Change Yourself Or Change Your Dog?

Some human psychology experts say there are 5 Big Aspects of personality: Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism. Each aspect can be measured using personality tests, and they vary in intensity on an individual basis. As a general rule, the more you are like another person, the more likely you’ll get along. For example, let’s say you are in a partnership of some kind (marriage, co-worker, business venture, etc.). A person that is very Extroverted is more likely to be in conflict with someone who is very Introverted, and vice versa. Each will think the other is “doing it wrong” when it comes to social situations. The exception to this rule is if each person respects the differences of the others as a strength, and knows when one person is best suited for this situation but not that, and they agree to work with one another to accept these differences rather than butt heads over them.

Labrador Retrievers make great family dogs
Labrador Retrievers make great family dogs

I have led, or been part of, many teams over the years, from being 1st chair clarinet in high school band to the animal welfare projects I do today. I know that it is important to have a team with a marriage and compilation of many personality types in order to accomplish our Vision and Mission. Just the other day, I was working on a very important project. I counseled, as one of the team leaders, some thoughts related to how to best work together. My first message was a quick text message. I had mentioned that I had sent over a draft cover letter regarding an animal welfare proposal for him to finish and review. But I also said this: “It’s important that you get a buy-in from your team along the way. This is why I’m saying to get this before your Board of Directors before it (the letter) is presented. If you run out ahead of them too far they will get upset and won’t help you. That’s just human nature. Taking an extra day to let them review this and approve it will make them feel a part of your efforts and they will give you their energy along the way and we need that.”

These are all good people, but, as is natural, they are all individuals with different personality strengths. Getting them all on board early, and with a full commitment and understanding of what we are seeking to accomplish, will give us the greatest possibility of success. But note what I didn’t do. I didn’t see or counsel this from the negative, trying to scheme or bulldoze a way around any potential objections, or finding a way to cut this or that person out of the project, or to advise that he give ultimatums to anyone who had a suggestion that might disagree with the direction we were going. I accept the personality differences that make up successful groups. No person’s personality makeup is ideal for all situations.

What I never try to do is try to change people into someone they aren’t. If you’ve ever been married, you know this concept. It is an impossible mission to change someone into someone else, and make them walk on eggshells when they don’t conform to they type of person you demand they be. You also can’t change who you are, so you had better learn to like yourself, because you’re going to have to be you for a very long time.

What does this have to do with owning or training a dog? Dogs also have personality traits. And just like you can’t change a person, by persuasion or force, into a different personality, you can’t change a dog, by persuasion or force, into a different personality.

I have been asked countless times for advice, or a program, to turn a particular dog into some other kind of dog. You can’t make a Bloodhound into a Greyhound. Bloodhounds hunt by scent, sighthounds hunt by sight. Bloodhounds can run, but not like a Greyhound. You can’t turn an English Bulldog into a German Shepherd Dog. Bulldogs can’t jump 6 foot walls, and they aren’t going to have the traits necessary to do police work. Similarly, you can’t turn a pet bred dog into a top working dog. There are dogs that have been selectively bred to hunt, do personal protection or police work, be guide dogs, and such. There are some mixed bred rescue dogs that can also do high level work. But a dog that wasn’t born with these traits can’t be somehow forced into being something they are not.

Anyone who thinks contrary to this is just going to do stupid things to their dogs, or even end up hating their dogs, if they try to make their dogs into something they can’t ever be.

Therefore, when building teams of people, I recommend having a mix of good people, but learn to work with them as a team, not as identical clones of you. Bring them along, and don’t criticize them for their personalities. Get a buy-in from them on your Vision and Mission, and you’ll have the greatest chance of success. If you are seeking to build a human/ dog team, then find a dog that fits your personality, vision and mission, and train and manage that dog accordingly. The less the dog is like you, expect it, and let the dog be that personality. Then pick a dog that fits your end picture for that dog, in other words, what you expect this dog to do alongside you. The more the dog’s personality and abilities fits your Vision and Mission, and you let the dog’s strengths come through with proper training and supervision, the better it will go for both of you. Accept whatever differences that exist between you and your dog, and buy into those differences.

There is no ideal match of people. There will always be differences. There is no ideal match of dogs and people. There will always be differences. Try your best to make a harmonious selection of team members, people or dogs, but don’t try to change who they are. Learn instead to work together successfully harmoniously.

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