Imagine getting a new job. Let’s pretend your new boss is eager to work well with you, and for you to work well with her.
From the outset, however, you feel like your boss wants you to be different than how you naturally are. You might figure this is just the learning curve, and it’s pretty steep. You keep telling yourself it’s newness, or nerves, and that things will get better, but it feels deeper. No matter what you do, you feel like who you are, at your core, is not acceptable. Your boss wants you to be different, fundamentally different, from who you are. Trying to do the right thing helps a bit, and each time you actually manage to complete a task the way your boss wants you to, you receive your paycheck. But you can feel it — your boss is never actually happy with you, and you, just plain old you being you never makes her happy. She always seems at least a little bit disappointed in you.
If you express yourself at work, either verbally or by acting out, your boss punishes you. You learn pretty quickly that self-expression is a bad idea. If you just try to zone out and disengage and be content by yourself, you get harangued until you interact more. But you can’t interact with her the way she wants you to, so you just make her more disappointed and angry, and you feel more and more hopeless.
You might start to wonder why you were hired, since you’re definitely not what the boss wants. You probably feel like it’s pointless to try harder, since all your past efforts have come up short. No matter what you do right, you’re always getting schooled, guided, forced, or bribed to be different. It reaches the point where you find it hard to trust those good moments, few as they are, when you’re actually getting praised. The praise is only for what you did – the action, not you.
Humans can look for new jobs. We can move out of toxic marriages, cut off dysfunctional relationships, and if economic conditions permit, leave soul-killing jobs.
I read a lot of dog trainer blogs, watch videos, and listen in on Facebook groups. I have picked up on a theme among some trainers and their disciples. Leadership is being confused with acting like the boss in our example above. To all those people struggling to be a good leader for their dog, and in the process being unsuccessful and dissatisfied with your dog’s progress, I ask: can you accept that your dog is trying her hardest and doing her best? What if what you’re getting, right now, today, with crappy leash walking and broken stays, is the very best your dog will ever offer you? Can you accept your dog as he or she is?
That’s worth repeating. Can you accept your dog as he or she is? What if all your efforts to make Buddy be different is making you both feel exhausted and lousy about the relationship? Can you stop demanding that the dog be different and accept the dog as he or she is?
This doesn’t mean you don’t train your dog. This doesn’t mean you let your dog engage in dangerous activities like running into the road. This doesn’t mean you throw up your hands and do nothing with the dog. But it does mean that everything you do comes from a place of truly knowing and accepting the dog for who he or she is. Maybe not loving it – that may or may not ever be a part of the picture. I have known some very unlovable dogs.
But acceptance is different. Accepting a dog as he or she is means you adjust your goals. You manage some situations because your dog simply can’t. You can drill, train, demand, cajole, and bang your head against a wall but you won’t change who your dog is. You won’t be able to erase the factory default setting. You can buy new leashes, clickers, collars of every type, harnesses, and whips and chains (not literal ones!) but all you’ll do is end up with a ton of stuff you don’t use. You can pay trainer after trainer, and attend every class your local area offers, but your dog will still be who he or she is.
You see, a bit like a bad boyfriend, or the gem you end up marrying, the innate characteristics don’t change because of love or pressure. Ask anyone who ever believed a partner would change for them. No amount of love, nookie, or verbal bludgeoning ever made anyone change. Pick the partner with whom you click, because no matter how much he or she may even want to… people can’t fundamentally change who they are to please other people in their lives. And neither can dogs.
Accepting your dog won’t make him or her more biddable or more cooperative. It won’t earn you blue ribbons. It won’t be the magic ingredient that suddenly turns your relationship around and firmly places you in the leadership role. What it will do is make all the effort sting a little bit less. It changes the definition of success. It changes your goals.
And it changes your biochemistry. Accepting your dog (or your spouse or kid) for who he or she is will reduce stress, and that will change your hormonal secretions when you’re around your dog, and guess what? Your dog will be able to tell. You will feel different to be around. You can’t fake it. You can’t pretend. You have to do it for real, with your whole heart. But the results will be better.
The truth is that we click with some dogs and not others. Monique Anstee writes about intuitive dogs in her book As a Dog Thinketh, but I think sometimes it’s not just the dog that’s intuitive. I think there are also some people who are more fluent in Dog, more open to receiving dog essence, and just plain “get” dogs. Maybe not all dogs, but those intuitive folks are champs at accepting their own dogs. And when you have a dog that seems to truly “get” you and vice versa, it’s pure magic. It flows, it’s easy, and it’s like having a best friend that finishes your sentences for you.
If you’re seeking that, know that you have to offer it. You have to be available for connection by being present without demands. You have to spend time NOT training, not asking anything, not working your dog, not stimulating him, not doing all the things your Instagram guru told you to do, but just by being with the dog. Being present and accepting your dog without expectation, desire, or need. No pressure, no goals, no hopes or fears. Just acceptance.