Owners often turn to dog trainers when they’re feeling exasperated. They report that their dog has the following behavior and training issues:
- Has no idea how to walk on a leash!
- Chews their shoes!
- Jumps all over the guests!
- Barks wildly at other dogs!
- Chases the cat!
Of course, we trainers have detailed behavior-modification dog training plans for all of those things. But to start with, I like to suggest this all-purpose, magic tip:
Pretend you have a tiger, not a dog.
Dog training – like so much of life – is all about expectations. If you’re in the wrong headspace, it’ll ruin any training plan you try. The right mindset is your greatest advantage when it comes to creating a home where you and your dog are living happily together. That’s where the tiger exercise comes in.
If This Were a Tiger, Would You Be Mad?
Close your eyes. Think about that last unfortunate incident with your dog. Now, adjust that visualization, and picture your dog as a tiger you took into your home.
How does that tiger alter your reaction? You’d probably feel a little less mad, and it’s likely that your thoughts would shift like this:
- He has no idea how to walk on a leash.
“Well of course he doesn’t! It’s amazing we’re out and about together at all, given how unnatural this is for him.”
- She chews all of our shoes.
“Good Lord, why did we leave our shoes out where the tiger could get them?”
- He jumps on the guests.
“How did we not realize that it was ridiculous to put the tiger in that situation when a tiger’s method of greeting is utterly unlike anything we humans would want to see?”
- She barks wildly at dogs.
“It’s natural that she’d have big feelings about those other animals. Clearly we should help her with carefully guided experiences before expecting her to just be chill.”
- He chases the cat.
“Why did we let those two species meet and interact without supervision?”
Don’t Expect a Dog to Know Our Human Ways
Obviously, your dog really isn’t a tiger, but every one of the empathetic reactions you’d probably have to a tiger’s behavior is 100% appropriate for a dog. Like captive tigers, dogs are a different species of animal just trying to adjust to living in a human world. Our expectations that dogs should immediately fold into our lives like Lassie are worse than silly; they’re terribly harmful – both to the dogs who are set up to fail and the humans who feel like they’ve blown it because their dogs aren’t perfect.
That’s why it helps to remind yourself (and everyone in your home) that you have a tiger in the house! A tiger is serious business, so:
You’re going to be proactive and set that animal up for success.
You’re going to think hard about how to manage guests.
You’re going to work diligently to tiger-proof the house.
You’re going to expect to be “on duty” when young kids or other animals are around.
You’re going to understand how completely weird all of this is for a creature who’s not in his native habitat, so you’ll expect those bumps in the road.
Finally, realizing you have a tiger who’s missing out on what he’d get if he were out in the wild, you would think like a good zookeeper would. “How can I better meet the needs of this captive animal, who wasn’t designed to Netflix on the couch?”
How Your Tiger Becomes the Best Dog
Flipping that mental switch from dog to tiger makes owners smarter, kinder, and more open to problem-solving. Do you know what that kind of nurturing does after a while? It turns that tiger into a dog who’s a pleasure to live with.
Mind you, most owners will still benefit tremendously from a great trainer with a dog behavior modification training plan, now that you have the right mindset. But the best trainer in the world can’t help you when you have impossible expectations about a member of another species who landed in your human home.