Humility in Dog Training – Who does the work?

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Some of you who follow my blog may not know I was a Police Officer for 23 years. 5 years part time while I was at University and 18 years full time after I graduated. During that time I was fortunate to do some really cool stuff which most of the population is not even aware goes on. Regardless of my experience, there was always someone who had done more than me and this always kept my ego in check. I performed various overt and covert roles in the Police. Of my best friends in the world has about 100 times more experience in one particular role that we both did. A close friend of his had operational military experience and had performed for many years in an advanced role which we had done the foundation version of. There is always someone who has done more and knows more. Be humble.

How does this apply to dog trainers? We are in the amazing position to change our clients’ lives (both human and canine) for the better. If we don’t keep our egos in check, this can affect us into thinking that we are bigger and more knowledgeble than we are. We must remain humble. Yes, our clients rely on us to show us what to do, but even if we have two one hour sessions a week with a client, that is still 6 days and 22 hours where we are not there. Good teachers acknowledge the work their students do and allow the student to enjoy the success of their toil. We take pride in being instrumental in those successes but a good teacher never thinks that it was him or her who put in the hours of effort.

Recently, one of my former students, and now friend, Innes passed his BH in IPO with his Dobermann, Kuro. Innes trains postitively in a sport which has a long history and culture of harsh training. I see Innes several times a week putting in the hours training his amzing dog, His effort is admirable. The results are his, not mine and not the other trainers he now works with, to enjoy. Yes, we can enjoy them with him but they are his efforts, not ours. We would never think that a gold medal at the Olympics belonged tot he coach (not unless you are the husband of a gold medallist swimmer but that’s for another time).  A great coach knows the efforts belong to the athlete, a great athlete acknowledges the coach’s tuition.

I have a woman and her Collie I am working with just now. We have been working together for several months now and we are seeing great changes in this little dog’s behaviour. She has gone from being confused in many environments to being really confident. It is a wonder to behold. Fiona and Breagha did this, I just helped put them on the right path.

I was at The IMDT conference at the weekend outside London. I caught up with some people I haven’t seen in ages, one of whom was my friend Mus, who is one of the best human beings I have had the pleasure of knowing. I posted a picture of us on social media and a trainer we both know and have taught commented saying that we were two of the people who have been intrumental in his learning. Mus replied saying “It’s all you mate”. This made me like him even more. Humility. At the conference I heard some information presented which was either new or presented in a way I hadn;t heard before. Steve Mann spoke of releasing tension in dogs, a concept I had never thought of consciously. I thanked him for it, this keeps us grounded.

Yes, we do change our clients’ and dogs’ lives. Yes, it’s very likely they couldn’t do it without us or certainly not in that way. But be humble, stay grounded, none of us know everything and there is always more to learn and different ways to look at things. Have what martial artists call a white belt mentality, it keeps you hungry and humble.

Be well and happy training.

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Depression – something personal

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I’ve thought long and hard about writing this blog as it’s been a personal struggle which I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share. Then I looked at the stats. Depression kills. It kills far more men than it does women and it kills more men in my age group than in others and is avoidable in many cases. I am in a privileged position through my work to reach a few thousand people so for me I need to try to help anyway I can. So here goes.

I have probably suffered from depression for several years and looking back have had several episodes over my adult life. Up until the last year or so, I’ve been able to bring myself out of most of them most of the time, with the support of loved ones and exercise. This last year has been different.

Andrew Solomon, who is a psychiatric expert on depression likens the mind to an iron structure. When we get deressed, the rust sets in. It eats away constantly at the structure and then sometimes parts of the structure collapse. These are the acute episodes. During these episodes everything is difficult, no, it’s not, everything is extremely difficult and some things are impossible. For me as well, I think it’s like when you have a bad cold. You know thet there are times in you life when you’ve not had a cold but you can’t remember what it feels like. That’s depression too.

I’ll not go into the full details of why I became ill but this is what some of what I experienced and if you are suffering from it you are not alone. Some days I could not get out of bed. I still have days like that but work forces me to get up as does needing to get Watson out and take care of her needs. At the weekends my brain and my body need time to heal so there are times when I don’t get out of bed until 1pm. At first I would get annoyed with myself that I had spent so much time in bed and not been more productive and this would make me feel worse. So I started to give myself a break about it. A few weeks ago I came in from work and went to bed at 5.30pm and slept til 7.30am the next day. My body was telling me something and I listened. I need to rest. A lot. So I do.

Up until last year, I was working full time and doing my dog training on the side. My physical fitness then dropped off due to constraints on my time and I few strains and niggles would creep in. I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as my hobby and it has been an absolute tonic in my life for the last 11 years. My injuries meant I couldn’t get off the couch when I came home after class and getting dressed the next morning was a huge physical struggle. I could harldy get out of bed or put on my clothes. Tying my shoe laces was very painful. So I stopped going.

I felt bad. BJJ, which made me feel better was now no longer available to me so I felt worse. It spiralled down. I needed to do something about it as I am not depression. It is only a part of me and something I am trying to make a temporary part of me.

So, I started yoga and saw and osteopath to help make my back better. I tried to do one thing very day which I didn’t want to do, one small thing which might be as simple as shaving (no, this wasn’t the reaons for growing the beard; my neckline and cheeks still needed attention). If I became overwhemed when out I would try to centre myself in the moment by concentrating on 5 things I could see, 4 things I could hear, 3 things I could feel, 2 things I could smell or taste. This works well. Depression is about loss and anxiety is about uncertainty of what will happen next. One is in the past, the other the future so mindfulness brings you into the present. Sometimes I still get overwhelmed and need to go home. I feel ok about it as these episodes are lessening but they are still there. Ride the wave, it passes.

I previously worked in an extremely male dominated, macho bullshit environment. I’ve grown up in the West of Scotland where men needs to be men. We don’t talk about our feelings. So talk. Especially the guys, talk to someone, please, if you feel like this. It helps. A lot. If you think you are being unfair to your wife or girlfriend by burdening them with it, talk to someone else. Talk to the dog, call a helpline but for fuck sake please talk about it. It might help but it most often doesn’t make it worse. You need to get it out in some productive way.

Find the tiny little things which give you pleasure. Anything you can, you need to redress the balance. Engage as much as you can. Our industry can be very isolating so we need friends and a support network. If we practice positive reinforcement with out animals we need to practice it with each other. Stand up when you see others being bullied or harassed as you don’t know how it is effecting the recipient. A couple of months ago I defended a dominance based, balanced trainer who I recognised as being emotionally vulnerable against an immature campaign of online harassement from a so-called positive dog trainer. We need to do this. We need to try to practice it in all aspects of our lives.

Find something you are good at and can be successful at. Practice it. Everytime we are successful at something we start to redress the brain chemisty. Help your body and your brain out, you have the power to do something about it.

GO AND SEE YOUR DOCTOR!

I know this has been a bit disjointed but we are not defined by our depression. It is not who we are it is only part of us. There is still such a massive taboo about mental health issues in our culture that we don’t talk about it. This needs to change. Depression kills us if we don’t. Ask for help if you need it.

http://www.samaritans.org/

http://breathingspace.scot/

Love and peace.

John