BARKS from the Guild January/February 2015

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Label Alert

Labeling can be a problem in active listening. If a client labels, if the consultant labels, or if the label is not clearly defined for both parties, it can cause misunderstandings. If a client labels their dog as “dominant” a great question would be, “How does it look when your dog does that?” This question will get you more information. Avoid using positive punishment with clients for using dominance-related terms. It can be embarrassing and uncomfortable for clients if you say, “We don’t use that term anymore” or, “You are not using that term correctly.” The use of positive punishment will decrease your reinforcement history and thus lower compliance and your effectiveness. It is best to let it go and note it for another time, or even pass on educating on this topic at all if other things are more important.


As force-free dog trainers we love positive reinforcement. We all want to hear how great we are and how much we are helping, but some of the most productive behavior consulting can result from being able to accept criticism. If a client says, “This is not working for us,” go into active listening mode, ask open-ended questions and be open to what the client is sharing. Consider it a golden opportunity to shift your consulting into turbo drive. For example, if a client says, “I don’t understand why I need all this modification stuff, why can’t you just help me train my dog?”, you might respond, “Tell me more about that.” “When people come over and my dog barks and lunges at them, why can’t I just tell her ‘sit’ and why can’t we make it so that she just stops barking and sits?” the client might ask you. This dialogue has provided the consultant with very valuable information - clearly the client and the consultant do not have shared meaning about training versus behavior and specifically what is happening regarding this dog’s fear of strangers and how it sets the dog up to be unable to comply with cues. This is a watershed moment in which to educate the client about how a dog’s fear response precludes it from working operantly. The client’s criticism of the consulting process can become a tremendous turning point in the relationship if the consultant chooses to leverage it by actively listening rather than becoming defensive and closing communication.

about when that happened?” This open question will prompt the client to share more information, which will enable the consultant to give recommendations that will prevent similar circumstances from happening in the future. This provides a better result for both owner and dog. n

© Can Stock Photo/HighwayStarz

sometimes elicits defensiveness by its sheer abruptness. If you functionally analyze open questions, they tend to create connection and usually lead to more information being provided. Closed questions can often function as positive punishment, stop the flow of information and, even worse, damage the consultant– client relationship. Some examples of open questions include: “How did that work for you?” and “What was that like?” or even “How so?”


Observing a client’s reactions is an essential skill

Angelica Steinker owns and operates Courteous Canine, Inc. DogSmith of Tampa, FL, a full service pet service business and dog school specializing in aggression and dog sports. She is the National Director of Training for DogSmith Services and Co-Founder of DogNostics Career College.

Avoiding Confrontation

Force-free communication avoids confrontation. If a client discloses that they have hit the dog, verbally punishing the client by stating, “This is inappropriate and will likely make your dog’s problems worse,” is likely going to make the consultant ineffective. Alternately, the consultant can ask, “Can you tell me more BARKS from the Guild/January 2015


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