As a dog trainer, I wear my “professional hat” when I patiently educate my clients to help them resolve their dog’s behavioral issues. The joke is that when I get home, the last thing I want to do is start training my own dogs. I think the saying, “The cobbler’s children have no shoes” fits here.
But I’ve come to realize that my relationship with my dogs (and cat) is so much more than just teaching them certain behaviors and consequently, I wear a variety of “hats” with them, so to speak. For example, sometimes I’m wearing my “dog-psychology hat” when I’m trying to figure out why one of my dogs will do a vertical jump to reach the counter tops, but is fearful of jumping over a 30” gate. Other times I’m wearing my “dog-cognition hat” when I marvel at how one dog has figured out that it’s “safe” to sneak off to eat the cat’s food if I’m on the phone and the computer at the same time, but not safe if I’m only on the phone or only on the computer. And yes, I sometimes wear my “dog-trainer hat” especially when the dogs and I are out for a walk. With 2 leashes in one hand, and clicker in the other, poop bags bulging out of my back pocket, telephone stuffed in another pocket, and a belt around my waist holding my treat pouch, we’re quite a spectacle for sure. And most of the time, I feel that even when my dogs are “acting out”, that the neighborhood residents can see how professional I am, how calm I handle the chaos, and how skillfully I make certain that both dogs’ desirable behaviors are being reinforced….And then there are those times when another “hat” appears.
The other day I had just returned from a walk with the dogs, when I remembered that my neighbor had asked me to water his plants. Rather than let the dogs run free, I kept them leashed together so I could quickly water the plants and then bring them dog indoors, as I was in a hurry. No sooner than when I went to grab the hose, one dog started screaming at the top of his lungs because he heard a noise. Suddenly the other dog took off running in the direction of the gate, dragging the other dog with her so that she could do battle with her arch enemy, the giant Husky, who was leaving her house for a walk. Now I had two dogs fighting the Husky at the fence, and the hose tangled around my ankle as the dogs’ leashes pulled on it like a boa constrictor! Suddenly I was no longer wearing my “dog-trainer hat”, but instead, my ugly “pet-mom hat”, and to the horror of any nearby spectators, they got to see the crazy “Mad Hatter”. I’m just grateful my antics didn’t end up on YouTube!
Without my “dog-trainer hat”, I forgot that my dogs knew how to come when called, but with my ugly “pet-mom hat” I resorted to, “Hey, @#$%^& dogs” and a few other choice words as I struggled to wrestle with their tangled leashes.
As we made our way back indoors, I had time to reflect, as I was now wearing my “zen hat”. I wondered about the “hats” my clients had. They, after all, don’t have “dog-trainer hats”, “dog-psychology hats” or even “dog- cognition hats”. What they do have is “pet-parent hats” and while I’m not suggesting that pet-parents have to resort to becoming the “Mad Hatter”, screaming at their dogs, but certainly it’s an easy place to go to when any of us loose our composure or become frustrated.
When I mentioned this incident to a friend, she quipped, “I thought you were a positive reinforcement trainer?” I told her that of course I was, but I wasn’t wearing my “dog-trainer hat” when I set out to water the garden.
Our dogs are learning-machines 24/7 and so it makes sense to be aware of the different “hats” we wear around them so that we can take advantage of sound teaching moments, and when we don’t have time to train, do our best to prevent the dogs from practicing undesirable behaviors.
Being human, we all have a “Mad Hatter” that we wear from time to time, but when it comes to teaching our dogs, that is one “hat” that needs to stay in a drawer, believe me, I know!