Be A Better Advocate

  • By: Ashley Sculac

I’ve heard numerous times within the last few weeks from so many dog owners this idea that the dog “needs” to know right from wrong. Their dog has to have strict obedience, and there is no room for error. While I do believe that to some degree, it seems like the emphasis and responsibilities are laid entirely on the dog.

That training and teaching have become a thing of the past. That idea got me thinking to when I began my endeavors into dog training. I started dog training for that very reason and in the past few years, I’ve dedicated much of my time, energy and money into attending seminars, taking online courses, and talking with many revered professionals within the dog training community. I’ve worked with a handful of trainers that helped me develop strict management and obedience on my dogs. Both of which, happened to be pit bulls, and are probably one of the most misunderstood and feared dogs in our country.

I remember telling my first trainer that SAME exact sentence when I began training my first rescued pit. “His life depends on me and I need him to sit when I say so. He has to be obedient because if he makes a mistake, it will be his fault.” I went on to perfect his “downs”, “sits”, and alter his lifestyle to match my expectation of what I thought he should be. I conformed the dog in front of me, to become what I wanted him to be. I was being an advocate for him and the breed… or so I thought.

It’s been a few years now, and I’ve dedicated the majority of my time to training with more of an emphasis on relationship, thanks to my mentor. Through Jay’s philosophy and foundation work, my training has taken a different view point. For those of you who follow his work, his “Faith In Handler” drill is a beautiful example of this advocacy in motion. Now, when I hear these similar statements, …I can’t help but think that owners and people should step up to the plate and learn to be better advocates. I do believe dogs should have solid foundation and obedience is certainly important when managing through emergency situations. But should they have to live under those tight restrictions in their daily life?

People should be held more accountable when putting their dogs into situations in which they are not ready for, or can not mentally handle. It took me a while to realize that my dogs don’t “need” to be friends with every dog they meet. They have a few friends and they get along beautifully. We can walk together on a leash, through large crowds and pass people without issues. They can navigate the foreign world they live in, because I have learned them. I took the time to get to know them, individually, and have learned to make decisions based on those findings.

My teaching changed from making sure THEY knew how to react, to now ME making decisions on their behalf. It took time, and many mistakes later, but I think it’s so important to hold both parties equally accountable. Instead of blaming my own dogs for making an incorrect “decision”- I taught myself to reflect on “how can I make this better so we don’t encounter it this way again?”. When I teach my students, this is a large component of what I convey to them. I understand completely why dogs should have a basic level of obedience and even to some degree, a more advanced skill set. But- it’s so important for the owners to be equally responsible.

Learn to be an advocate.


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