Some ingredients for being a good leader: understanding everyone makes mistakes, understanding someone must be strong and hold the wheel when no one else can, understanding how you can influence others, understanding there is more than one way, understanding when to change directions and empathy.
I am recovering from a car accident. I was rear ended at a stop sign at the end of October and I took a pretty good wallop to the head. I am finally feeling well enough to start
working with Jedi. I found a nose work instructor who has worked with dogs like Jedi. I found his blog, you can check it out here. We had our first private nose work lesson this past weekend. My only goal was simply for Jedi to have a pleasant experience, to go in calm and leave calm. I haven’t done much research on nose work, it was suggested by my vet behaviorist and one of my past herding instructors. I believe I should have looked into it a lot sooner.
I could tell when we pulled up to the facility, Jedi recognized where we were. The classroom is next door to our Vet behaviorist clinic and they share a vestibule. It was early Sunday morning and none of the other businesses were open. We had the parking lot to ourselves. Yes! We would be able to make an almost effortless calm entry.
I had emailed the instructor ahead of time to provide details about Jedi. I gave him permission to contact the behaviorist that I am working with. He didn’t believe it was necessary and was comfortable with all of my plans on creating a good experience for Jedi, so we rolled with it.
When I arrived, I left Jedi in the car while I brought our gear into the building. I had been doing mat work with Jedi, using Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. I set up a nice place for him have a respite if he got anxious. Mat work really helps settle him in strange places. It is like carrying around a tiny slice of home. If you have an anxious dog, I highly recommend it.
I had no idea what to expect. I had a stuffed kong (will bring 2 or 3 next time) and 10 different super high value treats at the ready. The instructor was awesome from the get go. He setup a test for us in the vestibule. He placed 3 boxes randomly around the room and put some food on one of them. He asked that I bring Jedi into the entry way and simply let him explore.
Now this is very different from all other classes we have taken, where trainers wanted me to have Jedi keep his eyes on me 👀. This time, we want Jedi to use his nose 👃to puzzle out the environment. We were looking for two things. Would he explore, specifically using his nose to find the food? If he found the food, what would he do with it?
There we were, at the very beginning, about to take our first steps. The beginning can be exciting, scary, daunting. I took a long cleansing breath in and out. Then I gathered up Jedi and we calmly walked to the building. <= YES!
The food was setup pretty much right in front of him, maybe 5 feet from the door and Jedi is roughly 2 ½ feet long. He did sniff it out and he went for it. Interestingly enough, he only ate half of it. He would not eat the rest. After about a minute, I ended up doing what 90% of people do if their dog won’t eat it; I pointed the rest of food out to him. That was enough validation, so he finished it.
What does that mean? Well, he wasn’t comfortable with finishing the food, because he wasn’t sure if anything bad would happen if he did. His primal instincts told him to grab the food, but something overrode that and he stopped. I stepped in to validate it was ok, so he finished it. He did not eat it of his own volition; he didn’t have enough confidence to do that. He chose no action, not wanting to ascertain the consequences of choosing and making a mistake. He looked to me to validate his action before proceeding.
With nose work, we are going to change the game. Jedi will now have the opportunity to work things out in his own mind and use his nose, instead of his eyes 👀. He will be using independent problem-solving skills. It is all up to Jedi and that is how real confidence is built. The instructor pretty much told me, you can’t get it wrong. Awesome! THAT is a great learning environment.
It is so interesting how this experience is running parallel to what I am working on for my Rally-O students. All of these tight leashes, you see people stiff and afraid, they are not fully communicating with their dogs. They are afraid to make mistakes; sometimes we are taught that making a mistake is failure.
I am trying to break that mindset. Mistakes are your own chances to improve, be creative and learn new things! I mention this often and I always start first night making sure the students understand we will not use the word mistake; we call them “learning opportunities”.
I am hoping nose work will provide that missing link for Jedi. It will fill in that tiny gap. Giving Jedi the confidence that I cannot just pull out of him myself. He has the smarts, he has the work ethic, he has the drive, he is absolutely amazing! If you add in another dog, he’s is just gone from me. He is only functioning through his lens of fear.
In those moments, Jedi is experiencing something I cannot see. That doesn’t mean it isn’t real for him and I can deeply empathize. I know the anxiety, the panic, that swirling of the brain, having suffered from fear and anxiety most of my life. I didn’t understand I held the power to alter my lens.
I truly believe an often overlooked and essential element for people or animals with fear anxiety is a safe learning environment. When you read about socializing puppies, it is typically suggested that you tote your pup all over the place to have all kinds of experiences. This is great for a confident pup, but if your pup is overly cautious, adding too much pressure too soon can cause anxiety. The pressure starts your mind spinning and everything just becomes scary, like you are making decisions while you are standing in traffic. An overwhelmed mind is making life or death decisions.
I realize now, I did push Jedi when he was a youngster, because I read and believed you just brought them around the scary stuff so they could get over it. There is a subtle difference. You cannot force another being to “get over it”. While it is true, they do have to face their fear to see it won’t hurt them. It has to be at their pace, it is up to the leader to recognize the moments where it all becomes too much and give them space. Come back another day with a relaxed mind.
Jedi is the only one who can realize that danger is not lurking at every turn. I cannot correct or cheer him over his emotions. I can influence his behaviors and I also want him to realize he is playing the game with me. The teamwork we have built thus far is shining through.
When we started the food was pretty much right in front of him. I continued that at home, not adding to much challenge, until he stopped looking to me and started using his nose. Once he got it, I slowly upped the ante. If he stopped and looked to me, I had made it too challenging and the next few were I made sure were easy for him.
We have now progressed to the point where I hide the treats out of his sight. I might place a small box, behind a larger box and against the wall. If it takes him longer that is ok, as long as he uses his nose. I don’t want him to get frustrated or look to me, that is defeating the purpose of the game.
So far, he remains at the ready while I hide the treats. When I go to get him, he is leaning forward, eyes piercing mine. When I release him, his feet spin in place for a moment, before he gains traction. He runs to the search area and follows his nose. We played the game all week and each time he didn’t want to come back upstairs with me when we were done. He even goes downstairs by himself and let out little yelp barks, to call me down there.
Nose work is self-rewarding. He finds the goodies on his merit, bolstering his confidence in himself. I simply reinforce that with a jackpot of treats, praise or a rousing game of tug. I will work hard to make it the most fun he could ever have. He is already lost to it.
As soon as he is ready, we will start the Nose Work Road Show. We will go to new strange places and we will play the game out in the world, where Jedi believes the scary dogs live. We will play in hopes that in his own mind, he will figure out this world where we play the fun game, isn’t so bad.
What if someone told you, everyday is your birthday and prizes are hidden everywhere.
Who knows where the next box will be or what’s in it? Maybe, just maybe, you might come to believe the world is wondrous! With a new motivation, you may be able to believe life is an joyous surprise, by focusing on the presents/blessings/the boxes/the things that bring you joy, instead of the scary stuff that perchance, possibly, could, maybe happen. Peeking around the next corner could suddenly become the best thing ever!
At this time, it isn’t about looking at me, it isn’t about looking to me, it isn’t about timely interruptions or how I assert myself, it isn’t even ABOUT ME! Jedi has to resolve his own fears, build his own confidence. If he cannot, it will always be there bubbling under the surface.
He needs to know his own decisions do not hurt him. Fear overrode even his most primal instinct, food. Nose work will provide a place where he can exercise free will
and make his own brilliant decisions, which bring him rewards through his nose. My part, keep the learning environment up to Jedi’s safety standards and believe in him.
A hot topic right now is empathy. Empathy is having the ability to understand and share feelings with others. To do this, we must realize why we have different views. Each person’s human or even each doggie experience is different. Even if you are standing right next to another being, you won’t have the same experience. Believe it or not, they just cannot be the same.
Our brains all process in their own unique way, based on our own genetics and our life experiences. What an awesomely amazing thing!! The creative possibilities are infinite! Even though we all have our own truth, we cannot discount that another beings experience isn’t happening, just because we have not lived it or we perceived it differently through our own lenses. Why even try to judge others decisions, because we have no idea what they are founded on.
For example, sometimes people see Jedi reacting to other dogs, they might take a step back and could be a bit put off, by his attempts to look scary. It is really a smoke screen, to distract you from the real issue. You don’t have the full story about Jedi or anyone else you perceive acting a certain way. Don’t be fooled by it, recognize it, because it is happening prominently out in the world right now.
I digress, people cannot know that Jedi has had some very bad experiences and he is only looking through his lens of fear. This strategy has been successful for him in the past, it is his go to behavior. If you judge Jedi or anyone else on one moment, you missed out. He is really a sweet, snuggly guy.
Through empathy, we find common ground and understanding. Without empathy or diversity, we will all be living in the horror movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. No one gives a crap about anything and it is terrifying.
Instead, let’s all go out, leave fear behind us and look for the boxes. They may be anywhere, inside you, the people you encounter or around the next bend. The diversity of life’s gifts that is what makes life great! 💖