite headstrong in getting my way. In fact, as I think this through, I realize that I gravitate toward those same qualities when picking my personal dogs. The old adage: “dogs resemble their owners” rings pretty true, at least in reference to personality!
The good news is, there’s a flip side to the negative connotations that go along with my character traits. If we play with some synonyms, I’d say that persistent, bold, and determined are some of my best assets. I’m certain those traits are keys to the success I’ve had in helping others better understand their dogs and build stronger relationships.
So what if we switched the adjectives we apply to our “Stubborn” dogs to have more positive connotations? How much easier would it be to stay the course in training if we understood our dogs to be persistent in their pursuit of the cat, rather than stubborn in their resolve of not listening? Perhaps our dogs have their own motivations for chasing small animals (or herding the kids, or barking at the intruders in their home, etc) and they aren’t deliberately disobeying you.
What if you began to look at behaviors from your dog’s point of view? Try to be in his head for a few minutes and consider what he was originally breed to do? What might his perception of the world around him be? What motivations does he respond to and what does he tend to tune out?
Now evaluate how much time and effort you’ve honestly put into teaching the dog exactly what acceptable behavior you would prefer to replace the ones you don’t like. Have you taught your dog how to simply observe the cat and let it pass by, rather than stalk and chase it? Have you taught the barking dog how to Be Quiet? Let me point out that standing across the room hysterically yelling “Quiet” is probably just convincing the dog that you are in full support of his behavior and you’re joining in the noisemaking!
I don’t want to draw conclusions for you. After all, only you know how much effort you’ve invested in training and whether or not you’ve really taken time to understand behavior from your dog’s perspective. I do think it is fair to say that most of us draw conclusions about our dog’s behavior based on human perceptions and experience, because, after all, we’re human and it is the experience we are most familiar with! Just be mindful that human perception and experience is not the same as a dog’s.
So perhaps your dog isn’t so “stubborn” after all.
Perhaps they are determined, persistent, or feisty because prior to us acquiring them to fill our own needs for emotional support and companionship, they actually had a purpose. Perhaps that purpose is part of who they are. Perhaps those character traits are built into their DNA. You can either decide to fight against those traits or change synonyms and start channeling natural behaviors in a direction that will bring you both satisfaction.
….or you can start subscribing to your dog’s horoscope and hope things turn out for the best! 😉