Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sometimes situations are unpredictable

Let's face it, life is unpredictable at times. I think for many of us, we like familiarity, comfort, predictability. I mean we are humans and considered creatures of habit. However, sometimes, we need this unpredictability--to test out the waters, see what happens, think on our feet. In the end, what matters is how we react to that given situation, and from there, we hopefully learn and grow.

A few days ago, my boss asked me if I would bring my dog, Daphne, to orientation. Orientation is the first class of our dog obedience classes. We require puppy and beginner class attendees to come get an introduction about dog training, learn about the method of training we use, ask questions, etc. This is the one class we do not allow their dogs but instead used "demo" dogs. In the six years that I've been assisting with classes, this is the first time my boss has ever asked me to bring my own dogs. Before it was always my former roommate's dogs, another trainer's dogs, or a client's dogs. I guess there was a sense of "feeling left out." So naturally, I jumped at this chance, wanting to prove something, though I'm not sure what that was exactly.

These types of events, even though I enjoy them, there is always a sense of wanting everything to go perfectly, your dog to be "perfect." Okay, of course I should know by now that situations aren't perfect nor are dogs or humans. But still, there is a sense that "you are the dog trainer" (words I've heard many times before), your dog should be perfect, you should know how to handle every situation, etc. I won't lie, I used to have this notion as well before I really knew a lot about dog behavior. I would think how could another dog trainer's dog not get along with other dogs? It reminded me of the old saying how the "shoemaker's children never get shoes."

Therefore, just like a college student, I crammed obedience cues into Daphne's head, hoping the information would be obtained. The nice thing with dogs is this doesn't take that much amount of time, and they have good long term memory even when they decide to use selective hearing or in Daphne's case just give me this dumbfounded look. Don't get me wrong, Daphne is trained, but we just needed to freshen up a bit. Even dog trainers don't train everyday. ;-P

I admit, I was slightly nervous but for the most part I was relaxed. During the first 45 minutes, Daphne did really well. She did all the behaviors I asked of her with a nice smile on her face. It wasn't until we did an interaction game with the new dog handlers that she got concerned and began barking at several people. I was a little surprised by all this, because I had not seen her do this behavior. There was a moment of definite worry and some embarrassment. However, I reminded myself to stay calm, think about my dog, not the people, and get her re-focused. I was successful with this, and a few minutes later, she did the same exercise with everyone in the group, even the ones she originally barked at. There was a sigh of relief.

Upon thinking about the whole situation some more, I realized what concerned her. For one, she had never been in a room with 25+ people. She actually handled that okay, it was just when they moved, that she became worried. One woman whom she barked at took off her scarf which alarmed her. We wound up letting her see the scarf, put it on her, etc. She accepted this, and eventually stopped barking at the woman who did nicely be continuously smiling at her.

What this experience reminded me of was the unpredictability factor. Since I had not seen Daphne bark at other people like that, I had no reason to believe she would behave that way. What was important, however, was that I did not allow myself to get flustered and stressed, something I've been known to do when something is not going as planned. I made it a point to keep myself calm which allowed Daphne to settle as well. I thought through what I needed to do as well as how the other people should react. In the end, it was a successful night, and we were both worn out.

Now that I know Daphne may react like this when there is a crowd of people, it's something to work on. I know this setting was a little stressful for her, but I still managed to set her up for success. And in dog training, we don't see this enough with dog handlers which only results in dogs feeling frustrated, upset, and stressed.

I think this is something we should try to remember for ourselves when we are in situations of unpredictability. Our life is dependent on our reactions. It's not always an easy thing to remember, especially when in a state of worry, fear, anger, panic, but trying to focus on the positive, on the success of that situation, is what will help us learn, gain perspective, and feel confident.

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