Never set them up to fail. 

The most important thing I learned as a dog owner is this:
Never set your dog up to fail.

This applies to every relationship: with your spouse, kids, teammates, and employees. And here is why.

Say, your dog is having a great time playing with another dog. You call “Charlie, come!” He doesn’t come. You‘ve set him up to fail. 

Charlie’s training wasn’t solid enough for him to come in the middle of an exciting play. You’re responsible for the training, not he. As his owner, you should have known his training wasn’t good enough for him to come in this situation. You’re responsible for knowing that, not he. You’re disappointed, angry, and frustrated. Now the dog sees and fears that, and he is even less likely to come. You start yelling, and now you’re asking a dog to come toward a human who is angry and yelling. You’re further setting him up to fail. 

Now, he was given a command, and he failed, and it’s not his fault at all. And he’s on the receiving end of all these negative emotions, which is not only feared but also perceived by animals as weakness. Resentment grows. Trust in the owner for safety and protection shrinks. 

We do this to each other. You hire a $15/hr employee and are frustrated for their slow typing. You marry an incredibly lazy girl with a messy apartment. And you get angry that she doesn’t clean the house you now share. Your spouse says he’s going to be home by 11, except he’s always said that and never kept his word. You read him a riot act when he gets home at 1. You give your 2-year-old a toy for 3-year-old. You cheer them on and on, and they can’t do it. Your frustrating starts showing in your voice. You think you’re hiding it, but a child can very well sense it. In the meantime, a 2-year-old’s brain and motors kills aren’t developed enough to handle a 3-year-old’s toy, no matter how much of a genius she may be. You let your 7-year-old interrupt you every day without even realizing it, and, that one day your boss is over, you get upset that your child won’t stop interrupting. You might even yell at him or send him to his bedroom. You set him up to fail. 

It’s easy to get frustrated because frustration is an assignment of blame. And it feels great when you can make it so it’s not your fault. Where, in fact, you need to be frustrated with yourself for setting them up to fail. 

Yes, they do need to be challenged. And they do need to grow and do better. And it is your responsibility to create a situation in which growth is achieved. 

Dog owners know that a “come” command that is not successful 100 % of the time isn’t a command at all. 99.9 % isn’t good enough because that 0.1 % is when you really need them to come. Like when they are chasing a ball into traffic. So, how do you make sure they come 100 % of the time they are called? By setting them up to succeed. 

It is our responsibility to give them the exact task they can succeed in. Give them incremental challenges so small and slow that they can keep up with it. Give them support so they can helped into success. By making sure you never ask a dog to come when you know he won’t come. By never putting him in the position where he is too excited to come when you need him to come. 

If after reading this you still think your husband deserves your anger, teasing, or nagging, because you think he should vacuum more, it is you, not him, who needs to do some self-reflection. 


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