What would you most like your dogs to be?
When I came back from a meeting last night, my husband relayed a conversation he had with someone from our neighbourhood on the beach yesterday evening. After spending some time chatting and watching the dogs, the person said "Your dogs are so happy!"
That really got me thinking: as a dog trainer, behaviour practitioner and dog "parent", what do I want the defining characteristic of my dogs to be? Do I want them to be:
1. The most "intelligent" 2. The most "obedient" 3. The most "loyal" or "protective" 4. The most "famous" 5. The most "well-behaved"? 6. The dog with the most titles and awards?
These ideas above are often what people envisage when they think of training. Success is defined as a dog who "obeys" every "command" and achieves in various sports. But these things really don't automatically translate to a happy, secure and content dog. Too often a dog's happiness (emotional well-being ) is sacrificed for the sake of these goals. While I know that many scoff at the idea of even talking about a dog's happiness, I honestly do believe that emotional well-being should be the primary goal of all our training and interactions with our dogs. If we love our dogs, obedient, but miserable (stressed, anxious, depressed or conflicted) is not an acceptable outcome. If we truly want the best for our dogs, titles achieved at the expense of our dog's ability to cope with and enjoy life are hollow prizes.
For our dogs to fully enjoy life and for us to be able to give them enough freedom to do so, training for responsiveness to cues and for what to expect in particular situations is vital. But the way that we train should always be governed by promoting emotional health. Sacrificing emotional health will in fact end up being detrimental, not only to our dogs, but to their behaviour as well.
So, my dogs may not be the most "obedient" or have the most titles (and actually they do pretty well in this area too), BUT yes, I am proud to say that they are indeed happy. And that means more to me than anything else.