TOO MUCH, TOO SOON?
As dog owners, and trainers, we often have great plans for what we would like to do with our new dog. It may be spending a nice summer evening walking in the countryside, with our dog running off lead and having fun, or perhaps we are striving higher and would like to do competitive work with our dogs, such as agility, or even train them as an assistance dog.
However, sometimes, even the best laid plans go awry. At that time we need to stop, reevaluate our goals and ask ourselves if they need to be adjusted, scrapped, or if we just need to find solutions to the barriers which we are facing.
Today I found myself thinking about my own dogs training. I was stressing that I needed to train my dog within a certain time frame, in situations that he could not yet cope with, and how was I going to ever achieve this in time. Well, to start off with, I had to give myself a darn good talking to and put it into context.
I often find that, when talking to clients, people find it easier to understand dog behaviour and training issues when I try to relate it to a human situation. Yes, there are differences but there are also similarities.
For me, I look at my own health and despite it sometimes being a seemingly unrelated issue that I am thinking about, the same message applies. Now, I have thought long and hard about posting a blog which also discusses my own health. It isn't a secret, it isn't anything I am ashamed of, it just somehow seemed wrong to write about it on my business page. After it being suggested by several of my colleagues, I have now decided that perhaps it will help some of you reading this.
I seem to collect health issues and although it is never easy, I try to look at it that these things are sent to teach us new things, to look at the world in a different way, to make us appreciate the simple things in life, and, when I can, find a positive twist on it all.................I admit, it doesn't always happen that way, to be quite honest at times I think it completely sucks, get frustrated, and feel sorry for myself, yet at other times I think what a blessing it is to see the world in a different light.
In October 2012, after 18 years of telling the doctors that there was something wrong, I was diagnosed with ME (also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Despite it being known as CFS, there is so much more to it than fatigue. The range of symptoms would be pages long if we were to list them, and they aren't always consistent. Just before Christmas, I had about 4-6 weeks of having a reaction to certain animals - including dogs. I would be leaving clients houses with a burning, hot, red face, a cough and difficulty breathing. Most inconvenient, I am glad that one passed!
Anyway, back to the dogs for a minute. I was sat in my car thinking that now I have reduced the anxiety in my dogs, I want to get back to training. They used to be able to do these things and I had it in my head that I should be able to return to that point pretty quickly. I am a dog trainer, I should be able to get these things trained pretty quickly right? Well, actually, no. I was thinking about MY wants, MY goals, MY desires, MY pressures to achieve within a certain time frame. I wasn't thinking rationally about training at the pace for my dog. I wasn't thinking in a way to build confidence, to build a strong relationship, in a way which my dog has fun.
I then started to think about my own life, things I wanted to do but was not yet achieving. People often think that I have all these plans and never achieve them, however, those who have known me for some time know that I do achieve my goals, it just takes me longer than most. It took me 10 years to complete my degree after all, 12 years if you count the HND I did first - but I got there!
My current desire is to be able to walk my dogs locally, to be able to cope with the hills, to be able to go kayaking/canoeing, to be able to horse ride again. I would even just like to be able to go out somewhere without getting there and thinking "nope, I can't do this, out of energy". There are so many great days out to be had in this area and I just don't go anywhere. The life events of, basically, the 2017/18 academic year pretty much took it all out of me health wise and I haven't got back to where I was before the house move.
Currently I can probably cope with 5-15 minutes and that is it. I can't even cope with a supermarket, let alone walking up a hill. If I see two clients per day then I rest in between and for the rest of the evening after and I can't manage to do two hours practical work for 5 days of the week. I plan my time so that I allocate 2-3 days of practical clients and the rest of the days I work from home. I could just quit but I want to work, I need to for my own sanity!
Back in 2015-2016, I could walk up a hill (although I did pay for it, health wise, later) and I went walking with the Sea Cadets on their DofE training. Back in 2015/16 I could go kayaking (again I would get payback for doing it but it was worth it), as for horse riding it has been much longer. Back in 2017, anxiety got the better of me after one stressful training client and I focused on only seeing dog walking clients for several months. Admittedly I began to struggle, even after reducing it to just 2 walks per day, especially when it was warm, to the point that walking became a struggle and it was having an impact on my ability to think or do anything else for the rest of the day...........but I was doing it, and I think that this is where my brain was when I was planning what I want to be doing again. I have been asking too much, too soon, from myself.
Recently, I joined a gym with the aim to regain my fitness levels and have been planning on going bell ringing (I was a bell ringer when I was younger), I even thought about joining a couch to 5k group. Despite paying my gym membership and booking the classes on the online app, I have had to keep cancelling them as I just wasn't up to it. How was I ever going to achieve my dreams of being able to walk up hills and playing on the water again, when I just ended up feeling dizzy, having pins and needles in my head, a headache, and things going a bit 'foggy' after just 15 minutes in the shops? Perhaps I am just aiming for the impossible, perhaps I should just accept that my ME now spends more time in the moderate bracket than the mild? Yet, I want it so much, so much that my eyes got a little teary when I started to write the previous paragraph.
So, now the part which hopefully you can relate to in some area of your life and will help you think about your dogs behaviour and training.................
I need my goals and dreams. I, personally, can't just quit. I have to keep pushing myself on. I know that when my health has been well into the 'moderate' banding of ME before, I have managed to get it back into the 'mild' bracket and I have to believe that I will again. Oh how dull life would be if I just gave up. With dog training and behaviour, we can just give up, the option is there, yet we have to think about the reason that we are giving up and if it is for us or our dogs benefit.
So, how am I going to achieve my goals? Firstly, I am going to break them down into little tiny steps and re-adjust my time frame. I am going to make my goals much smaller and celebrate the achievements of those goals. I am being totally unrealistic with my current ones. Time to grab those baked bean cans and build those arm muscles! If I keep asking too much of myself I will constantly feel disheartened and never achieve. In the meantime I am thinking that perhaps I will get a little mobility scooter so that I can still go to places and have the energy left to still function! I need to meet myself where I currently am, not where I was.
The same is true of training my dogs. They may have had a certain behaviour repertoire 12-18 months ago, however, we all had lots of change to get used to and training almost came to a standstill while I allowed their stress levels to reduce and while I worked on separation anxiety issues. We have to prioritise.
Now that I have stopped and thought about my own goals, I have realised that there is not really that much difference. I am also expecting too much too soon of my dogs. If I expect the same behaviour as they had 18 months ago I am going to feel disheartened, frustrated and like giving up. They are going to get stressed, not enjoy training and our relationship will break down. Neither of these outcomes are what dog training should be about and as a trainer I should know better to put so much pressure on them and myself, yet I am only human and we humans are good at making mistakes!
First of all, I am going to just go to the different environments, sit, chill and calmly watch the world go by. I am going to reinforce doing 'nothing', something that we, far too often, forget to reinforce and unless we have calm we have nothing. Once we have this I will then move on to being able to do calm, well known and enjoyed behaviours. Even if these sessions are only 5 minutes long I will have achieved something important. I am going to go home feeling positive about the training sessions, I will be keen for the next session, I can mark off that little goal as achieved, and my dog? My dog will have spent quality time with me, stress levels won't have been raised by a stressed owner, and our relationship will have strengthened..............and he may have just learnt something useful too. Slowly and steadily we will get there and we will get there in a fun and positive manner.
Lesson learnt? If we are too hard on ourselves and set our own goals and time frames too high for our current stage then how can we expect to be able to do it with our dogs, and vice versa? Sometimes we need these lessons from other areas of our lives to suddenly get that light bulb moment where we realise what is staring us in the face. The fact that we are asking too much of our dogs too soon!
Can you think of any areas in your life where you need to apply this same approach? How can you apply this to the training or behaviour work with your own dogs?
Be kind to yourselves, and be kind to your dogs. If you are unsure how to proceed forward, if you find yourself getting stressed about achieving a goal, dog training or otherwise, STOP! Once we stop and reflect on the situation the path forward becomes clearer and calmer. You need to meet yourself and your dog at start point that you are at before you can continue.
It isn't about how fast you get there,
it is about the journey.
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