A Weekend with Suzanne Clothier: The Elemental Questions

I was honored to attend a weekend-long event with Relationship Centered Dog Training expert Suzanne Clothier a couple of weeks ago, while she was here in Denver. A weekend full of learning with her was truly an amazing experience, and I took many great items of wisdom from it.

Out of that entire weekend, her “SEE the Dog: The Elemental Questions” made the strongest impression on me. I will admit it’s been hard to write about dog training lately, as I have felt some burnout at times. Many of my thoughts lately have been about the ethics—or lack of—within the dog training profession. The Elemental Questions Suzanne posited were very exciting and encouraging to me, as I view them as an essential way to determine if your approach with a dog is going to be based on trust and respect, and are in alignment with the ethics I strive to uphold.

The Elemental Questions are:

Hello? This is the introduction, the initial observation where we would look to the dog and how he interacts with the world.

Who are you? This is all about figuring out the dog’s perception—how does he respond to the items in his world? What does this tell us about the dog? Is he happy and confident? Or a shrinking violet?

Roo says, Yes! We can hang out together!
Roo says, Yes! We can hang out together!

How is this for you? This is the question you must ASK CONSTANTLY. It’s about being able to determine the mental, emotional and physical balance of the dog in the immediate situation. If we aren’t able to continue to ask and receive answers to this question, we risk damage to our relationship with our dogs, as the dog may be out of balance and in need of our intervention!

Can you? Is the dog able to pay attention to you? To sit when asked? To walk beside you? What is this dog able to do in this environment? With this distraction present?

May I? Will you allow me to look you in the eyes? Are you able to allow me to pet you? Do I have permission to take you by the leash for a walk?

Can we? What can we do together? Can we practice some tricks? Can we enjoy an outing to the park? Can we relax here together? This brings the relationship full-circle, being able to engage together in activities.

Answering these questions is very dependent on our ability to really read a dog’s body language, and make the best decisions based on that information. Dogs cannot tell us in English—we must be able to read, and respect, what their body language tells us. When we’re able to see what truly makes a dog happy, we can better fulfill his needs. When we’re better able to see the gaps in how comfortable he is, we can make plans to adequately address it. When we really understand the dog, and when he is able to think and learn with us, then we will have true training success.

I encourage readers to ask these questions of their dogs, and to always remember to ask, How is this for you? By really paying attention and listening to what our dogs tell us, we can make the best, most effective and efficient, and most humane training and behavior plans!

Let us know if we can help you better understand and build a relationship with your dog,
Owner, Delightful Doggies

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