thought I’d share a photo from my recent vacation.
My partner and I were trying to decide on what excursions to take while visiting St. Lucia. While I gravitated toward the hiking, horse-riding and sail boat options, he was more interested in the high paced activities, like ATV’s, Dune Buggies & Jeep excursions.
Figuring vacation was no place for a debate, I opted to let him pick. ATV’s would have been pretty low on my list since my comfort zone is anything water or “earthy”…..but we ended up helmeted and bouncing through the mangrove. Up and down rocky terrain and then opening them up on a nice stretch of secluded beach on the north side of the island. The way back brought some good mud holes to burn through and a few hair pin turns. We had the local cuisine and ate food I would of considered “bleck!” before having them prepared St. Lucian style.
Previous to the start of the day I had no idea how to drive an ATV, felt a little intimidated when I was told, “pull the throttle and go” and certainly wouldn’t have lifted the fork to my mouth if I had over thought the ingredients.
I ended up having a blast and pondering how the experience related to dog training on the ride back to the resort. (yes, I do pretty much eat, sleep and drink dogs…even on vacation)
The tie in between the ATV excursion and dogs that I came to, was this: new discovery and new growth is ALWAYS about stepping a bit further outside our comfort zones.
Training your dog isn’t just about the tools that you choose, it also about the experiences you create during your time together. Too often we get stuck staying in our personal comfort zones. In regards to training that very well might mean limiting our dogs experiences and therefore their potential.
This is something I believe is being lost in the “art” of dog training in favor of making sure everyone understands precisely the “science” of dog training.
There is so much fear of taking the slightest risk and pushing a dog to do and try new things that we are surrounded by emotionally and psychologically crippled dogs. Dogs incapable of behaving comfortably and confidently outside of their tightly managed environment.
I think back through my years in this profession and recall the numerous stories of clients whose goals included:
“being able to have company without the dog submissively wetting each time someone reaches to pet them.”
being able to “walk through the pet store with the dog on leash without it freaking out at every person or dog in the store.”
having a dog who can “jump in the car or go down the stairs without coaxing or carrying”
or having a dog who doesn’t fall apart just because some less socially skilled dog comes running up, barking.
Unfortunately some become so consumed with the micro management of “what” to do: “when to click, when to reward, when to not get closer to a threshold”, “what does the exact moment of body language say”… that they miss the big picture. Perhaps they have forgotten their own childhood experiences and how they grew up to handle things they now take for granted. Like when their parents gave them a push on the bike and fear of going two wheeled was over, or when someone held their hand and jumped off the diving board and suddenly it wasn’t so scary anymore. Sometimes the best plan is just to carry on as if it really is no big deal.
This is the art part of dog training. The part where you know that taking a step (sometimes even a big one) into new territory will be a moment of fear followed by a lifetime of increased confidence that came through trying something new.
This same concept is what lead us to create a new event at That’s My Dog! called Open Gym. It is an opportunity to just try new stuff with the dog. With a variety of equipment that tests a dogs stability and teaches new proprioceptive awareness we’re helping dogs gain confidence and step into new comfort zones. We do a very similar thing with our group socialization and putting dogs into situations that are a little uncomfortable at first but they gain experience and thus confidence through the participation.
So I’d like to challenge you today to take a small step for you and one for your dog. Go a bit outside the comfort zone and Expand. Try something new. Just because there is hesitation or it’s a bit unfamiliar doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be explored. In fact, it is probably all the more reason to check it out. If you need a tour guide, try finding one here.