In January of this year, I adopted a dog. I hadn’t exactly planned to do it. However, I hadn’t planned not to either. I offered to foster a dog during a snowy weekend when the local shelter was trying to get most of the dogs out into foster homes for a short time. So just to help out, I brought home a dog that I really didn’t think I wanted to keep long term. She was too young, too energetic, she growled at other dogs and she wasn’t leash trained. I thought it would be easy to take her back when the weekend was over. I was wrong.
I ended up falling in love. Seriously.
Here’s the part of the relationship that has surprised and challenged me. I am so invested in this dog having great behavior. In the beginning, it was so that I could do the things that I needed to do with her. In other words, she needed to learn to walk on a leash so I could take her outside. Dragging me from pillar to post and lunging after every bird and squirrel in the yard, made our lives difficult.
However, as I mixed and mingled with other dogs and other dog owners, at the dog park or walking on hiking trails, I became aware that I didn’t just want her behavior to improve. I wanted her to be the perfect, the model dog.
I enrolled her in dog school.
I watched videos online.
I bought several products to improve behavior.
And before I knew it, I was anxious and worried about how she would behave in any situation and how that behavior would reflect on me, the owner.
I’ve had to remind myself that teaching new behaviors to a two year old dog that has an unknown history and a repertoire of established behaviors is an opportunity for me to learn and grow as well as the dog. I’ve had to remind myself that improved behavior takes time, effort and attention. Nevertheless, one of the hardest things to accept has been that her behavior will never be perfect. While I can measure improvement, there are still days when walking her on a leash feels like a battle of our wills; “No you cannot chase that bird.” “No you cannot lunge at that jogger.” “No you cannot growl at that dog.”
Although I’ve worked hard at it, she will never be the perfectly behaved dog.
And I will never be the perfect dog trainer.
But perfect isn’t really the goal anyway.
The important thing is the relationship; the time and effort we put into caring about and understanding each other.
And then it occurred to me that this lesson doesn’t just apply to dogs and their owners. There’s not really much in life that will ever be perfect. And that’s why it’s important to practice taking imperfect action and measuring progress from where we start, not just where we want to be at the end.
Because if we hold out for perfection, we might never take a risk or a chance on something new.
We might never venture into the imperfect world of relationships.
And we might just miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime…
Thinking about Dream Achiever Coaching? Do it now. Be vulnerable and trust the process. Don’t see this as a program but as a way to find out who you are, what you need and want for your own future. I leave each call feeling validated, supported and more confident in my ability to solve my own problems and take my own next steps. ~Heather Gill
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