Secrets to getting your Significant Other on board with your dog training

What to do when your Significant Others sabotages your dog training.

I’ve got difficult challenging kids.  Both have been identified as intellectually “gifted”.  This mean their brains work on a different level – and I mean in other ways than just being “smart”.   They are highly sensitive, intense, argumentative, easily bored, and relentless about their achieving their own agendas. It can be exhausting.

They are beyond the simple tactics of being motivated positive or negative reinforcement unless the thing is hugely, and I mean HUGELY motivating (and I can’t afford that).  They just know when you are trying to manipulate them.  Maybe they’ll go along with you, and maybe they won’t.  Did I say exhausting?

Moving beyond traditional reinforcement

If there was a single reason for me recommending to try this technique from Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything–Fast (which I have written about before) it’s this: it works on my kids.  Freakishly well.  Even when they know what I’m doing. It can even work on yourself.


If your Significant Other is sabotaging your dog training, or just refuses to get involved, here is an interesting technique to try:

In most cases couples do want to work together.  On some level there is the motivation to resolve conflict even if they don’t know how.  But unfortunately there can be control issues that can interfere especially between men and women. The first thing is to consider is whether you are running into psychological reactance.

Psychological reactance occurs when people feel their freedom to choose and decide is threatened.  It causes us to want to behave independently, or resist the ideas or influences of others.  It can happen with all of us. We want to come to our own conclusions. We don’t want to be told what to do.

This is not just childishness or immaturity or even selfishness.  To choose is to feel in control.  To be in control makes us feel we are more likely to increase our chances of survival.  That means your partner might have a pretty valid – if unconscious – reason to want to do his or her own thing.

Tapping into their own motivation

Therefor we need to do the same thing with our partners as we have suggested that dog trainers do with their clients: empower them to choose, and help them discover their own motivations.

No, this does not mean supplying them with more suggestions on why you think they should do it.  You’ve probably already tried that.

It means asking them a series of questions to get them to think about whether there are any reasons they might want to do it, and why those reasons would be important to them.

The secret is activating your partner’s own motivation for wanting to work with your dog in an effective way. Here is how psychologist Michael Pantalon, in his book Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything–Fastsuggests how to make it happen:

  1. First reestablish your partner’s freedom by letting them know that they can do anything they choose. Think about it: how do you feel when people give you the freedom to make up your own mind? Unless we truly don’t know what to do, most of us feel relieved. WE feel less threatened and more ready to discover how we feel about it. Then ask a series of questions that is designed to get people to think about the reasons why they might want to do it. What could possibly be in it for them.
  2. Ask your partner to tell you about why they might do whatever it is you are suggesting.  There is no pressure to do it.  You only want to know if there are any possible benefits that they could possibly gain if they were to try. What is in it for them? Not you or anyone else. Them.
  3. Ask them to rate from 1 to 10, how ready are they to do change/do/act: one not being ready at all, and 10 being total ready.  This will give you an idea of what motivation is there. However, it is not so much the number that is important so much as how it sets up the next question.
  4. Ask them why they didn’t pick a lower number. This helps them focus on what motivation there is already there. If they pick 1, then ask them how they feel about an action that requires less commitment. Or, ask them what it would take to move it from a 1 to a 2.
  5. Ask them to imagine what it would be like if they had already done it. What would the positive outcomes be for them?
  6. Ask: why are those positive outcomes important to them. You might want to use the “5 whys” technique here to get to something that is actually meaningful. In other words, if they say they would be happier if the dog didn’t pull, you can ask why is that important to them. They might say something unexpected, such as not feeling foolish in front of your neighbors, or maybe your partner will say they could enjoy the walk with you more if they didn’t feel as frustrated. And again, why is that important? The reason you want to get to something real is because it’s often the most meaningful reasons that motivate us the most to change.
  7. Ask: What are the next steps, if any?  (*add the if any because this allows them the freedom to choose if they will do it or not.  But if they find their own reasons then they probably will give it a try – at least on some small level)

(Michael Pantalon goes into much more detail in his book of course, and it may be worth it to you to pick up a copy of Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything–Fast). You can even use these techniques to motivate yourself!


TIP: Use language that is designed to get them to think about the whys. Not the why nots. This is surprisingly difficult to do sometimes!  I read a review on the book (fill in) that said they had asked, “why would you not want to help…”, and thought the methods in the book didn’t work. Not surprising!

Asking someone why they don’t want to do something only encourages the person to think about the reason why they don’t want to do something. That is not going to motivate anyone.

Avoid any words like should. If your partner answers that they want to do it to make you happy, try asking again. Sure it’s wonderful they want to please you, but ideally you want them to think about what payoff they would gain.  Use words like maybemight and perhaps instead. This is far less threatening language.

TIP: Don’t choose a big goal or a big action. Choose something relatively small that does not require too big of a commitment. Maybe you don’t start them working on an actual walk. Maybe you start in the driveway first. Failing that, maybe you get them to watch a video with you. But keep quiet. Let them come to their own conclusions.  But once you have your foot in the door, it is often possible to encourage them to make the next small step – if they choose, of course!

TIP: When you want someone to participate, make them feel safe. Sometimes safety comes in the form of acceptance.  That means listening to their answers without judgement.  It also means reminding them that alhtough you may have your own thoughts and ideas on the subject, these are yours and not theirs.  They will make their own choices and decisions.

TIP: This technique puts the control in your partner’s hands. This means that they will not always change right away. They are their own person and may need to think about it some more (even when you know you are right!). Let them. Any pressure you put on them may undo the process. You might even need to ask them these questions again, but perhaps for a smaller commitment. Either way, they are the ones that control when or if they will do it.

Summary There are lots of ways to persuade people to do things, but getting your partner to get in touch with their own reasons why they might want to try what your recommending is far more motivating that any external reward, pressure or even guilt trip you could come up with! They will, of course, think it was all their idea. That’s okay. You can just sit back and just smile.

If you want to learn more, check out Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything–Fast. Panatlon discusses in much more detail the language that can help or undermine motivation, how to influence people who don’t want to change, how to identify change and when to move on, how to make an action plan, as well as a whole lot of suggestion on how to deal with various responses.


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