In his book The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday lays out a three stage process for approaching and overcoming any problem in your life:
- Get the right Perception of the problem
- Take appropriate Actions to overcome the problem
- Have the Will to persevere until you’ve reached a satisfying solution.
I’ve adapted Mr. Holiday’s concepts into a system that specifically addresses dog behavior.
And I clearly had no choice but to name the system, PAW.
Here is a summary of each of the three stages:
Diagnose the problem by observing the behavior of both the dog and owner, and asking them “the right questions” (as Suzanne Clothier says). You need to be objective and avoid broadly labeling behavior. Instead, answer who, what, when, where, and why. What parts of your answers can be controlled? What can’t be controlled? Be as specific as possible.During the Perception stage, it’s also important to choose a desired outcome. What does overcoming the problem look like? The perfect outcome may be unrealistic because of variables that you cannot control. In these cases, determine an outcome that is both acceptable and realistic.
Only when you perceive the problem correctly can you confidently take the right actions to reach the desired outcome. Acknowledge the variables that can not be controlled, and set them aside. These may include things like past history, genetics/breed characteristics, client lifestyle, income, and skill level. Your ideal plan might include enrolling the dog into your $1500 immersion training program. But for the most part, income level is not controllable and if your client simply cannot afford $1500, that would be a useless action to recommend. So choose actions that will effectively address the variables that can be controlled and are also fair to the client and dog. Collectively, these actions make up your Training Plan.
- The Will
The Will is where you clearly state the responsibility that falls on the client’s shoulders. You can only recommend the right actions to take – it is up to your client to carry them out. The client needs to have the will to overcome the behavior problem. This applies even if the action you recommend is to enroll the dog in a program where you will be working with the dog – it is up to the client to actually enroll. Remember that the only right actions are actions that are doable by the client. So given that you have recommended the right actions, lack of follow through can be attributed to the client not having strong enough will for that particular outcome. You may need to change the desired outcome and adjust the training plan to the new outcome in this case. You should be assessing your client at all stages. What obstacles might the client face? Where do you think they might they falter when implementing your plan? Identify those points to the client. Let them know that to reach the desired outcome, they need to pay special attention to getting past these points.