Chris Shaughness

author, speaker, animal lover

Pet Relationships,  All Articles

Always Be Teachable

Dogs never fail to amaze me in their capabilities to teach us, if we are open to being taught. I believe that no matter how many dogs you’ve owned, how much training, years of experience and titles you hold, there’s always more to learn and experience from them. Unless our egos get in the way. I have met many people ranging from no experience with dogs, all the way to those who have decades of experience and many certifications. I’ve noticed a pattern. People who admit they know nothing about dogs are excited and open to the learning experience. Any teacher who comes along is very welcome. On the opposite end are those people who have “earned their stripes” by putting in years of hands-on training, classes, and lots of working experience. These people, interestingly enough, are also open to learning more. They have seen that when working with dogs, it can be a humbling experience and there’s always more to learn. It’s the people in the middle of this spectrum that I find interesting – I was one of them.

Some of us, once we get a little bit of knowledge and success with dogs, start to take on an arrogance that we cannot be taught anything. I often see this phenomenon with shelter, kennel and rescue workers as well as with some novice dog trainers and agility instructors. Their hearts are definitely in the right places – to help the animals – but the ego can easily interfere. We like to be thought of us as special because of the way we handle the dogs. Is it that all-so-human need to be recognized and feel valuable? But just one dog can quickly humble you.

I can honestly write about this because I went through this phase! I had volunteered for a few years at a local shelter, then achieved my certification as a behavior counselor. I was sure that I knew it all and that I had a “gift” for working with the animals. People bolstered this image of myself by telling me that I was so wonderful with them. I thought I was St. Francis incarnate! It only took one dog to shake me out of that delusion. I was not invincible and shielded from being bitten. It was a wake-up call that I had to put my ego aside and continue to learn. I was lucky that the bite was not serious.

A dog’s growl or bite is a warning sign. If we ignore it and refuse to be “taught” by the dog, a more severe incident is bound to occur. That’s how life seems to work; signs are all around us to learn but we tend to not pay attention until we get bitten – literally or figuratively. Dogs are egoless creatures. Whether you are someone who owns a dog or if you work with many dogs, let’s take a lesson from them and put our egos aside. Life is full of constant learning experiences; we can’t get around it!