My current Cross Training class has me so inspired. All older adolescent dogs, none of them straight forward easy, some down right frustrating for the owners, and a couple with over the top behaviors that require even more managment. Yet they are ALL doing the work, ALL asking great questions, ALL watching the videos I post for them, and ALL knowing that this is a developmental phase and this too shall pass. No slackers in this group.
These Teams are working, truly working. Training skills, observation, and expectations all match. And this is where the magic happens. They are all learning that what they expect of their dogs, and in turn themselves, can only be achieved through increasing their knowledge, skills, and time spent training. This sounds so simple, but it’s actually lost on the vast majority of dog owners.
All too often a dog owner has expectations that far exceed the time that was put into training, teaching, and/or the relationship.
Context and perspective. You cannot expect a dog to loose leash walk next to you if you only practice this, well never, except when you put the leash on to go for a walk and expect it to magically happen. Time, teaching, relationship, knowledge, skill, it all goes together and shouldn’t ever be parceled apart. But the ribbon around this package is the desire to make it happen from the most honest place inside of you.
My lessons come from many places throughout my life, whether I want them to or not.
Many moons ago I worked full time on Ski Patrol in Utah. Quite possibly one of the coolest jobs I have had. My knees, or lack there of, is why I had to leave that job behind. But I am still walking under my own power so I consider it a wise and mobile choice in the long run.
It required not only the ability to be an excellent skier in all weather conditions, and on all terrains, but to also be able to ski in these conditions carrying gear and pulling sleds. Ice, powder, rocks, rain, white outs, we had to do our job as if it were all the same. Customer service, medical back ground, first responder training, chair lift evacuation skills, putting up rope lines and signs in blizzards, k9 avalanche training, avalanche control and throwing bombs, and being on skis for nearly 200+ days a year. Truly, an awesome job all the way around.
I think my rookie year taught me the most about my job, and life in general, moments I still think about today. On one particular day, our team was asked to rope off a cliff band area, in a hard to access part of the mountain. Hiking a ridge with gear, in the wind, skiing through crap snow, through trees, over rocks, to a dangerous cliff band that some knuckle head had tried to ski, unsuccessfully I might add. It kind of felt like that McDonald’s law suit years ago, remember? When the women spilled hot coffee in her lap and sued because the coffee was in fact ‘hot’.
My team leader, who was an easy man to admire for many reasons, started to sense some of my frustration towards the end of two hours of pounding posts, stringing rope, and putting up signs. And he simply said, “Nancy, you either need to lower your expectations, or put more into it. Either way is more honest”. I’m pretty sure I told him to fuck off, that was of course a phrase that was used as frequently as hello or goodbye. Locker room environment, you learn to adapt.
When we were finished, we had to ski down this unskiable cliff band with our remaining gear. When you have to do something like this for work, it makes it easier to some degree, it is work, do it. I had words rattling around in my head the whole way down. What does he mean? I work as hard as anyone! Did I have expectations of myself or my job that were over the top? What What What, did he mean?
I chewed on it for some time. What was I missing?
While I was a good skier I still had room for improvement. While I could do my job, there was room to learn more, more skills to gain. There was so much I was being exposed too, but really it was only scratching the surface. Education and practice. Education and observation.
I became a student of my job, I set my expectations on learning and skill building my rookie year. I attended classes, workshops, and seminars on everything from snow science and avalanche control, to K9 avalanche dog handling. Seeing any task we did as more than what it was. Everything, every opportunity, became a chance to learn more. I decided to put more into what I was doing through a better education. I surrounded myself with people who could teach me, mentor me.
To date, I have done this with everything I have become involved with. If I choose to not put time in, I lower my expectations, If I choose to become involved I put the time in and raise the level of my expectations.
Cheers to our Teams, I know some days seem hard, or are frustrating. Those are the times to ask yourself if your expectations are realistic for the work you are doing. Balance.