Blog

What My New Dog Taught Me About Trust

Hope enjoys the catnip.

Hope enjoys the catnip.

I recently adopted a second dog, giving Reilly a new pack mate and me additional practice at being a pack leader. This was completely unplanned by me, but “it was written.”

“Hope” is a 2-year-old female Vizsla mix, and when I got the call about her needing a home, my heart recalled my first dog, a Vizsla named Kiva that I mention in “Pack Leader Psychology.”

Hope is super high energy, as Kiva had been, but fun loving, sweet and smart. She and Reilly get along well, considering Reilly is very much a pack leader type of personality and does not tolerate much impertinence.

One of the first lessons Hope has taught me is about trust. She has one intriguing habit that she learned from previous owners: When the door opens to go outside, she bolts out the door, looking over her shoulder at me, as if she is expecting me to chase her or scold her. Most owners would probably behave exactly as Hope was expecting — chase after her, grab her, or yell at her. They wouldn’t trust her.

When she first made a break for it like this, I had a brief urge to chase after her to make sure she didn’t run away, but I knew that this is not how a pack leader would behave. Instead, I calmly followed her out the door, paused to serenely survey the yard, and essentially ignored Hope. I modeled how the pack proceeds out into the backyard — calmly. I also communicate that I trust her to behave correctly. Of course, I also have the electronic collar on Hope and supervise her to make sure she does not start to wander. When she gets near the edge of the yard I say “yard” to teach her the boundaries.

With this modeling, and Reilly co-coaching, within a week Hope had stopped bolting out the door whenever it opened even a crack and was very dependably staying in the yard. She has learned that she can go outside nearly any time she wants and gets plenty of outdoor time, so that helps with the bolting habit as well.

Intriguingly, during this same time I have had a family in therapy with a 13-year-old who is behaving in ways that make the parents not trust her. Therapy sessions have focused on trying to educate the teen to behave in ways that engender her parents’ trust — stop sneaking out the bedroom window at night, etc. But, based on my experience with Hope, it has made me realize that perhaps the focus should be on helping the parents step back and trust the teen. Maybe if they let her do what she wants without micromanaging she’ll look back, realize they aren’t chasing after her (figuratively) and she’ll slow down and do the right thing on her own.  The teen will understand that her parents trust her to make the correct choices and will learn to trust herself as well.

It can be difficult in relationships to know who can be trusted, when and how much. But since pack leaders know they can’t control the behavior of others, we might as well trust that others will do the right thing, then react, rather than try to corral their behavior up front. Of course, the Cold War phrase “trust but verify” is also key: Supervising teens and dogs to show them the boundaries of their freedom to keep them safe is also a good plan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *