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Tracy Courtney

Foundational Support Connection

Collective conditioning has made it seem logical, comfortable & seemingly necessary to always be telling our dogs what to do. We have become drill sergeants that are often micromanaging or ignoring our dogs until we decide we want something from them. There is rarely a consistent balance of connection & communication. Using the example of a new romantic relationship, how do we choose to interact with this new significant other? Whether we’re with this person or apart, our thoughts incessantly revolve around this person. When we’re together, we are always attentive & keenly aware of where the other person is & what they’re doing, without exception. We notice the slightest movements & gestures & are always prepared to interact & communicate.


In contrast, when it comes to the interactions with our dogs, most people don’t think about their dog when they’re away from them. Even when they are together, there are often huge gaps when we are completely disconnected from our dogs while watching tv, doing laundry, doing yard work & many other examples. Our dogs only become an afterthought when we decide we want them to do something or stop doing something. Many feel it’s too much trouble to take their dogs places or involve them in gardening or yard work, so they are left behind at home or placed in a room, in a kennel & ignored. Even when we decide to create a specific block of time in our schedules to practice training time, we decidedly create connection time & then turn it off again when we decide to go do other things.


Groups of animals are always in non-stop connection & communication. They never turn it off because they don't know how, as it’s a natural flow of their existence. Naturally, our dogs are fully aware of our level of connection, how we turn it on & off & when we turn it on & off. The basic, foundational level of connection being brought forward here is felt like a security blanket for our dogs, as it's the normal connection that exists within the pack. When we turn it off, we are leaving our dogs unsupported, feeling lost, fearful & vulnerable. Because they need to feel this basic connection, they will begin to offer behaviour to see how we will respond & if we will momentarily reconnect with them again. This is where any behaviour that receives any kind of reaction from us, whether good or bad, will begin to be repeated & become habitual to fill the uncomfortable gap of the disconnection & lack of community support.


Each of these behavioural offerings or opportunities are a critical moment where we are responsible for what happens next. If we choose to redirect or expand positively to the behaviours being offered in these moments, we are choosing to create unscripted opportunities for our dogs to learn the difference between wanted & unwanted behaviour, thereby programming new & wanted habits. If we choose to criticize & punish the behaviour being freely offered, we are creating stress & anxiety that will accumulate & be redirected into unwanted behaviour extensions such as excessive barking, that we will be at a loss to identify a cause for later. All the while, being oblivious to the fact that it was our choices that are responsible for the unwanted escalation of behaviour.


Does this mean we need to begin thinking about our dogs all day while going about our normal routines? No, this is not necessary. This & the “Softening focus & expanding awareness” articles are to point to the need to begin to examine our own comfortable habits & how they affect not only ourselves, but everything around us. It is necessary however, to begin to soften our focus on our thoughts & begin to expand our awareness of our dogs when we are physically with them, no matter what we’re doing. We need to begin to look deeper at how our beliefs & choices are responsible for our dog’s behaviour & not our dogs. Accepting the fact that we are responsible for all of the programming, whether directly or indirectly.


Trying to understand & practice this foundational connection can become a long & frustrating process & that’s why, during every initial Parameters workshop or session, two short, simple exercises are given. These are to prove beyond a doubt how our thoughts interfere with the connection & communication & the second exercise is an experiential glimpse into feeling how animals exist within the Third Language naturally. These exercises are to help us begin to recognize that there is more going on than we were previously aware of, our own habitual behaviour & to begin to carry this expansion of connection into our normal routine with our dog. Your current level of thought activities require an intellectual understanding & a goal to work toward but this desire will be replaced later, during the process, when you learn how to be in the moment with your dog.

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