The Zen of BAT: On “Not-Wanting” Progress (or how to Relax and Just Follow Your Dog)

Jo Laurens is the author of “Force-Free Gundog Training” and the host of the “Hold The Line” podcast. Jo lives in the U.K. and is a true student of canine behavior, in addition to being a world-renowned sporting dog trainer.

‘Follow your dog’

Most trainers and owners using BAT 2.0 (for aggression, frustration, and fear), know that it’s important not to lead the dog towards the trigger. Instead, we try to follow the dog’s movements and to remain behind them. Most of the time, we want to influence things as little as possible. The dog decides where to go (with a few exceptions).

We do this because we want the dog to feel empowered and in control whilst in the presence of the trigger. Feeling in control means they will feel safer, around the scary thing. And, the safer they feel, the less need they will have to be reactive, to keep that scary thing away from them.

Leading dogs around — or even influencing their direction in subtle ways — won’t help them to feel empowered and in control when they are near the trigger.

But lots of people do lead dogs about excessively in BAT Set-Ups, often without even realizing they are doing this.

Why is it so hard to just ‘follow the dog’?

As a CBATI, one of the things my clients seem to struggle with, is the concept of ‘follow the dog’. It sounds so simple, and yet it can’t be — or people wouldn’t struggle with it.

Definitely there are some dogs it is trickier to follow than others — such as fast-moving dogs, for example. There are ways to slow such dogs down, so you can better follow them. But that’s not what I want to look at, here. I want to look at the human element of why it is so hard to ‘follow the dog’.

We want to see ’progress.’

When we want something to happen, it is human nature to try to influence things so that it happens. We try to get what we want, to happen. For example: We want to buy the latest gadget, we save up for it. We want more money, we look for a better job. We want to spend more time with our family, we try to cut back on our working hours. We want to get a good degree, we study hard.

As humans, life is about constantly trying to manipulate events to achieve the outcomes we want. If we are into dog training, we are probably also control-freaks; experts at manipulating variables, to get what we want. (Most good dog trainers I know, are control freaks.) And control-freaks want to take control — to influence things, to their own ends.

And now, here we are, with a dog who is reactive, often at the ends of our tether (if owners) or desperate to be helpful to clients (if trainers).

  • Everyone who works with a dog reactivity wants to see progress.
  • We often think of progress as a dog’s ability to get closer to a trigger whilst remaining relaxed.

So, to get what we want (progress) we may influence the dog into going closer to the trigger — to meet our agenda.

And this is our agenda. Putting pressure on the dog to move closer, means that we are not following the dog — but following what we want, instead: Progress, aka ‘getting closer’.

The absence of desire

The Dhammapada, which is the foundation of Buddhism, says:

It is not good conduct that puts you on the path to liberation, nor will ritual do it, nor book learning, nor seclusion and solitude, nor meditation. None of these alone can bring mastery or joy. It is desirelessness that does it.

For BAT practitioners, our own agendas and desires often don’t lead to ‘mastery’ over our canine problem, and don’t lead to ‘liberation’ for the dog, either.

The psychoanalyst, Bion — very influenced by Buddhism — held that the desire to cure the client is unhelpful:

The ‘desire’ for cure is one example of precisely the desire that must not be entertained by a psychoanalyst. (Bion, W.R. (1967) Second Thoughts, p.151)

I think it is a serious defect to allow oneself to desire…it interferes with analytic work to permit desires for the patient’s cure, or well-being, or future to enter the mind. (Bion, W.R. (1970) Attention & Interpretation, p. 56)

One reason for this, is that the analyst’s desires will influence what they hear, in the client’s material. The analyst will be unable to ‘follow’ the client and understand her, if their own agenda influences their listening. The analyst’s agenda will instead impinge on the client. This will be traumatic for the client.

Sounds familiar, right? I’d suggest that the desire to cure our canine ‘clients’ in a BAT session, is equally unhelpful. We are also unable to ‘follow’ them, when our own agenda impinges on a session. Following your dog, is one of the most healing things you can do — it is the BAT equivalent of a therapist following their client.

Probably the ideal is that we ‘follow the dog’ in a Zen-like way. Floating about, with no agenda or purpose. (Yet keeping in mind always the proximity of the trigger, and the times when we suddenly need to acquire a lot of purposefulness, to keep the dog out of trouble!)

This is all difficult to achieve. Because we’re human. We want to fix the dog, darn it! And the dog getting closer to the trigger, means the dog is getting fixed. So the dog-getting-closer, is what we want to see…

The next best thing, then, is to be aware of our desire for the dog to get closer to the trigger. If we are aware of our desire, and how ‘undesirable’ it is, we can try not to account for it — not to let that desire get communicated to the dog, through our body. This is much more achievable. (Understanding your own countertransference, an analyst would call this!)

So, it sounds paradoxical, but, within a Set-Up:

The less you are able to ‘want’ progress — the more of it you will have.

And lastly, ‘follow your dog’ does not just mean ‘keep the leash loose’. There is a whole lot of ‘influencing’ which can be done, with a leash still loose:

  • Leaning in a particular direction, suggests that direction to the dog
  • Turning your back on the dog, to face a specific way, again suggests that direction to the dog
  • Walking in front of the dog
  • Preventing a dog from reaching something she wants to check out (when it is harmless)
  • Preventing a dog from leaving what the handler considers to be the Set-Up ‘area’ (moving off the grass/onto the grass/up or down a level in a multi-story parking lot/into woods)

Jo Laurens is a full member of the APDT (UK) and has completed the Compass Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour Management. Jo is also certified with the Pet Professional Guild as an Accredited Professional Canine Behaviour Consultant. Jo also has a special interest in reactivity and fear. She is a Certified BAT Instructor (CBATI) and a Fear Free Certified Trainer.  Jo is also a therapist, a published and produced playwright, and a classically trained musician.

Jo teaches a great class at the Grisha Stewart Academy on the Clicker Retriever (not BAT, but still positive dog training) and has many offerings on her own site,

Want to Learn About How to DO BAT?

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