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Respect is a word that gives me pause...

I love words and language but the English language can be a really tricky thing. There are so many words where the meaning can be dependent on the context the words are used in, and then the use of a particular word can mean different things to different people depending on individual experiences, perspective, etc.

On that note, there are a few words that give me pause when I hear them used in conjunction with animal training and behaviour... one of which being "respect".

From the Oxford Dictionary: Respect (noun). A feeling of deep admiration for someone ... elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

The reason this word gives me pause is because, very often, the person using the word is frustrated about the LACK of 'respect' they feel they are being given by their dog. I can't tell you how many times I've heard something along the lines of, "My dog does that because he doesn't respect me."

But is a dog even capable of fulfilling a human's desire for, or expectation of, respect? Based on the Oxford Dictionary definition, is it possible for your dog to "admire" you for your "abilities, qualities or achievements"? That's a subjective question that leads us straight into the quicksand of human emotions where ego taints objectivity.

It's really not that uncommon for a dog's undesirable behaviour to be taken 'personally' by it's human, who perceives it as being intentionally defiant or disrespectful. But why is that? In part, I think it's a type of chain reaction where:

(A) Consciously or unconsciously, many humans think of their dog as being a personal possession and subordinate, and then...

(B) That belief of subordination creating expectations of the dog doing exactly what he's told, when he's told, which in turn leads to...

(C) Undesirable behaviour being deemed as insubordination, ie: intentional defiance/disrespect of the human's authority.

To top it off, we humans are good at absolving ourselves from responsibility and/or accountability for undesirable situations and, in turn, deflect responsibility onto others. And just how easy is it to deflect blame onto a subordinate that doesn't have a voice of its own? Yes, it's really easy.

Unfortunately (for the dog), when the reason for a behaviour has been misinterpreted and the blame has been affixed to the dog, the next words often uttered are, "He needs to be shown who's boss!" Uh-ohhh... you know where that's headed next.

Due to all of this, I always like to guide conversations away from notions of respect and disrespect, and drive them towards something people can talk about more objectively. Namely... trust.

Going back to the Oxford Dictionary again, it defines trust as a "Firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something." In my mind, "A belief in reliability" is a phrase that holds an immense amount of importance because building desirable behaviours and modifying undesirable behaviours is going to be much more attainable when you're working with a dog that trusts you.

A dog that trusts you is a more willing dog.

A dog that trusts you is a more relaxed dog.

A dog that trusts you is a more confident dog.

Accordingly, a dog that trusts you is in a better emotional state to learn.

My philosophy is to always build and maintain relationships with our dogs based on trust, because a relationship built in that fashion provides an excellent foundation to build so many other positive things on top of... even something that someone might try to define as 'respect'.

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