Anyone that knows me knows I am not comfortable in front of people. It is one of the reasons trialing is a chore for me. I know that I spend a lot of time in front of people. All I can say about that is, some days are easier then others.
Awhile back I was asked to do a little demo. The demo did not go as planned. I was a little embarrassed to say the least. I did get to show and explain some things so not a complete loss (unless you were looking at my pride). People talked some about the demo, how it was good because it showed me as human, how they could still learn, etc.. No big deal…. I moved on; sort of.
The more that they discussed the things they watched, and kept saying that they were glad it did not go as easy as planned, the more it became a problem in my mind. They assured me it was not a problem. The problem was, the more they assured me, the more it became an issue.
It was not terrible, just not as smooth as I had planned. If you know me, you would know that alone would bother me. The reassurances did not ease my mind, they actually built the issue I was seeing. I kept thinking, If they feel they have to reassure me it must have been bad.
Lets leave that instance for a bit, to look at another.
This also happened to me not long ago.
I was working dogs with some people. My work again, (sometimes I get tired of saying this), did not go how I wanted. When I was done, AGAIN, I was embarrassed. I was faced with two options, walk straight to my pick up or go back to the group. Since I am trying to change how people perceive me, and me them; I chose to do the opposite of what I wanted to do; I turned and walked back to the group.
As I got back to the group I was greeted with conversation about everything but what had gone on in my work. Well these people knew me and were trying to not make me over think by moving the conversation on to happier things. My over thinking became an obstacle to their process. The more they avoided talking about the work the more the issue built in my mind. I began thinking, “they are avoiding talking about the work I just did. Wow, it must be worse then I thought.”
I know, it seems like a no win situation. This got me to thinking about dealing with issues with our dogs. In dealing with stock dogs issues, I can assure you there is a way to win (dealing with Dave issues, well it works too).
When we are working with dogs and run into issues I see two very common ways of dealing with them. The first is; people will find something that bothers a dog and then they hammer on the issue in an effort to desensitize the dog and assure it there is no issue. The second; they simply avoid the issue. Both of these ways have a tendency to build the issue in the dogs mind.
To me the best example of how to deal with this comes from small children. When a child does something that scares them what is one of the first thing they do? More often then not, they look at the adults around them. Their reaction is often based on the adults reaction. A child that scares themselves will often stop crying and start to laugh if those around them are laughing. If the people around them are apprehensive, the crying continues or gets worse. Just like a child our dogs often determine how they deal with issues based on reactions of those around them. It just so happens, the handler is the others around them.
The lesson; don’t turn a none issue into an issue.
By over focusing on an issue we feel we are making it better by desensitization. Desensitization can help but I often watch people put so much effort into it that they actually draw more attention to the issue, not to the overcoming of it. Remember in the first example of me, the more I was reassured the more I became unsure it wasn’t an issue. A little reassurance was good but when it kept coming it stopped having the desired affect and actually began to have the opposite.
This is not to say we do not work on issues. We work on issues with a focus on the answer not the issue. By working on the fix rather then the issue the focus changes and so will your attitude; with your attitude change, what you project to your dog will change as well. Often when we know there is an issue the handlers body language will change or they will become apprehensive thus telling the dog there is an issue (remember, laugh, don’t re-live what just happened or what is about to happen) . By non-emotionally dealing with an issue and moving on, we begin to turn an issue into a non-issue as well as decreasing the risk of turning a non-issue into an issue.
Avoidance, avoidance is not the answer (we can turn this into a Dave lesson as well but for your sake lets not go there…for now). An issue will not get fixed by avoiding it. When working livestock we do not have the option of avoiding. We have to deal with what ever the situation we are in at the time. If we have avoided an issue, we have not learned or taught our dogs to deal with that issue; it is still there. When we are working and we run into that issue the handlers body language will lose its confident movement, again telling the dog there is an issue. Now both dog and handler are worried, which then puts them in the wrong mindset to efficiently overcome the issue.
So what is the take away? It is simple. When we deal with issues (Dave or dog) don’t over-focus and don’t avoid. Find the balance between the two with quiet confidence and there you have your way to win the no win situations.