Lessons From a Dog Trainer: How I Got in My Own Way

Some days when I am out with my dog, Cricket, I act like anything BUT a dog trainer. I repeat commands, I get angry and irritated and I lose all sense and reason.There have even been days when I’ve felt like re-homing the little beast and questioned why I kept her!

For the most part, I’m really no different than any other dog owner. Except that maybe I should know how to better deal with my own because training dogs is what I do.

So if I have the knowledge and experience to train Cricket, why am I not using it?

It’s not that I don’t have the skills to handle her more effectively. It’s that emotionally she pushes every one of my buttons in a way none of my other dogs ever have.

The truth is, dog training is so much more than intellect and mechanical skills, as much as we need those to accomplish our goals and be good at what we do. Dog training, from the human end at least, is also very personal and can be quite emotional. And the emotional obstacles we come up against throughout that process can be just as challenging to overcome as it is difficult to learn the mechanical skills of a new technique.

Recently I read a post describing twelve easy steps to loving yourself more. (Key word there being “easy.”) Things like ‘Stop all criticism,’ ‘Be kind to yourself,’ and ‘Take care of your body’ were among them.

But here’s what I couldn’t figure out. If attaining any goal, in this case experiencing self love, was as easy as following twelve simple steps, why aren’t we all there already? What’s stopping us from consistently choosing encouraging thoughts instead of critical ones? Or from talking ourselves up rather than down and eating better food and exercising more instead of filling up on ice cream and making love to our sofas every night like we currently do?

If it’s that easy to achieve anything you set your mind to, regardless of whether you are talking about dog training, a state of mind or even planting the perfect garden, what stops us from taking the knowledge available to us and using it?

I considered those questions after I came across this statement in Brene Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” She said,” I don’t really study “how-to” be joyful and have more meaning in our lives. I know a lot about these topics because I study the things that get in the way of joy, meaning, and connection.” (Emphasis mine.)

So maybe accomplishing our goals isn’t just about creating a path and walking it. Maybe it’s about examining those goals and reflecting on what might be stopping us from believing we can have them in the first place.

When I considered my own challenges with Cricket, one of the biggest reasons I was having such a hard time moving ahead with her was because I was terrified of how it would feel if I actually got there, so I unconsciously sabotaged my own progress. Yes, success was my perceived enemy because it meant opening my heart and mind to a new realm of possibilities that I wasn’t ready to embrace yet.

(Which reminds me of a quote a good friend of mine regularly directs me to called ‘Our Deepest Fear’ by Marianne Williamson.

Here’s a snippet:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate;
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves: who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
…….

See the full quote here)

The next biggest obstacle I discovered was how scared I was of fucking it all up. And I mean…Fucking. Up. BIG Time. I was terrified to try anything because what if I got it all wrong? Or even just a little wrong? What if I completely destroyed my dog and her personality? And for me, that was enough to stop me still in my tracks and to accept mediocrity as the status quo instead of striving for inconceivable success.

And finally, I discovered I was too rigidly trying to follow a particular method and failing to be authentic and in the moment with the dog that I was with. I wasn’t allowing myself any flexibility to do it any other way and I ended up hating the path that I chose and it showed in my relationship with my dog.

So we’re not talking about minor obstacles here. We’re talking about some big fears and strongly held beliefs that were holding me back.

As it turns out, not being able to train my dog the way I thought I “should” has taken me to a new level of self awareness and understanding than I ever thought possible. It has forced me, sometimes through gritted teeth, to find the willingness to be honest at a depth I didn’t even know existed. It has taught me how to look at my deepest fears with excitement instead of terror and to embrace my weaknesses as opportunities instead of obstacles. It even challenged me to delve into the dirty depths of my past and to heal some long outstanding wounds. But I have found my way to the point that I can now move forward again with confidence, clarity and, for the first time with Cricket, even calmly.

So, next time you’re feeling stuck and keep asking the question “Why can’t I do this?” just listen to what you hear. Because the answer may not come from finding something you are lacking. It may come from seeing what you already have within you and transforming it into something better.

Until next time,
Darcie Jennings
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