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Tracy Courtney

Extinguishing the Spark

Much time has been taken to dissect & look deeper into particular new concepts, in an attempt to ignite new sparks of comprehension from different perspectives & opening up new pathways of observation & understanding. This is why I try to adhere to an open-ended question format rather than statements, to allow for experiential exploration through beginning to listen to our animals instead of other humans. There is always a choice, to consider & explore for limitless opportunities or deny & carry on with how we choose to believe things must be, thereby imposing our own limitations.

I think we can agree that in order to have an inferno, there must be a single or multiple sparks, that are responsible for igniting that inferno. If this initial spark didn’t exist or was quickly extinguished, then an inferno would not be possible. This is another way of pointing to what I’ve been attempting to get across all along.

Typically, when is it that we finally decide we need help with behavior problems? Only after we’ve reached the point of creating a behavior inferno, do we finally decide we either have to find a way to solve the problem or discard the source of our stress & anxiety, because we just can’t deal with it any longer. We create all kinds of reasons to justify our decisions, in order to make ourselves feel better. Because this dog or horse is wild & out of control, I’m going to dump them off, sell them, segregate them so I can limit the amount of contact with them, or euthanize them because I just don’t feel good about dumping these issues off on someone else. We rid ourselves of the problem in one of several ways & then we never think about them again.

If questioned about our decisions, we create several more excuses to justify our actions, such as it had to be done before they hurt someone or because they were destroying property or I just couldn’t trust them around the new puppy or horse or family members that come to visit. And we feel completely comfortable in having made these decisions & the justifications we use to appease ourselves & others. They are always the right decision because this pet was a problem, we finally rid ourselves of the problem & replaced the problem with a new pet, that will often turn out to be a problem as well. The cycle goes on endlessly.

If asked what the source of the problem was, we will always point fingers at the pet. The dog growled or bit someone, the dog was always running away & getting into trouble, the dog was chewing things into shreds, or peeing all over the house or barking all night & I couldn’t get any sleep. The horse was impossible to catch, the horse was always picking on other horses, the horse had no ground manners & ran over top of people, the horse kicked someone, or the horse was too spooky, would explode unexpectedly & was too unpredictable from a safety viewpoint.

What we fail to realize is that we are 100% responsible for the sparks that eventually led to the inferno & if we had taken the time to extinguish the sparks, we could have avoided the inferno altogether. This is where many common methods taught, that we accept as so necessary & correct, fall short in preparing us to not only recognize the sparks but in how to extinguish them. We all do the best we can with the information we have & nobody could be at fault for doing their best at the time, but we need to begin to ask ourselves if we really did put forth our best effort? Because ultimately, it’s the animal who suffers in the end & not us, as we move forward in our lives without them.

We must begin to recognize these sparks, that will lead to the infernos & be willing to do what’s in the best future interest of the animal, not placate our personal, fleeting emotions. Although our hearts are ultimately in the right place to begin with, our choices can quickly lead to misjudgement of our pets & others. Using a common example, there are many who will become over-emotional about the use of a kennel with puppies. They feel they are cruel & unnecessary punishments. Examples like this are where we really need to begin to examine the facts & our motivations behind the use of these things. Any tool can be used as a benefit or a weapon, depending on the hands that use it. The tool isn’t responsible for how it’s used, the hands that wield it are. This is where open understanding & empathy must begin to replace personal beliefs & sympathy.

Where some would view kennels as punishment, they can be a valuable tool to prevent the development & solidification of unwanted behavior. They can prevent anger, frustration, punishment & even euthanasia if they stop puppies from learning to do to the bathroom in the house, tearing open the garbage, chewing personal items & furniture & ingesting foreign objects that will require expensive surgeries or euthanasia as a result. They can certainly be used as a torture chamber if we choose to use them improperly. There is always a choice.

Common methods of training fail to teach us is how to recognize these sparks in the first place & not only that we can, but how to extinguish them before they spread into an out-of-control inferno. How is this accomplished? By letting go of all the things that haven’t worked for us & beginning to listen to our pets, who have all the answers we’ll ever need. As abstract & foreign as this may sound, it’s really quite simple if we’re willing to make the choice to start being more aware of what our pet’s are doing at all times & being prepared to redirect unwanted behavior when our pet decides they want to explore something new. We must be willing to set aside our judgements & labels in order to observe new behavior for what they really are, just an inquisitive exploration of their environment.

We must begin to put some forethought into what behavior we want in any situation with our pets, in order to help ourselves move forward out of impatience & confusion about what’s happening & how to extinguish our own personal sparks at their onset. When we know what we want, it doesn’t matter what route we take to get there. What’s important is not giving up & quitting, like so many of us do. Our will to follow through with what we want must be stronger than our pet’s will in order to succeed & will never require or justify the use of punishment, correction or gadgets. Many of us have deeply ingrained habits of giving in & allowing our pets to do whatever they want because we feel this is a kinder option than brute force, but this line of thinking will always result in anger & aggression eventually, when we finally reach a breaking point. There is no balance here mentally, emotionally or physically for either party.

Our pets learn that they can do whatever they want & this is totally acceptable until their human suddenly explodes without reason, from their point of view. This creates a feeling of always walking on eggshells & never knowing why, how or when these explosions are going to happen. This is not a very comfortable or stable environment & will lead to an accumulation of stress & anxiety. Then the human will exclaim that they can’t understand why there would possibly be any stress or anxiety because they give their pet everything they want. What we fail to realize is that we absolutely can allow our pets to do whatever they want & trust in their judgement, but not until the ground rules are firmly established.

On the other side of this coin of unbalance, dogs are accustomed to the rules of the pack, which they learn from their parents & siblings at a young age. These rules are vastly different from the rules of humans, which are always changing & can’t be relied upon. Because humans are accustomed to dictating through human perceptions & emotions, this is a completely foreign language to our pets & requires more time, effort & patience in the beginning of our relationship, to build this new understanding. All too often, building a mutual language of connection, communication & understanding is not taught. What is taught, is a human dictatorship of strict rules & repetitive physical actions. Conform or be replaced by another who is willing to conform. Or do whatever you want until we can no longer stand it anymore, & then be replaced. Where is the balance or justification here?