I had just came from the hairdresser, getting a short back and sides in preparation for Xmas. I have to confess I normally dread the mundane conversations that ensue, normally including ‘where are you going on holiday this year?’ or ‘what do you do for a job’, as the stylist looks blankly out the window willing the day to pass….
Well this was different. I hadn’t been to this hairdresser before, and the conversation between the hairdresser and I, was nothing short of eye opening.
Don’t ask me how we got to this topic or depth, but we discussed how she had been a journey of self discovery and awareness following childhood trauma caused by being abused. She went into great detail and shared the journey of a woman that overcame adversity and an experience that would break many others. I shared my experience from my previous role, working with those who had experienced similar and the long reaching ramifications of this experience.
It caused me to ponder. A good friend put it very eloquently, when we were talking about how different dogs can respond to different upbringings. She said ‘It’s like eggs and potatoes. Eggs go hard under hot water, potatoes get soft under hot water. Both still taste good, you just have to know how to cook them’.
What she was saying in a somewhat pragmatic manner, is we all response to pressure and stress differently, and it doesn’t make one right or wrong, or taste nice or awful. Its about understanding what the affect of that ‘hot water’ can have potatoes and eggs and being aware of the outcome.
The same can be said for people and dogs, in how they respond to pressure, stress and being in ‘hot water’. This ‘hot water’ may be trauma at a crucial point in their life, which can be the catalyst for long term issues. This is a consistent pattern with both people and dogs. That crucial time is often adolescents, or those formative years. This can be equated to puppyhood and adolescence in dogs. This is where the majority of long term behavioural issues, and mental health concerns can be established.
It seems to be that the awareness, and importance of considering well being and mental health is becoming a more open conversation. The stigma is slowly being challenged and we can share in our experiences. Often we don’t know what people are going through, or what internal battles are they under going. Someone who is loud and confident, could be using this as a front for their own inner pain. The same goes for the bully or person who attacks others on social media. Hurt people, hurt people.
Similarly, with dogs, the one that is hyped up and ‘keen’ MAY actually be anxious and stressed. Or the dog that lies for hours on end in a corner, barely showing any interest in life, MAY be shut down rather then ‘quiet and well behaved’. I have emphasised the word MAY, for the implicit reason that sometimes it MAY be what you are seeing is what it is.
The same can be said of dogs, is that aggression or sniffing masking an inner angst, confusion or concern. Your dog’s confidence is the most crucial aspect of a relationship based on trust, it should be protected always.
As a sports dog coach and professional dog trainer dealing with behavioural issues, my role is often to help deal with these issues, from both the dog and person. To unravel the protective mechanism they have built to cope with and deal with their underlying concerns. This first means establishing trust, and this can take time. But the ends does justify the means.
What could be an insignificant event for one person/dog, could be a tragedy for another and trigger a reaction, resulting in anxiety, depression, aggression….like the difference between eggs and potatoes, one may break as an outcome. Or what would be an insignificant event for one person, may be a mile stone for another.
Dog trainers and behaviourist often say, helping the dog is the easy bit. And so often this is true, but failing to be sympathetic to the needs of the human counterpart will create barriers to progress. We are there to support them to achieve THEIR goals. Ego will get in the way of that.
As a industry, dog training views are often so polarised and segregated. One trainer will say its about the history of reinforcement, one will view it as a neurological issue, one will says that application of appropriate Tellington Touch will help resolve the issue, whilst others will say manage the behaviour and environment and change the association to the trigger. Some will say its because the dog is ‘dominant’, some will says its because he’s ‘disobedient’.
But the truth of it, is… none of it really matters unless you can connect with the person and dog. You can understand if they are being a ‘potato’ or an ‘egg’ in hot water. You can communicate with them in a way that they can relate, you align yourself with their goals and you set achievable tasks and objectives for them. Some people need it blunt and short with a dose of truth serum, others need a softer approach and a more sensitive delivery.
The interpersonal relationship and connection between dog and human, can be so deep and intimate, the challenges and burdens are shared. See the ‘team’ as a whole and consider the needs of both individuals.
Here are 10 simple tips for dogs and people, to ensure you build and maintain your confidence and avoid getting in ‘hot water’ 😉
- Surround yourself with those that support you, your villagers.
- Your mind needs to be treated like a muscle, exercise it it, rest it, look after it, nurture it, care for it!
- Rehearse success. Train hard, fight way! The more you work towards your goal, the luckier you’ll be 😉
- Everyone has a story, and its far easier to be nice and kind, then negative and mean.
- You reap what you sow! Be accountable for your own actions. If you think you’ll fail you probably will, if you think you’ll succeed, you just might! And be aware of what you put out in the universe as it will be what you get back.
- Mental health and welfare concerns and issues are nothing to be ashamed of. It is what makes us human. Dispel the stigma and be open to the possibilities.
- Be kind, it costs nothing but is worth all the riches in the world.
- Social media has changed the way we engage, in the world. Often living vicariously through a filtered image or doctored photo. Having a social media detox can be just what the Dr ordered! See it for what it is, a tool to engage with others and a way to be informed. Be respectful, be mindful and be aware.
- Think, plan, do, review! That Bob Baily mantra should be a tattoo on your forehead by which you expose your dog to new situations. Just taking a moment to plan, can prevent a mind field of issues being faced, that you either dont want to, or dont need to deal with.
- As a coach, there are times to be a butt kicker, a shoulder to cry on and arms to hug… knowing which is appropriate is a skill and takes time, which only life and experience can give you. be patient with the process. Learn to view things from the lens of the student.