Please note, all my dog training articles are now being published at naturaldogblog.com.
In the Abundance Mindset, Steve Pavlina talks about the “outrage script” – which essentially is the mindset where you judge others for spending what you might consider to be “outrageous” sums of money on “extravagances” (such as a $10,000 hotel room). He goes on to talk about how this script limits us in terms of our financial situation, essentially assuring us that we will be out of resonance with having the kind of money that would enable US to spend 10k on a hotel room without giving it a second thought. It got me to thinking how, in general, a negative mindset in the way that you view others, yourself, and your dog will be way less productive than a positive one, and, believe it or not, this has a major influence on your dog training progress as well.
When you walk down the street with your dog, is it a “problem” when they sniff out a half-eaten sandwich under a bench, when they dart off the sidewalk after a squirrel, or when they bark ferociously at another dog as their paths intersect? Do you leave those situations feeling anxiety, like something is wrong with your dog for having done such a thing, or, even worse, that something is wrong with YOU for letting it happen? Or, if another dog owner lets their dog lunge after your dog, do you spend time thinking about how bad that other owner is? All of these responses are natural given our general training in high expectations and judging people (including ourselves).
A much more productive way of looking at these situations involves acknowledging a few key things:
- Our dogs are never wrong. Typically, rather than “thinking” about a situation, a dog responds, in the moment, to how a given situation makes them feel. Dogs are constantly looking for the highest value prey in their environment, and so, if that isn’t you, then it could very well be the discarded Panini they just found.
- People are never wrong. Without exception, people are generally doing the best they can in a given situation. We respond in the moment as well, though HOW we respond is the product of years of experience. As with our dogs, it’s what happens AFTER the response that counts, and that ultimately affects the way that we respond. Your dog just started barking ferociously at a passing black lab puppy (what could be more innocent than that?), and you get that sinking feeling in your gut, which worsens as the puppy owner glares at you. At that moment, your patterned response to that sinking feeling kicks in, which is…what? Anger? Guilt? Blame?
- There are better things to do than worry about “who’s wrong”. This could be called the “appreciative inquiry” approach to life. If you have to label things as “wrong” and “right”, then why not call them “right”? If our dogs are never wrong, and people are never wrong, then by extension they’re always “right” – and it kinda eliminates the distinction between wrong and right, doesn’t it? More importantly, this approach gets us to the heart of the matter – it’s time to forget about “wrong” and “right” – accept what IS – and do something about it.
So, let’s look at the black lab puppy example in a different light. At the risk of using a cliché, turn that problem into an opportunity! Your dog just went off on that poor little puppy. What is your dog trying to tell you in this situation? While I will go into this in greater detail in a future post, I can tell you that your dog is saying “hey, that was too much energy for me to handle, and it knocked me off balance. I had to do something”. That’s not your dog’s fault, it’s not the puppy’s fault, and it’s not your fault. It’s just what IS. Breathe. Accept it.
Now you’re getting glared at by the puppy’s owner. They can’t believe you let your dog go all crazy on their pure, innocent sweetums! Well, if they knew what was really going on, then they might be more understanding. But they’re not. And you feel, well, bad. That’s ok too, of course. Breathe. Accept it. Accept responsibility, too – as in, “sorry about that.”
Next - forgive your dog, and yourself. Seriously, this is an important step. That other person might storm off in a fit of rage. They might write about you in the local paper. They might…well, all of that doesn’t matter. Just forgive yourself, and forget about that other person. After all, now you have work to do!
Finally, you can start taking positive steps. In this case, you would recognize that you might have missed some warning signs in your dog that they were about to go a little bonkers. There was probably some initial alertness, some tension in their body that wasn’t dissipating, some signs that perhaps you missed because you were too busy window shopping. Or maybe you DID sense that tension, but now you recognize that you weren’t sure what to do about it. What can you do about it?
Hint: find a way to relax yourself AND your dog in these situations.
The next time you’re about to cross paths with another dog, you’re much more able to just focus on what’s happening. You don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen – heck, if things go the way they did before, you know exactly what could happen – so it won’t be a surprise! However, this time around you’re trying something new to help relax your dog (and yourself – remember to BREATHE), and already the cycle is broken. No energy wasted on trying to figure out who’s wrong, who’s to blame. You just accept the situation and take steps to fix it. And recognize that it’s a process of observing, accepting, experimenting, observing, etc. As long as you remain open and relaxed, trust me, you will eventually get it…”right”.
We’ll be talking more about the importance of relaxation – for both you AND your dog. In the meantime, if you have a dog that’s exhibiting “problem” behaviors (should we start calling them “opportunity behaviors”? ), your primary job is to figure out how to relax your dog, and how to give your dog a healthy outlet for their stress. Then they’ll be able to deal with all the proverbial black lab puppies that come their way.
Thanks for stopping by, and, as usual, let me know if you have any questions. I'd be happy to answer them.