I had been thinking of writing a post along these lines on what *was* my personal blog for a while, but my personal blog disappeared. I can buy the domain name back for the bargain price of $1795, but I think I’ll pass. It makes me sad, because there was some fun stuff there and some really personal stuff, which made it function a bit like a diary. So, I guess we’ll just consider this post a bit of a diary-like confession.

Last night, I took Hazel for a walk and things didn’t start out so well. We were instantly bombarded by a ton of unexpected stimuli that pushed us both to the edge. I had a decision to make: call it a loser and quit or take a moment to get ourselves back together and move on. I chose option #2. This is significant because it says that as a human (forget the dog trainer part here) I have gotten better at facing challenges. Part of that is age and experience, part of that, is in fact, because I am a dog trainer. And part of how this relates to dog training is that we don’t want a dog to “rehearse” a behavior we are working on- in this case, reactivity. Part of how it relates to being human is that I don’t want to “rehearse” giving up or quitting just because something is challenging.

It’s important to remember that I am a human before I am a dog trainer. I sometimes forget this. I forget that just because I am a dog trainer, I don’t have to have everything “right” in order to succeed. What I need to remember in instances like what happened last night is just how far I have come as a human and as a dog trainer and how far my own dog has come. I tend to be a bit more patient with client’s dogs. I may put some unrealistic expectations on my own dogs, though I have gotten better at that, too. Last night was a perfect example- I was startled, too. I was suddenly sensitive to things happening in the environment, too. It also gave me another layer of empathy for my clients, because I think sometimes, as trainers, we make everything sound so cut and dried and then real life happens and people go back to thinking their dog is a disaster or they’re never going to get past a particular problem. And in most cases, that simply isn’t true. It will just take more patience, more practice and some more deep breaths. I can relay that to my clients and help them with their dogs with ease. Doing it with my own has proven more difficult. And that’s because I put more pressure on both of us. Even if only in my head. I try very, very hard not to let my dogs see when I am frustrated or upset because we are at a stuck point, but you can bet I lie in bed at night wondering where I went wrong and how I can improve upon something, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

So, last night at decision time, I decided to be a better human and a better dog trainer. I stepped behind the neighbor’s house, gave Hazel a minute to calm down and myself a minute to decide not to throw in the towel and off we went. And ya know what? We had a great walk. And she was tired when we came in. And I was proud of her and I was proud of me.

All of that is only part of the confession. I’ve had this thought “I never….” running through my head for a few weeks now because I am in a place in my life where I am evaluating a whole lotta stuff. I credit a lot of this thinking to things I learned through completing The Academy for Dog Trainers last year- and not all of it has to do with the education about dog training, though without it, it’s unlikely that I ever would have done many of these things. So here goes…
I never:

  • Thought I would get on a plane and fly cross country from Philadelphia to San Francisco. Yet, when I found out about a seminar being given by my mentor, Jean Donaldson in 2012, I did exactly that. Due to some not-so-great flights, I had long written off trips any further than the 2.5 hour flight to Florida. But, the motivation was there and so I got on that plane and had an amazing time and would no doubt regret it to this day had I not.
  • Thought I would walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. But, on the above mentioned trip, I did. Thanks to the generosity and kindness of a friend from high school who lived in the Bay area and agreed to be my tour guide, me and my wobbly knees walked that iconic bridge. She held my hand and talked me through it and I was able to marvel at this man-made wonder and the natural beauty surrounding it. That was a bucket list moment.
  • Thought I could complete a program as intensive as The Academy for Dog Trainers. To say I learned as much about myself as I did about dogs would be an understatement. I learned that I can persevere, not crack under pressure, that I can understand difficult concepts and put them into practice in a way that is do-able for clients.
  • Thought I could teach dogs the things I have been able to teach them. In all honesty, there was a time when I would see a video of someone having a dog target a specific location and think that was well beyond my capabilities. Turns out, I was very wrong and that is very awesome. Now, I see it as easy-peasy. That’s both personal and professional progress. There’s not much I don’t think I can teach a dog at this point. I learn, I practice, I get better. Can I teach a dog to do a complex dance routine like some of the ones floating around on Facebook? Of course I could, I just don’t know the steps yet, and that’s what it’s all about: steps.
  • Thought that I would feel like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I’ve long been a “seeker”- someone who tries to find meaning in life and in the things that I do. Dogs are it. I am supposed to work with dogs. Dogs have taught me more about myself than any self-help book, self-reflection or therapy. I once said to some friends: “Dogs exist to make the rest of life bearable.”, and though I have found much pleasure and happiness in other things (including relationships with humans, sunflowers, fresh tomatoes and coffee), dogs are a constant reminder to me of what joy looks like, what unconditional love feels like and that there is always a reason to get up in the morning. Even if it’s just because the dog needs to go out.

Sometimes. our thoughts are our enemies. When we are able to push past the limiting thoughts, everything gets better, and over time, easier. Since that first trip to San Francisco in 2012, I returned last year and am returning again in October. And I can’t wait. My fear of flying is no longer even a consideration. There’s good stuff waiting for me on the other side and that’s motivation enough for me.

As in dog training, much of life comes down to motivation.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. “

-Zig Ziglar