“Respect” Is SO Last Year

Shhh, don’t tell anyone!!

I don’t know for sure, but I kind of think my dogs don’t “respect” me. But that’s OK.  Dogs probably don’t do “respect” anyway. It’s a human concept, and it depends on human cognition and social mores. When people say their dog respects them, it is usually a euphemism. It means that through their actions they have caused the dog to be intimidated or afraid.  Wary, at the very least. I think that’s how “respect” generally translates into animal behavior. One can usually see it in the “respectful” dogs’ demeanors.

I don’t bother with respect. I don’t even think about it anymore except when other people bring it up. But I would venture to say that my dogs rely on me. They look to me for guidance in new situations. They enjoy the structure I put to our lives. And I hope they trust me. That’s what leadership looks like at my house.

Respect and authority are irrelevant when one of us naturally has the greater cognitive skills, the keys to the cabinets, cars, and house, and the opposable thumbs. Why should humans be worried about having the respect of a creature that is dependent on us?

What if, instead, we humans used our big brains to figure out ways for dogs and humans to both get lots of what they want, and have an enriching life together? What if, instead of focusing on respect, we could get an animal that was joyfully cooperative?

Eileen is seated on a short stool and Clara is lying on the floor. They are looking into each other's eyes. There are some training props on the floor.
Clara and Eileen having fun training. Clara is learning to put something in a container.

If you’d like to see dogs trained without concern for establishing any kind of authority over them, with the goals of building practical life skills and having the training experience be the most fun possible for all participants, take a look at today’s video. It is called, “Imagine…”

It’s not perfect, but that’s part of the point. It shows what a B-level amateur trainer with mediocre mechanical skills and difficulties raising criteria can accomplish in a multiple dog household. (Of course with the help of some great teachers, in real life and online.)

So for those of you who are ready to consider a much more fun and less stressful way to interact with your dogs, dare to dream. For those of you who already know the secret: enjoy!

More Information

Some of the clips came from how-to or demo videos I have published. They are:

A Secret for Training Two Dogs Step by step instructions for training multiple dogs, with video examples. The secret is to realize that the harder job belongs to the dog that is “waiting,” not the active dog.

Get Out Of My Face! Teaching an Incompatible Behavior  How I taught Clara to perform a default down whenever I bent over, instead of mugging my face.

Teaching a Dog to Back Up without Using Body Pressure  A brief post and video tutorial using the method where a dog goes into a channel between objects and you mark when it backs out. I made this movie after watching the truly awful methods commonly used for teaching dogs to back up, and because I was unable to find another video demonstrating this particular low stress method to jump-start shaping backing up.

7 Great Reasons For Flirt Pole Play Discusses the ground rules for flirt pole play and some of its many benefits.

The Right Word Work on verbal cue discrimination, using the principles of reduced error learning.  The goal is separate release words for my three dogs, a very handy skill. 

What Dog Training Really Taught Me is also relevant: how I figured out that I was being unfair to my dogs before I started to understand behavior science.

Copyright 2014 Eileen Anderson 

49 thoughts on ““Respect” Is SO Last Year

  1. I always say that my dog and I respect one another- that’s truly the only word that I feel encompasses it. She’s always trained with kindness and well…respect! She’s a sensitive dog and I have a lot of training goals so I’ve really had to learn when to back off and respect that she’s becoming stressed. Asking for too much too fast really worries my poor pup.

    In the same way, I feel like I have her respect when she recalls off something she’s really into, moves out of my spot on the couch when I ask, or gives up some prized possession she shouldn’t be eating.

    I definitely hear you that most people mean it as a subordinate, one way thing- but a mutual respect has a different connotation altogether!

    1. Excellent point. Talking about mutual respect completely changes the sense of it. Everybody has really got me thinking about the many definitions of the word. Thanks for sharing how it is with you and your dog. It’s lovely.

  2. Another bullseye post for me Eileen. The traditionaly horse world is so married to the word ‘respect’. Gotta make that horse respect you! Teach em some respect! If your horse doesn’t respect you then you are a lousy trainer! A horse that doesn’t respect you is dangerous! Oh and I could go on but you get the picture. And yes of course ‘respect’ is taught with aversives. To show the horse we can hurt them if we want to so they better show us some respect….
    Anyhoo, huge thanks for giving me such great words to counter that thinking! You continue to rock!

    1. Thanks so much! You are describing the sense of “respect” I was talking about. Sorry you have to be around so much of that! Glad to be helpful when I can.

  3. I am not sure that I agree with you Eileen. I am pretty sure that my dogs respect me at least according to the internet definition of respect (a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.). If you look into the work of Marc Beckoff he is talking more and more about the deep emotional lives of animals, and I believe he has done some work on respect; if I remember rightly, he mentions this in his book on the moral lives of animals. When you talk about respect, if you define it the way that those in the dominance theory camp talk about it, what they are describing is not respect at all, but fear, and I would agree that my dogs don’t fear me, but I am pretty sure that they have deep admiration for me, just as I have for them. I would be interested to know what definition you used for respect when you wrote this blog.

    1. Mrsbehavior, as I mentioned earlier, you have made an important point. When complaining about a word, one really should define it! I could dig up definitions to support my gripe, but right now I’m just going to say I agree with you that there is a wide range, and some variants of the definition may well be appropriate with dogs. I may write about it separately some other time. I also didn’t mean to imply that dogs don’t have some fairly complex emotions. Thanks for these good points.

  4. sometimes it is ok for dogs to be anarchists….we shouldn’t have to “control” every movement that they make. This is one of many reasons why the whole pet “ownership” thing is so crap!

  5. Eileen, this is BEAUTIFUL! Great job with your three-pack–so impressive! You’re officially my hero 🙂 Your post came at a perfect time for me, too, because I’m working on a series about Lessons In Life From Dogs, and “Respect” was one of the topics. I’ll make sure to clarify some of what you mention here. Thank you!
    Guilie @ Life In Dogs

  6. Fantastic post – thank you! “Joyfully cooperative” – love that phrase. And thank you so much for the additional links. You are posting exactly the info I have been looking for! \o/ With gratitude from my girls Star and Twinkle 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! I even worried about using the word “cooperative.” When you start nitpicking like I did, you have to be careful. I’m glad you got the sense of what I was saying. Doggie high-fives to Star and Twinkle!

  7. It isn’t important to me that Spring respect me, but it is very important that I respect her. To me, respect means something like “acting so as to acknowledge and allow for the exercise of a being’s individuality, ability, and autonomy.” I think everyone with the cognitive capacity for respect should give it to everyone, although it plays out very differently according to the individuals involved, but it is more important that the more powerful respect the less powerful than the other way around. Since I have a great deal of power over Spring, respect is one of the most important checks on my behavior towards her.

    I actually do think Spring is cable of a certain amount of respect, particularly with other dogs. I see respect in social awareness coupled with a choice to behave in ways that make others feel comfortable or happy. There are things I can do to help her develop that, both around dogs and people, but I certainly don’t think obedience is a sign of respect (except, perhaps, where mutually agreed upon within the terms of a particular relationship), and I don’t think I can expect anything recognizable as respect from her as a matter of course because I don’t think her ability to understand human social cues or to control her behavior based solely on its effect on me is strong enough. The bottom line for me is that I need to be respectful of her, and part of that means doing my best to see her as she really is and basing my training and responses to her on that reality rather than on any idea of how she should be.

    1. That is beautifully put, Aurora. Absolutely agree. I completely left out the other half: respect from us. I’m so glad you and other readers are writing such wonderful things about it.

      “Since I have a great deal of power over Spring, respect is one of the most important checks on my behavior towards her.”

      Yes. Just wanted to see that again.

      I do know what you mean also about respect among dogs, since I have one who is kind of obviously _not_ respectful of other dogs’ space or comfort most of the time, smile.

      Thank you for your lovely comment.

      1. Aww, thank you. I’ve been reading for awhile, but I haven’t commented before because brevity is a lot of work for me. Thanks for the reinforcement! (And for all the work you do here–your posts have been really helpful to me, sometimes in the specifics, but also in helping to keep me actively thinking about what I’m doing in Spring’s training.)

  8. Loved most of this post and truly wish everyone trained like this but I wish there were some way to avoid using the words that actually have a different meaning than the one that has become common usage. My dogs respect me in the dictionary definition of admire and look up to but they do not respect me in the common usage definition of fear to do something I won’t like. Consequences is another word that is commonly misdefined in the general populace. My dogs get consequences all the time, When they mind their manners the consequences are good thing happening that they like. When the rescue dog we’re rehabilitating forgets her manners and barks fiercely at my husband she experiences the consequence of me getting between her and my husband and using social pressure to back her up far enough that she’s able to think and remember appropriate behavior. Consequence doesn’t equal punishment it is merely the result from actions.

    1. Yeah, I agree, the clash between common usage and specialized usage and emotional usage, ad infinitum….can really complicate things. Seems like I write about that all the time, but I still walk straight into unexpected problems frequently.

      I disagree slightly about consequences if I understand you correctly: consequence doesn’t equal punishment but can be tied directly to it. Consequences drive behavior and can cause behaviors to increase or decrease, i.e., be reinforced or punished. If I am visualizing correctly what you are doing, there could be negative reinforcement involved (body pressure) when getting the dog away. Or if the dog stops barking as soon as you step between them, i.e. as a consequence of the stepping between, that could actually be punishment. (In the behavior analysis sense, not the cultural retribution sense.) But it sounds like she stops when the distance gets great enough.

      Forgive me if I am telling you something you already know, but you might be interested in my post on the processes of operant learning.

      Do you think the rescue dog might be scared of your husband? If so, you might want to try a different approach than the body pressure. There are FaceBook groups called Fearful Dogs and Reactive Dogs that are both excellent sources of information.

      Bless you for helping a rescue dog! Thanks so much for your comment.

  9. I’m not sure if my dog respects me or not. But I respect her and all the dogs I foster or meet up with. I train only force free and “ask” before I pet them or handle. When we treat our dogs with respect. They treat us with love.

  10. I think our current culture has a skewed concept in regards to respect. When I think of respect I think of fairness and treating one as one wants to be treated. I hope my dogs see me as playing fair.

  11. I am of the opinion that respect must be earned. I once had a boss who said his position demanded respect yet he was one of the most despicable people I ever met. On the other hand there are many people I highly respect, but I may or may not have a personal relationship with them. I also have many personal relationships that are wonderful, but I would not say that I respect them all.

    My relationship with my dogs is much more complicated and personal than one based on respect.

    I think we need to ‘respect’ that our dogs have needs we need to meet and that we should treat them kindly. I am not sure dogs are so self aware that they are able to take into account another’s needs. They can and do do what I ask because I have built a relationship with them based on love and kindness. I also think they enjoy being with me and do prefer me to others (most of the time!) but it is a mutually beneficial relationship.

    And if my dogs respected me, they would refrain from rolling in mud before coming in the house! 🙂

    Great blog!

    1. Very nice points, and you have highlighted one of the many varying definitions of respect. I’ve been thinking about the earning thing, vs “just because I said so” or “just because I have credentials.” I love it that you and so many people turned it around and are talking about respecting our dogs. Thanks for the lovely comment!

  12. Our dogs love me and I think they respect me. I think. I sometimes wonder if I should have raised our dogs to follow my lead immediately, but what’s the fun in that. So I have to repeat myself sometimes – I usually just check the voice/energy I’m using. That tends to let me know if they’re going to listen or not.

    I do know that they don’t respect me when I lose it – I used to panic and freak out. I just startled everyone.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Very good point about losing it. That’s not a very good way to “earn” respect, as kay9pets put it. It’s a good way to startle or scare dogs, and people too sometimes. It’s awfully hard not to lose patience; they are dogs and we are people. But kudos to you for putting that in the past.

  13. So lovely! I will be sharing this link. And the garden in ex-pens made me giggle.

      1. Ah! That post pre-dated my discovery of your blog. One of mine has a snake-rolling hobby too. I’m glad to have found your baby wipe tip 🙂

        1. Snake rolling is VERY popular here. Amazing how bad a little tiny dead snake smells. (I don’t mean to sound callous. I really like snakes, and am sad that the dogs probably kill them.)

  14. I love this post! I’m going to link to it in my post tomorrow about the importance of positive reinforcement training and the harmfulness of aversive tools.

  15. I can’t believe I just now found your blog. I loved this! A lot of the behaviors in our video are still things we’re working on, so it’s good inspiration.

  16. I *hope* my dogs respect me. I certainly respect them.
    As respect: to relate to, to refrain from violating, treat with consideration.

    1. I agree. I keep meaning to update this post! I really should someday. But I think most people are familiar with the mindset I was complaining about….just need to define my own terms a bit better.

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