Albert Einstein said a lot of intelligent things, but one of his statements has always particularly stuck out to me. In fact, it’s one of my favorite quotes from anyone, and I think of it frequently in my dog training career. Here it is:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask. For once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
Now, I think a lot about how this idea can help my clients who are dealing with dog issues. My website gets a lot of traffic, and I get questions from people all over the world. I do my best to answer those questions when I can, but I just get too many to answer every single one of them.
There are some questions, however, that I routinely ignore: the ones that don’t even come close to following Einstein’s formula. Now, I’m certainly not saying that you have to be as smart as Einstein in order to ask a question! But I frequently get questions like: “My dog has aggression problems—what do I do?” or “My dog pees in the house—what do I do?” It’s clear that the people asking these kinds of questions have devoted no thought process to it. If they had, then they wouldn’t be asking the question that way in the first place.
When a person has given serious thought to the issue, on the other hand, they might say something like this: “I go on a walk, and I’ve taught my dog to walk properly. But he still pulls on the leash, and when he sees other dogs behind fences he barks and lunges at them. I’ve tried using a spray bottle, I’ve tried using treats.” See the difference? This person has obviously thought things through. Even though they’re unable to find an answer, they have given so much thought to their problem that they’re actually ready for the answer when they receive it from someone else.
The other kind of person—the owner who just says, “Gosh, my dog is barking, what do I do?”—simply hasn’t taken the time to understand the problems or question what they might be doing wrong. They haven’t even thought about why their dog might be acting this way, so they aren’t yet ready for an answer. It all comes down to this: if you have given no thought to the question, then the best answer in the world will still go right over your head.
I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to spend years of study to become a professional dog trainer. What I am suggesting is that when you’re looking for a solution to a problem with your dog, then ask questions of yourself before you go to someone else. Do you have a hypothesis for the reasons behind the behavior? Have you tested that hypothesis? What have you already done to try to solve the problem?
I was on a professional dog trainer Facebook group today and saw that someone had asked, “Do you have any tips on training a dog? Thank you.” I jokingly responded, “Do you have any tips on fixing a car? Thanks.” That’s such a broad question that there is no possible answer to it.
Such an answer would need to be so broad that, by its very nature, it wouldn’t even solve the problem.
So spend some time today applying the Einstein quote above to some of your dog training issues. If you go through the thought process that it takes in order to ask the right question, then you’ve examined enough of the problem to be ready for an answer. Before asking a question, think about what processes you have already gone through.
I love hearing your questions, but you’re much more ready to receive an answer when your brain has already examined what is going on. This is a great way to solve many problems, and hopefully the concept can help you as much as it’s helped me!