Unlabel Me!

I hear the trainer telling attendees about his concept of “Horsenality” on a recent TV program that I am watching. He is referring to “Horsenality” as in the horse having a personality.

I get it. Anyone that has spent time with an animal can attest to the fact that they are indeed individuals. However, what happens when we “label” our pets? When we think of them as stubborn, dominant, lazy, aggressive, etc. – for the most part, the labels have negative connotations.

First off, labeling is limiting. Any sentient being is under the influence of change.

Change is eminent. Think about it, if change was not a common trait of all living beings they would perish because they could not adapt to their ever-changing environment.

Change is at the crux of evolution and behavior.

Because of change we can teach different responses to our dogs, and they can learn to behave different as a result. So the minute we label something we are denying the very nature of change. My dog, cat, etc. is …choose your favorite label – as if the animal was suspended in time and space without the probability of modifying their behavior to suit their needs or as a response to their environment.

Another big problem with using labels is that it really does not tell us what the animal is doing! What makes a dog lazy? Dominant? Stupid? How do we define these concepts? Can we even begin to agree on what is behind a label?

For example: I get a call from someone needing help with their dog. They tell me that they are at their wits-end because their dog is freaking out over “x” thing.

Unfortunately, I can’t help them because I have no freaking clue what “freaking out” means. Is their dog bearing teeth? Peeing all over the house? Hiding under the bed?

You get my drift.

I think we humans love to label because our human brain is wired to make sense of the world by categorizing, by “labeling” everything. It is our natural bias.

However, if we choose to make the effort of observing the animal so that we can more accurately describe its behavior (what he/she is doing) then we can begin to describe or imagine what we want the dog, horse, etc. to do instead.

You see, there is truly no need to label the behavior (s) because labeling it will not produce the change we want or need in our pet. Another important aspect of describing what we see based on our [factual] observation is that for the most part we can better communicate to the animal what we need him to do instead.

It works like this: If I am clear on what I can observe I am also clear on how it can be different. Now, I can focus in how to produce the change and how to engage with my pet in order to make it happen! A win-win for both parties.

The antidote to labeling our pets is to engage with our dogs in a daily process of observation that leads to discovery. In other words, to have a relationship with them based on who they are today and we hold on to the possibility of transformation.

Under our watchful eye we can witness a new facet of their individuality developing – as a natural response from being alive and engaged with their environment.