Under Pressure . . .

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. This is due, in part, to all the things that have been keeping me busy, but also because I took time to write an article for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants Journal, which you can read here (you have to scroll down a couple rows). Hopefully you find it interesting and helpful.

First Things First

One night several years ago my dog lost her trail at a busy intersection.  The scent she was following had washed down the banks of the road into the ditches on either side.  As cars passed, remnants of the scent trail floated away making it extremely difficult for my dog to follow it further.  I became frustrated because I thought my dog had just stopped working.  Because I focused on the perceived misbehavior, I couldn’t see the actual problem–or what my dog had done right!  All I saw was that she had started eating grass and jumping up on bystanders instead of working.  Later, to my chagrin, I realized that these behaviors were signs of her stress, presumably stress she felt over her failure to please me.

Fortunately for both of us, a more experienced tracker instructed me to back up and re-cast her over a part of the trail where she had worked scent before, and, sure enough, she went back to work–right up to the road, where, once again, she stopped.  This time the handler suggested that I put her on lead and take her across the road.  I did and again she went back to work, quickly finding her hidden helper, much to her delight. It had been an exceptionally hard trail!

Like my dog, we all are searching for something or other.  And, like her, we work hard at it.  We tend to focus on failure and fail to see strengths, however.  We refuse to modify our plan, show flexibility, or simply laugh when things fall apart–most things in life are not life or death.  Often we fail to formulate a true goal.  Unsurprisingly, we get frustrated.  It’s hard to make it to the end of the trail if you’ve lost all scent of it and are beating yourself up, or, worse, don’t know what you’re looking for in the first place!

That night, I learned that I must stay neutral when my dog loses her way.  Provide a little help and encouragement, instead of simply criticizing failed efforts.  I don’t mean we should accept failure, just don’t punish it.  Most importantly, learn from it, and look out for small successes to reward.  One step at a time, we can all get where we wish to go.