If you know me, you may know this story already, but my first dog Koby was a challenge.
In fact, the word “challenge” is an understatement.
I loved him like crazy, and hindsight being what it is, I wouldn’t have it any other way, but this dog turned my world upside down.
He was a rescued Bully Mix that suffered from every behavioral problem in the book.
Separation anxiety so bad, he tore a 9 ft hole in the carpet of my college apartment…
So much enthusiasm for his walks, that I could regularly be found struggling just to stay upright and not make a total fool of myself…
Escalating reactivity with other dogs, and very worrisome aggression towards people popping up when he turned 2 years old …
And all this despite the fact that we had him enrolled in training classes from the instant we brought him home.
Listen, I loved that dog like crazy, and I love the lessons that he taught me – my quest to solve his behavioral issues is what inevitably propelled me into a career working with dogs – but back then, it was stressful and frustrating, and I regularly felt like a failure.
Back when I worked with Koby (or perhaps “struggled with” would be a better term), I learned one very valuable lesson that I’ve carried with me to this day.
This lesson resulted in a massive mindset shift that ultimately helped us be more successful. And that ultimately helps me be more successful with every dog that I’ve worked with since.
The lesson I learned was to “Stop should-ing on myself…”
The thing was, every day I said to myself “I SHOULD take Koby for a walk”. I mean, that’s what GOOD dog owners do…right?
But walking him was a nightmare. He pulled, he was reactive, and the experience left me drained and my confidence in the gutter.
By “Should-ing on myself” I was setting us both up to fail.
I wasn’t allowing myself the capacity to teach him to behave on lead.
I wasn’t allowing myself the time to show him the right way and expose him slowly to the things he needed exposure to.
And I was adding unnecessary pressure to myself and putting us both in a situation that wasn’t good for us.
I didn’t HAVE to walk him every day. I mean, we didn’t have a yard so I had to get him out for potty breaks – but we didn’t have to spend an hour arguing with one another, me struggling for control while he dragged me all over the place just because I thought that’s what good owners did…
That hour would have been MUCH better spent at home, working out our kinks. Teaching him to accept the leash and walk with me, and slowly exposing him to the things he got worked up about.
And guess what? As soon as we made that shift, as soon as I stopped feeling guilty for not doing the things I thought I was supposed to do as a “good” dog owner, the brain work and dog training we did impacted our relationship in a profound way.
We started having successes, instead of the constant failures we had experienced in the past. And we improved our communication with one another, which strengthened our bond.
In no time, with all of those successes under our belts, we were able to actually get back out there and walk for hours without the stress…
…without the conflict…
….and without the constant pulling and frustration…
Now, I’m not going to say I don’t “Should” on myself these days…I do…
Things like I SHOULD work on heeling at training club tonight because the group is pressuring me to, regardless of whether or not I’m ready…
Or I SHOULD teach my dog that behavior in a certain way, because XYZ trainer told me it was better, despite the fact that I’ve had great success with an alternative method.
Or I SHOULD feed my dog a certain way because I’m pressured into thinking it’s what’s best.
By just being aware, however, I’m able to recognize the “Shoulds” for what they really are…
Expressions of my tremendous care and concern for my dogs. Which is something to be proud of…not something to feel guilty about.
All too often, we “SHOULD” on ourselves.
We do things not because they are what’s best for us and our dog, but because they are things we think we are supposed to do to be a “good” dog owner or “good” dog trainer.
So if you find yourself saying “I should XYZ…” stop and ask yourself these questions.
“Why should I do that?”
“Is it going to change things for my dog TODAY?”
“What will I accomplish if I do that?”
And, “What will it hurt if I don’t?”
By simply being aware, you’ll start to experience a profound mindset shift that will move you from feeling guilty to feeling empowered.
Stop “Should-ing” on yourself. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your dog either.
Hit me in the comments below and tell me about a time where you inadvertently “Should” on yourself. I want to hear your stories!