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Tracy Courtney

Accepting Discomfort

This article is an expansion on the "Finish This Moment" article. When we're engaged in training time with our dog (or horse), there are often times we begin to feel uncomfortable, for various reasons that cause us to hesitate, pause or stop what we're doing all together. It's because we're unsure about what we're trying to achieve, if we're doing it correctly, or we begin to have a feeling that what we're trying to achieve isn't working because our dog's behaviour is getting worse instead of better, or we begin with confidence & then start to doubt ourselves & our abilities, so we stop repeatedly during various points of what we're trying to achieve, sometimes to regroup & sometimes out of frustration. 

How many of us have taken the time to really stop & analyze what happens when we begin to feel this discomfort? If we do take time to consider our thought processes, actions, reactions, cause & effect, many of us would limit this examination to ourselves. Generally, when people begin to feel uncomfortable about anything, the auto reactionary response is to contract our awareness to ourselves exclusively because we all try to avoid. Sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming, so we are unable to think of anyone or anything else, except how we're feeling in these moments. It's usually accompanied by stress, anxiety, agitation & more often than not, we feel a need to limit or escape the situation that's responsible for these unpleasant feelings. 

How many of us have considered how our own feelings of discomfort & the resulting choices we make, affect our pets? Very few. One of the hardest things for people to accept, is when I say we are 100% responsible for the programming of our pet's behaviour & not the pet themselves. If we're willing to expand our perceptions beyond reactionary avoidance, we may find some interesting facts. 

It's the stop that teaches, right? Every time we stop asking for what we want, our pet takes a snapshot photo of that exact moment & files it away as a tattooed memory of, "oh, that's what they wanted!". It's filed away as "I did the right thing in that moment, so this is the behaviour that you want me to repeat". This is one of the reasons the things we try to teach seem to take forever, which leads us to label our pet as unintelligent or ADHA, which are common excuses I hear quite often.

This is one of the reasons why there are so many behaviours we just can't seem to find a solution for, so we will conjure up more excuses like, "that's just the way he is, or he's too old & set in his ways to change now". I heard this one again as recently as a couple of days ago. It's not the pet that's set in their ways & are unwilling to change, it's us, & there's no talking someone out of this mindset because they'll tell you with certainty that they know for a fact that there can be no other cause.

If we were to look at this from a more logical point of view & compare the number of times we have stopped asking for what we want in a single training session, many of us should see a light bulb go off. I will use a recent example to illustrate. I asked a client with a dog to show me what had been happening & how this person had attempted to solve the situation. The session revolved around this dog dragging this person on a leash & literally pulling them off their feet to cause injury. While showing me how they had been trying to solve the problem, they tried several attempts at several different ways of changing the behaviour.

For teaching purposes, I counted the number of stops during this 10 minute wrestling match. This person never achieved a single correct response to any direction given & then gave up after 46 stops. In essence, what this person had unknowingly achieved in that 10 minutes was to teach the dog how to pull harder on the leash 46 times & not pull on the leash 0 times. I would like you to multiply this equation to the number of times this dog was placed on a leash in a single day & then multiply that by the length of time the dog spent on the leash at each interval. Now multiply this number by the length & times this dog spends on a leash over a one week period. We are aware that consistent repetition is needed to establish & solidify behaviour but what we don't realize is how much time & effort we put into teaching our pets to do the opposite of what we really want.

So how does this article expand on the "Finish This Moment" article? We must begin to become much more aware of what we're trying to achieve & how we're trying to achieve it. We have no problem pushing our pets through their discomfort in an attempt to seemingly help them grasp what we're trying to achieve. It's not our pets who need to be pushed because they can learn through simplicity, if simplicity is being offered. We must learn to recognize & accept our discomforts & be willing to work toward pushing ourselves through them in order to reach the other side of familiarity & gaining confidence, which will eliminate them. Otherwise, we are just chasing our own tails & teaching our pets to do the same. Then we'll stand back & ask others why our pet is chasing their tail? When we decide to ask for a response from our pet, we must be willing to finish this moment to tattoo the correct response into their memory.