“Those dog owners didn’t follow through…”

How many times have you heard a dog trainer utter these words? Ever find yourself uttering them? It’s ok…I don’t judge.

Or how about this one?

“They stopped coming to [training club, group classes, lessons etc] because they were too lazy.”

I hear that one all the time. In fact, I just got momentarily sucked into a discussion on the very topic.

Or what about this one?

“They didn’t ever compete because they lacked perseverance.”

Or how about this one?

“The dog didn’t listen because he was being stubborn.”

These are common phrases that I hear dog trainers and dog owners alike mutter every day. And at the same time, I see dog owners quit working with their dogs – resign themselves to the fact that they’ll never get it right and give up the process altogether.

Or I see people leave dog sports in droves…

And I see dogs being blamed for change that doesn’t happen.

I want to tell you a quick story…

When I was a kid, I didn’t learn the same as everyone else.

Listening to someone lecture on any topic was particularly challenging for me. It is very difficult for me to absorb large amounts of information via lecture and actually digest it.

I knew this. So most of the time, I ended up teaching myself the materials.

I’d go home, dive into my textbook and not come up for air for days.

For that reason, I still love the smell of old textbooks. And I still own a few of my favs.

But sometimes, reading the textbook wasn’t enough.

Internet wasn’t a big thing back then so I didn’t have the luxury of every possible bit of information known to man – true, fake or otherwise available at my fingertips.

So if the textbook failed me, or if I couldn’t make sense of the information presented to me, I’d fail too.

It was rare that it happened. I was a good student, made the dean’s list regularly, and took my academics seriously. But there were times I struggled. And times I wanted to quit.

Take AP Biology for instance.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out.

I struggled and searched my textbook for answers before resigning myself to the idea that I would finally get my first ever C.

I felt like a failure.

I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

My grades were important to me, and I felt so defeated that I couldn’t salvage this one.

I wanted to give up…

To quit…

Next year, I’d definitely not take AP anything!

Until my teacher, Mrs. Quezada offered to help.

I was shy about asking for help. Shy in general (if you knew me now, you’re probably surprised hearing that – but it’s true!). Timid, insecure and fearful. But Mrs. Quezada insisted. She wasn’t about to let me fall by the wayside.

She coached me, worked with me one on one outside of class and ignited a love for science that I’d never known I had.

Long story short, with her help I not only understood the science, I adored it. And I turned that C into an A+.

Because she invested the time to understand why I was failing, I went on to pursue a degree and career in biochemistry – (clearly I’m not doing that anymore – but I think fondly of my days in the lab and I still love to sit down with my favorite science textbook for a little geeking out.)

I can only imagine what would have happened if she behaved in the way so many dog professionals do….

In the way that so many dog owners do…

If she saw me quitting and thought “She’s just lazy…”

Or she needs to “make it happen” for herself. If she doesn’t, she “lacks perseverance.”

Or “she didn’t follow through and THAT’S why she has a poor grade.”

Or “she’s just being stubborn”.

But she didn’t. She said “She’s quitting. I’m not reaching her. I need to change my strategy.”

And because she did, she awakened and inspired me to entirely change my path.

So dog trainers and dog owners, this is for you.

Dog Trainers: If your clients aren’t following through, try a different strategy. Learn how to better motivate and inspire them. Change your approach. It’s up to you to reach them.

If people are being “lazy” there is a reason. Find out why. Because it’s likely what you are doing isn’t in line with their motivations…

Or what you are doing feels overwhelming, unattainable, and they just don’t understand.

If your club is losing members, find out why. What are their reasons for being there? How can you better support them to reach their goals?

And if your dog is misbehaving, there is a reason. It’s your job to uncover it. Perhaps you aren’t effectively motivating them. Or perhaps they don’t understand the lessons you are teaching. Get help if you need to. Because it’s up to you to make behavior change happen.

My favorite quote from my good friend, colleague, and former Navy SEAL Larry Yatch is “Leadership is not a trait. It’s represented by observable actions.”

Truth is, we are in leadership positions every day.

In our careers…

With our clients…

In our clubs…

With our dogs…

In our families…

And if the actions of those we are leading – be it our clients, club members, or even our dogs – aren’t what we want, it means our leadership strategy is ineffective.

We aren’t communicating our lessons in the right way…

Or we are failing to properly motivate and inspire…

So we can place blame. And write off those who don’t follow through. Let them slip through the cracks.

Thank goodness Mrs. Quezada didn’t do that all those years back.

Or we can rise to the occasion. And understand that as a leader, it’s our job to make change happen. And if change doesn’t happen, it’s up to us to figure out why.

Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

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