A year and a half ago I adopted a dog from Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand. He was flown overseas and arrived on December 6th 2016, a sweet but frightened boy of only 1 year old. We expected to do a lot of work in socializing him and helping him adapt to being a pet, as we were certain that he had never lived in a home before. We had been well warned by the rescue organization that these street dogs have a lot to overcome and can be easily overwhelmed. We welcomed the challenge.
Everything was brand new for Ty. We went exceptionally slow with him, taking our time exposing him to new places and faces. Over several months, we overcame potty training, destructive behaviour, food aggression, stranger danger, and car anxiety with lots of time and patience. It was amazing to see him start to trust us and relax into being a happy, loving companion dog.
After almost a full year of committed work, I began to see Ty’s socialization plateau and then even worse, regress. I was hopeful after so much work things like his reactivity towards new dogs would disappear and that we would be allowed to have people in the house again without issue. I became frustrated and felt defeated after he nipped a family member. I felt after all this time and effort invested things should be different. Why wasn’t he just like my other dog? Why were we going nowhere? What’s wrong with him? I became ashamed of my “middle child” and shied away from taking him places and having friends and family over. This was not the dog I had hoped for. All I could focus on were our setbacks, failures and disappointment after disappointment.
Then came the wake up call I so desperately needed. A break. A chance to reframe my mentality and regain focus. I took a trip to California to attend a workshop with many of the colleges I’d met through Training Cesar’s Way. The opportunity to be a student again and learn from others more experienced than myself. There I was surrounded by trainers who also opened up about their “problem” dogs. The guilt, shame, discouragement was all the same. We all felt compelled to have “perfect” dogs, when in reality no such thing exits. It was then I realized that I held myself and my dog up to too high a standard, which was in effect destroying our relationship. This acknowledgement did not come easy. It’s a heavy weight to bear realizing you’ve sabotaged your dog’s success by being too hard on him. But the beautiful thing is, we can always start again.
What’s crazy is the immediate change I noticed in my dog once I returned. Now that I was aware of the limitations I was placing on him, I was able to reconnect with him in a forgiving way that allowed us both to simply be. Even more stunning, the people around me noticed the change in him right away. Staff, friends and family all asked what changed. The answer is simple yet complicated…..ME. Ironically enough, I preach Dog Psychology and practicing patience to clients all the time, yet I still need to take my own advice….
“What you focus on grows.”
I was so caught up in what we hadn’t achieved and all the negatives that I was actually creating more of it in my life. I was perpetuating failure after failure because I was summoning it. Sometime you need to relax and go with the flow and have faith that it will all work out.
Needless to say I have learned a lot through this experience. Ty is my most sensitive dog and a true gift to me for that exact reason. He will always be able to keep me in check and remind me to attract what I want and not the opposite. I will know when I am feeling stressed or frustrated, setting unrealistic expectations, holding onto the past, projecting negative thoughts, or am overall not in alignment, because it will mirror in him. He has taught me to relax and trust the process. Training doesn’t happen overnight, stay with it, but also be fair to yourself and your dog. Acknowledge the massive challenges you have overcome along the way, even if you still have far to go. Sometimes you need to realize you’re doing your best and to pat yourself on the back now and again.
In summary, pack leadership isn’t easy. You will be challenged along the way. Don’t give up! These challenges are there to help you grow in areas you may not have known you needed to. But you have to focus on what you want and how much you have achieved along the way. Anytime you get discouraged I hope you revisit this post and gain perspective.
Be present. Practice patience. Be kind. Stay calm. Be humble. Give it time.
And even when you have set backs you need to learn to…
“Focus on progress. Not perfection.” I am just starting to read your blog. This is a very good article; one that is applicable to many more situations. Guenther
Thanks Guenther! 🙂 Always appreciate your support. And it’s so true, dogs have taught me more about life than anything else. It’s not just training, it’s how you live your life!