Living Wholeheartedly with your dog – part 9

Cultivating meaningful work – letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”.

Many moons ago, a close friend of mine got a summer job working for the parks department while he was studying. He was working with men which, in the West of Scotland, would be described as “bears”. A bear is generally a man in his late 30s onwards who has had a lifetime of hard work, maybe likes the simpler things, maybe likes to drink too much, reads the tabloid newspapers always starting with the sports section, can’t express any emotion, in constantly sarcastic, can be toxic to be around but can also be good company doe to their wicked sense of humour. My friend was reading a novel one lunchtime, maybe John Grisham or Stephen King, and one of the bears asked him about the book. Next week, my friend is reading again at lunch, a different book, maybe a different author. The same bear asks “are you still reading” to which my friend, at 17 years of age, replies, “aye, I’ve not finished them all yet”. Touché. If my friend had taken notice of the inference that “men aren’t really supposed to read” or some iteration of that he may have changed his behaviour. He didn’t let self-doubt or how he was supposed to act in the presence of these men influence his reading. He was bettering himself.

We are playing at the park with your dog and being silly. We receive a look from someone who disapproves of how we are behaving and we stop being childlike in our attitude towards our dog. The relationship suffers. We become less playful.

Thing our dogs are “supposed” to do.

  1. Sit before crossing the road.
  2. Sit before getting out the door[JM1] .
  3. Sit before getting their lead on or off.
  4. Sit before getting out the car.
  5. Sit nice.
  6. Never jump on anyone ever for any reason.
  7. Never chew any of our stuff.
  8. Sleep on the floor or on their bed but never in your bed or on the couch (as I’m typing this, Logan is lying on my bed behind me, gently snoring).
  9. Walk next to your left leg at all time and never waiver.
  10. Not stop and sniff on a walk.

This may seem extreme and many people won’t be that strict with their dogs but some will and many will do some or many of the above points and more will do them sometimes or often. Now let’s adapt that list and instead of saying that our dog is supposed to do these things, change the perspective. These are things we are supposed to be able to get from our dog. If we are supposed to be able to (by whose standard? The “dog behaviour police”?) and we can’t how do we then feel? How do we then act towards our dog. If we act that way, then how does our dog then feel? How does their life change?

I know there are many different philosophies on how to train a dog but let’s say you employ the services of a dog trainer who bullies your dog in some way. I’ve heard accounts from clients whose dog’s have defecated during training sessions with other trainers because the dog is so scared or confused. They said they knew at the time that it wasn’t right but didn’t say anything. The doubted themselves and because they didn’t intervene, they then felt terrible shame afterwards. The flip side of that is that it takes courage and boldness to do so in the presence of someone who is meant to be the expert. That’s difficult but we need to do it.

How do we get round this? We decide what we want for our dogs and why. For me, and what I try to teach, is that all our decisions are for the dog’s welfare. With these in mind, we now train those behaviours in the most positive way we can. This takes effort and knowledge and our dogs deserve that work.

Please let go of what we are supposed to do or be able to do with our dogs. If you feel something is right, do it, if it’s not right, speak up on behalf of your dog.

Final part to come.


 [JM1]

Living Wholeheartedly with your dog – part 6

Cultivating creativity – letting go of comparison.

A couple of years ago I posted a short video of me working with a client and her two unruly dogs. A two-minute video which summarised all the information I had gleaned about this woman, her lifestyle, the amount of training time she could do with her dogs, her level of knowledge and ability, her stress levels, her dog’ current learning etc. Two minutes. I had to be creative in my approach to the solutions I could offer her and for her to get the results she needed. The video I showed wasn’t like other training content which was out there and then the “I wouldn’t do it like that” and “Would you not be better…” comments started on social media. I had been creative, worked towards a solution but it was not what others did. If I took those comments to heart, do you think I would be creative next time? If I compared the work the four of us did in that hour to work which other trainers did or do (given that they didn’t have the information I have) do you think I may have acted less creatively?

You are walking through the park with your dog who is going through a particular training issue, pulling on the lead for example and you see a dog walking beautifully with their human on a loose lead. What is your thought process? “I wish we could do that” “I wish my dog walked like that” “Why can’t my dog behave like that?”. Perhaps even more judgemental towards your dog “Why don’t I have a good, well behaved dog?” I think these thought patterns are pretty insidious. Let go of that comparison to others and be creative. Know your path, ask the right questions to get there. We know that having negative thought patterns gets in the way of creativity. It blocks that part of our brain. Comparing your journey to that of others is counterproductive. Don’t do it. Take advice from those you have greater knowledge than you do and reflect on it. Learn. Study. From many different sources not just from one field.

I started looking at tonnes of interactions through the lens of behaviourism. When I started to, I would then notice the little things which people did with each other and their dogs and would put them into my repertoire. It could come from anywhere; film, literature, interactions with a person in a shop, documentaries. As soon as I started opening up my perception to it, I started seeing more. Weightlifting schedules helped my understand how often to train with my own dog and for how long. I also celebrate when my clients have understood the principles of what I have taught and been creative into how they implement it in their lives with their dogs. These are great moments. They don’t compare what they do with what I do, they see the commonality in it and adapt it to their lives. It’s glorious.

Lastly, again, I think shame is the reason why we do compare ourselves to others and one of the s we are not creative. To be creative is to be bold and brave and courageous and to take a chance. And with that, you leave yourself vulnerable to failure, to it not working, to the comments of those on the internet who use your journey to vent their frustrations about their own life. You can’t control what they think, feel and do but you can control what you think feel and do. Quoting Brene Brown again

“Stay awkward, brave and kind”.

Part 7 to follow.

Living Wholeheartedly with your dog – part 5

Intuition and Trusting Faith: letting go the need for certainty.

The whole future lies in uncertaintylive immediately. ― Seneca

Two things which are certain in life – everything lives and everything dies. That’s it. We thrive on certainty and on predictability as do our dogs. Our dogs need have both the need for certainty in their lives (so that they can rely on us to act in ways which meet their needs) and the need to be fluid and adaptable. But I’m going to talk about us, our stuff.

Years ago, I worked with a couple who had a young Beagle. He was around 10 months old. This dog had never been off the lead. Not ever. He had spent his whole life in public on a 4-foot lead. I did some gentle questioning (well, as gentle as I could be at the time) and the woman told me that her breeder had told her that Beagles cannot be recall trained, that they would find the scent of an animal and be off and wouldn’t come back. She also told me that her friend’s dog had been struck by a car and killed a few years earlier. We now understand her reluctance to have her young dog off lead. We started training, puppers on a 10m lead and harness, lots of reinforcement through toys, play, treats and cuddles for coming back and after a short while, we had the dog moving away to greet other dogs, being an adolescent dog and eagerly coming back when called. A great start. So, problem solved? You may think so, but maybe not.

The clients and I continued the consultation and even though I pointed out that the dog was willingly standing near us when he had the option to run off and enthusiastically coming back, she still said she would never have him off lead. Not ever. She needed the certainty that he would never run away. Her need for that certainty, needing to know her dog was always safe and in all circumstances was crushing for her dogs future. He didn’t get to be a dog. I have great empathy and compassion for this woman, I get whatever trauma she has been through in her life affects her deeply but it also affected her dog too. He never got to enjoy being a Beagle as much as he could/should have. That hurts.

I recently watched the amazing series Band of Brothers. There is an exchange between one of the officers and a terrified soldier. The officer tells him the secret to not being scared in war is to accept that you are already dead, that you are on borrowed time. This allows you to act fearlessly. I’m not making comparisons to war and living with your dog but the point is that when you accept what you can control and what you cannot, it is hugely freeing. Having lived fearlessly for a long time and realising the damage it can do, I urge you not to. Living courageously is different and significantly more difficult. It is realising that you have something to lose and taking the chance on it anyway, because there is great benefit in doing so. Yes, your dog might run off and get hurt. Yes, your dog might get into a fight with another dog. Yes, you can control all of that by keeping your dog on the lead and away from other dogs but what life is that for your dog? Is risking a full life and being courageous enough to do so, accepting all which may come with it not a better option that a long, safe empty one? For me it’s a no brainer. Let it go.

Part 6 to come.

Living Wholeheartedly with your dog – part 4

Cultivating gratitude and joy : letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark.

Lots in this one. What is joy in our lives with our dogs? Where are the joyful moments? What can we be grateful for?

Loving with Logan over the last 4 years has been extremely challenging at times. There have been times where I have been clueless as to what to do to help him, to provide the safety and security he needs when outdoors and to reduce his stress. I had to hit the books, consult loads of trainers and behaviour people to learn and to practice, practice, practice. I also had to learn to accept him for who he is, not for who I want him to be. I am grateful for all of that. He has taught me more about patience, kindness, compassion, empathy and self control than I have learned in a long time. He has truly helped me on my journey towards enlightenment. I thought I was a good trainer before I got him, he taught me to up my game and be better. Much better. I think the universe that he was brought into my life, however challenging it may be.

Where is the joy? We laugh together a lot. He is goofy and playful. His light-hearted pounce on his toys when we are out paying, the way he runs round the flat and bows in front of me and asks me to chase him all make me laugh. He has helped get me through some really dark times. He as the only constant in my life when I was in crisis. I am grateful for the joy he has brought me, helping make me laugh and lighten my darkness when not much else did.

Scarcity. There have been times in my life in the last 4 years where I didn’t know how long his “good” behaviour would remain intact when outdoors. This got in the way of me enjoying those good times. Feeling that way meant I acted a certain way and that was all but guaranteed to bring those good times to a premature end. As soon as I realised this, the good times lasted longer. He is also with me for a finite time. He will be gone (or I will) at some point. I don’t let that affect the present and the times we have just now.

The darkness. I’ll not say much about this but the dark times are there and will pass. Recognise them, accept them and work on making them lighter. Know what they teach you.

Be thankful for your dog in your life, They won’t be here forever. Be grateful for what they teach us. Recognise the joy they bring. That goofiness, that side eye they give you when they think you aren’t liking. The way they deliberately pick their favourite toy and bring it to you. The way they refuse the carrot but will eat the chicken. The way they will only eat a cherry tomato if you burst the skin for them first. The way you experience the early, bright winter, weekend mornings because you have to take them out. The joyful moments are found in the small things, as well as the big moments.

Part 5 to come.

Being Wholehearted with your dog – part 3

Wholehearted – part 3 – letting go of numbing and powerlessness

This one is a little harder as there is some deep-rooted stuff in many of us which affects us being numb. This isn’t for me to deal with as I’m only taking about how these principles relate to our lives with our dogs but I would encourage you to look at your behaviour if you are in the habit of relying on other things to avoid with what is going on in your head. You are not alone in that, it’s super common.

I’ll take more about the powerless aspect of this. I occasionally get a call, very often from a man, who says he wants 100% obedience or compliance from his dog under all circumstances. I always try to book these clients and then educate them when I see them. I remind them of what they said on the call and ask them if they are able to do that themselves. Are you able to respond immediately when your partner asks you if you want a cup of tea when you are full immersed watching your favourite football team in an important game? Do you immediately respond to every text message, email and phone call you receive (please say no, it’s not healthy). Then I ask them to think about if they are holding their dog to a higher standard of performance than they hold themselves. I remind them that they may have a dog who has been in the planet for months and is navigating a mainly human world and ask them if their expectations are fair or realistic. Then we start training.

Stoic philosophy talks about taking control of the things we do have power over and accepting the other stuff completely (wholeheartedly?). An example – we haven’t trained our dog’s recall well enough and they get away from us. We call our dog but he doesn’t respond. We get frustrated and angry with our dog and maybe with ourselves. In that moment, our dog is out of control; we are powerless. What do we have control over in that moment? How we breathe, how we move, how we react, how we perceive. So take control over that.

Retired Navy SEAL commander, Jocko Willing talks about this same thing. Many people know what the SEALs are but not very much beyond that. Google Navy SEALs Hell Week and read some of that. It’ll give you an idea of what these men can do (there are no female SEALs yet). Jocko tells us when his men would come to him with a problem his answer was always the same. Good. Good that we get to deal with this and good that we get to grow. Good that we do and not someone else. Good that we got this dog and not someone who was going to mistreat this dog or use harsh methods in training. Good.

What else do we have power over here? Once we get our dog back we have power over our training plan. Our quest for knowledge (ask if you don’t know). We have power over our own actions of how to proceed.

We cannot do everything, but we must do everything we can. That’s goes for all aspects of being a good human, not just in relation to our dogs. I think this is the key to not feeling powerless.

Part 4 to come.

Being Wholehearted with your dog – part 2

Being Wholehearted with our dogs – part 2 – Letting go of perfectionism.


How does this apply to our lives with our dogs? I see it in a few ways. I work in a public park with my clients and their dogs. Off lead dogs will sometimes come up and jump on me because I have treats in my pocket. The owner will then shout “get down” at their dog. Given that this cry is making zero difference to whether the dog jumps on me or not, it’s the embarrassment or shame of their dog jumping up on the trainer which motivates them to do it.


Having a dog which jumps on people and not having their slightly unruly dog on a long line are both examples of this perfectionism. It’s not perfect that their dog jumps on people, so the feel shame. It’s not perfect that they may need to have their dog on a long line while training, so they feel shame. The dog often bears the brunt of that perfectionism, and I don’t think that’s fair.


There is a hose attached to the vet’s surgery at the park for people to rinse the mud off their dog. I often see dogs in the dead of winter being fully hosed down so that every last piece of dirt is removed before they get back into the car. I even witnessed two small dogs being given a shampoo in December. In Scotland. Both dogs stood shivering after their cold shower, scrub and shampoo. This is a pretty good example of perfectionism.

I don’t compete in sports with my dogs. I have zero interest in it. This might be an unpopular opinion but I see too many dogs, given too hard a time because of the projection of the handler/trainer on to them. The dog misses a turn, stop, position or hurdle and the human gets pissed off. The dog won’t come off the sleeve, they get corrected on a electric or metal collar. Cues are repeated with harsh emotion behind them.


Again, the dog suffers because we want stuff to be perfect. Please. Your dog deserves better, it’s not the end of the world. Then the shame starts and the “He can’t even get his dog to…” from others. Then the dog pays for that. So be kind to others.

Part 3 to come.