Are they lazy? Or just unmotivated? 7 steps dog trainers can do to improve client compliance.
If you are a dog trainer you have no problems motivating your dogs. With positive reinforcement and clicker training you can do absolute wonders. So why are some clients so challenging? Obviously you can’t follow them around every day and click and treat them to make sure they practice with their dogs, but you would think that dog owners want to learn from you and do with the work with their dogs. After all, isn’t that why they have paid you?
And when it comes time to treating a serious problem like aggression, compliance is even more important. So why do clients seem to undermine their own efforts?
Two words you may not have considered: psychological reactance.
How Psychological Reactance undermines client compliance
Psychological reactance occurs when people perceive a threat to their freedom to make their own choices. As a way to regain their autonomy, they do something other than what you are trying to persuade them to do. No one likes being told what to do. And some people resist it more than others.
But this is the part that will drive you crazy: psychological reactance happens on such a subtle level that most of the time we don’t even realize it. It comes in the form of skepticism, counter-arguing or just plan old procrastination. The problem is that once it has been activated, in some cases the quality of the message doesn’t seem to matter. Nor do the consequences.
The stronger the message we receive from someone else that we need or should to do something, the more we are likely to resist doing it even when we know we probably should. For example, cigarette smokers show little reactance to text-only warnings, but over 80% showed some form of reactance in response to graphic warnings – some experienced extreme levels.
If the consequences don’t matter, how do we motivate people?
So what is the solution? You know they need to train their dog, they know they need to train their dog. Yet you are looking at the client standing there with their arms crossed with plenty of reasons why it won’t work with their dog, or sheepishly admitting they didn’t quite get around to practicing last week, and you feel that familiar frustration. Yet you can’t avoid telling them what to do. What should you do?
A possible solution comes from an interesting book called Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything–Fast. Never mind trying to motivate them with external reasons: try mobilizing their own motivations for wanting to do it.
Here is how psychologist Michael Pantalon suggests how to make it happen:
- Reestablish your client’s freedom.
- Ask your dog training client to tell you about why they might hear you out or do whatever it is you are suggesting
- 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.
- Ask them why they didn’t pick a lower number.
- Ask them to imagine what it would be like if they had already done it. What would the positive outcomes be?
- Ask: why are those positive outcomes important to them.
- Ask: What are the next steps, if any?
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.