Every day that I’m out training dogs, the subject of faith comes about. You might not think so, but it does. And when you’re the owner of a special/high needs dog, it’s all the more important. With dogs like ours, discouragement abounds, and it’s so very easy to lose hope and cave in to the discouragement and disappointment.
I was blessed to have a dad who believed in and practiced positive thinking, and it was something he taught to me as well. I remember so well, coming home from college one weekend, feeling very discouraged because my Tort Law professor had given us such big daily assignments, I just didn’t see how I was going to get through that class. My dad gave me his best pep talk, but I wanted to wallow in my discouragement. I remember looking right at him and saying, “Can’t I ever just get discouraged and be upset? Why do you always have to be so positive about everything?” My dad looked a little confused and surprised, and he gave me such wisdom in his answer. “Yes, you can be discouraged and negative and upset all day long. But at the end of the day, has that changed your circumstances? Some day, you won’t have your mom and me to prop you up and help you find your courage. You’re going to have to be able to do it for yourself. This is where it starts.”
Believe me, there are many, many times when I feel frustrated and discouraged with Rugby and his progress forward. But if all I see are the things he can’t figure out, I’m not going to want to get out of bed every day. My dad was right about seeing the positive in our situations. His advice usually always was right on the money, and he was an amazing mentor growing up. But now, I’m on my own, and it’s up to me to find my courage. That’s sometimes scary, to be sure. Keeping faith sure helps.
Here are three ways to keep the faith and help you find your courage with your dog.
1. Have Faith in Your Trainer and the Training Process
If you’ve got a special/high needs dog, you absolutely need to be working with a qualified, experienced professional dog trainer who can help you navigate the waters. These types of dogs can be completely daunting, and a professional trainer can provide a lifeline for you so you won’t feel like you’re all alone, drowning in a sea of confusion and discouragement.
The training process can be lengthy if the behavior problem is a difficult one. If very serious and difficult behaviors like aggression are involved, I have to teach a foundation of skills for the dog to have as default behaviors. I’m teaching the dog and owner control on the leash. Believe me, if your dog can’t Sit/Stay, there’s no way on the planet he’s going to stop when he wants to go after another dog in an aggressive state!! Owners often want to just cut to the chase and get on with the “problem” behavior, but I have to go step by step so that their dogs can come along with the process and learn. I can’t make the process go faster than the dog’s progress!
2. Have Faith in your Dog
I can look back on my relationship with Rugby, and I feel so sad that I didn’t trust him more in our early days. I felt as if I was the one with the education and the training in working through behavior disorders, so clearly he just needed to trust me to “fix” him. Often, Rugby has good intuitive thinking, but his lack of impulse control always seems to get in the way. As we’ve worked together over the years, I’ve learned to slow down and trust Rugby when he’s had enough exposure to something that’s difficult for him. As a result, he’s started to trust that I’m not going to throw him under the bus by pushing him harder than he can manage. When he says he’s stressed, I’ve learned to trust him. I’ve learned ways to help him find the alternative behaviors that he knows, when a given situation gets to be too big for him. We’ve learned to become a team.
3. Have Faith in Your Gut
There have been times where I’ve let my “head knowledge” overrule my gut, and that’s not always been a good thing.
I’ve always been very impressed with my vet, because when she’s working with Rugby, she often asks me if he’s going to be comfortable with something before she tries it, and she always respects my gut when I tell her what I think he can tolerate. My gut has always served me well in those situations, and I honestly think it’s helped Rugby’s trust with me. My gut is usually to go slowly where he’s concerned, and that’s always served me very well.
I’ve always appreciated clients who were honest and brave enough to tell me that they thought their dog might respond better if we try to do things a different way. Dog training is just not one size fits all, and sometimes….often times….small tweaks that I make to suit a particular dog’s personality or temperament, can make all the difference in the world for going forward with that dog. I depend upon my clients to be their dog’s advocate and spokesperson! They are also their dog’s eyes and ears for me as they work with their dogs each day, so they often have really wonderful insights for me when we’re getting down to nitty gritty training with their dogs. Many owners I work with don’t miss the mark by much when they trust their gut with their dogs.
And finally….don’t discount faith and prayer when it comes to your dogs. I have a personal belief that God takes great interest in His creation….and that includes our little furry critters as well!! I’m convinced that God has given me some wonderful insights with Rugby, and ways to problem solve with him too! He’s the source of my faith, and He makes it possible for me to keep putting one foot in front of the other every day with my little speckled hot mess of a dogger!
And…just in case you wondered….the answer is yes! The “James” in Rugby’s name is for my dad…