Over the past couple of years, as I have worked to build the Dog is Good brand, I found myself with fewer hours in the day to devote to dog training. However, my heart finds its greatest fulfillment when working with dogs and their people. Lately, I have created space in my schedule to allow for a little more dog training. When I sit with new puppy clients, I listen. They excitedly share with me how they selected their new pup and how much they love the bundle of fur-covered joy that has entered their lives, but then their facial expressions change. A more serious demeanor takes over as they begin to run through the litany of behaviors that “just won’t work for them” and look to me for the answers. To ascertain a clear picture of what they hope to accomplish in training, I ask them to list the types of behavior they interpret as “appropriate” or “inappropriate”. Immediately, the list for a “bad dog” is transcribed and includes the following: jumping, pottying in the house, biting, chewing on things in the house, digging, barking, chasing after things, not coming when called, not listening to commands, stealing food, etc…The list for the “good dog” highlights the behaviors, sit, down, stay, comes when called, walks nicely on a leash, and is calm and polite.
Now I am clear- my new clients want to “de-dog” their dog and they hope to communicate this to their dog in a way that is completely foreign to the poor pup. When I bring this to their attention, they often sit back in their chairs with a sigh….”ohhhh, I did not think of it this way”. Exactly!
Before we even get into the meat of our first session on what to expect from their puppy, how it develops and learns, how to ensure successful house training, how to teach bite-inhibition, the importance of proper and safe socialization, how to set up the environment for problem prevention, etc…I ask them one simple question: What does success look like to you?
Families often focus on what they don’t want their puppies to do. They respond by saying, “I don’t want my dog to (fill in the blank with any behavior natural for dogs) rather than clearly map out what they would like to see their dog doing in a variety of real life scenarios. For example, what will the dog be doing when the doorbell rings? Where is the dog when the family is eating dinner and what is it doing? How is the dog behaving on leash and interacting with people or other dogs when walking down the street. Once they can clearly see what they define as their perfect pup in all lifestyle situations, we can now set the puppy up for success, oh- and the humans too.
Taking to heart the very question I ask of all my clients, I pondered this on a personal level. What did success look like to me? Thinking through this, I know that my vision of success has evolved as I have matured and experienced life. I am pretty sure this is not unique to me. Growing up, success was always defined by money earned, status achieved, or material things acquired. It was more about what one accomplished and how they may be perceived by the outside world. Never once did anyone ask me, how do you want to feel, how do you want to live, what will your relationships be like, or who will you help when you conquer those goals ?
Reaching my “mid-life” milestone of turning 50 (and rocking it!), I have shifted my perspective on success. I am measuring it now by how I want to live vs. focusing only on a self-imposed ladder I should climb and reach the pinnacle of success to stand firmly at the top (whatever that is). I am finding it easier to prioritize and differentiate between the “must dos”, “need to dos”, “would be nice to dos” and “really don’t have tos”. Today it is more about those quiet walks with the dogs at sunrise and sunset. It is about the laughter generated when watching a puppy encounter the ocean and the moving tide for the first time. It’s about continuing to build the bond I have to my child, connect more with friends, and improve upon personal relationships. It’s about inspiring others, touching lives, and making a difference-however small. I know what success looks like for me. I’m not quite there yet, but the journey is becoming more enjoyable.
What does success look like to you?