Dogs: What do we really want? Control or connection?
I first saw her, the young Husky, as the dogs and I entered the dog park. She looked sweet and friendly. She waggled her butt as she sidled up to me and asked for a pet. I reached down to pet her when I heard her scream and watched as she ran down the path to my left. At first I was confused. What had just happened? I watched her run, frenetic and scared, and then scream again and run in another direction. Then I got mad. I couldn’t see the shock collar around her neck, but I knew it was there. Someone was shocking her. I looked around the park, trying to identify the idiot shocking his dog and scaring the shit out of her.
I finally saw him standing across the park near the open field. I watched him as he called his dog’s name, and when she didn’t respond, hit the button on the remote in his hand. Immediately after that, I would hear the now familiar scream and watch as his poor dog ran in yet another direction. She was trying to escape he shock and didn’t know how, so she just kept running. She was completely terrified.
I couldn’t help but wonder what he hoped to gain from this experience. Control of his dog? A sense of superiority? A need to feel all-powerful? What was it that made him think shocking his dog was more preferable to using a more positive method of training? Why did he choose to shock his dog for not coming instead of praising her for coming to him?
tr.v. con·trolled, con·trol·ling, con·trols
1. To exercise authoritative or dominating influence over; direct.
2. To adjust to a requirement; regulate.
3. To hold in restraint; check.
4. To reduce or prevent the spread of.
As human beings, I think we often feel the need to be in control. The need to feel like we have a say or an ability to affect an outcome. I know I do. I try to control the outcome of many things in my life. But I know that the control I “think” I have is really more of an illusion of control than real control.
The man shocking his dog thought he was developing control of his dog through use of force. He thought that using a shock would force her to come to him. The reality is that he never had control – from the first shock to the last one. His dog was scared out of her mind and running in fear. She was so scared that she couldn’t even hear him call her name. The control he had was an illusion.
Recently, I read a blog post that addressed The Control Myth we all have when it comes to our dogs. It was written by a certified dog trainer named Michael Baugh. His words were quite powerful and insightful, and even though his post was directed towards other dog trainers, I think we all can take something from it.
At one point in the piece, Michael asks us “What do we want, control or connection?” What a great question. What is it that we want with our dogs? Is it really control we want? Or is it the bond and connection that we crave?
In Michael’s words… “The illusion of control is alluring. But connection, a real bond with another living being – that’s the stuff. That’s the stuff.”
Yes it is. It is “the stuff” that we all want.
Controlling a dog using force might make one feel powerful and in control at the time, but it never feels good in the long run. It doesn’t increase the bond with your dog. It doesn’t make you feel good about yourself either. It can often leave you feeling guilt and shame.
Control is temporary and fleeting. Connection is something strong and lasting and so much more powerful. It’s what fills us up. It’s what makes us smile when our dogs greet us at the door after a long day at work and it’s what makes us cry when we have to say goodbye to them. It’s what we crave. What we want most in this world.
The question is can we give up our need to control our dogs so we can have the connection we so fiercely desire?
I really hope so, because there is so much more to be gained by building a connection with our dogs than to be gained by control.
We can achieve great things with our dogs, or we can find greatness in the simple things with them. Even the dogs who seem to be out of control have a place with us. Chodron was speaking about our fellow humans when she wrote, “Be grateful to them; they’re your own special gurus, showing up right on time to keep you honest.” I think we can apply the wisdom here to our dogs as well. Who’s teaching whom? It’s hard to tell. Maybe not knowing makes the joy even greater. The Control Myth by Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC