My husband and I are both into the psychology of training and potential. He also trials dogs, and this weekend we are at Canberra Show competing in the yard trials.
I’m only here as support crew. Since my China trip was cancelled due to Corona virus, I have a whole month blocked out with nothing booked in. So here I am, watching dogs manoeuvre 20 sheep around a series of challenging obstacles in a small area within a time limit.
I love watching this sport. Not only is a handler needing to have a dog so well trained that is attentive and obedient, the dog also needs to have enough natural feel and timing to know where to be and how much intent to place on the sheep. The handler then needs to know when to trust that the dog has seen something he hasn’t and is making a decision based on natural instinct and to let him be. Then you have the sheep, and knowing how to manage the “mob” is essential. So much thought and feel goes into getting a leader, shaping the mob up, balancing the sides and keeping momentum. The unconscious conversations going on out in the arena between handler, dog and sheep are so subtle and yet so clear, but the margin for error is huge and it can, and often does go pear shaped. Especially with young dogs.
Sitting in the stands listening to the competitors as they come back from their run talking to family, friends, and other competitors I have found it to be super interesting on everyone’s interpretation of their run.
I hear a lot of excuses, but I also hear a lot of understandings.
I’m lucky that the crew that we have travelled 10 hours to get here with are full of understandings, as were many of the quality handlers there. The discussions are around improvement by having honest, tough conversations and doing the work. Making plans for what they are going to work on when they get home. There is no blame on anyone else, or anyTHING else. It is what it is, they are where they are, and know if they want to improve THEY are the ones to do it.
So far this weekend they have had success. They have also had runs that didn’t go to plan. The conversations were similar, good run or bad run, good score or bad score, fair score or not so much. It was all about the run. What worked and what needs to be better.
I thought I would share with you some of my musings I had while sitting in the stand for 12 hours each day contently listening to the conversations going around me from all the competitors, and of those between the dog and handlers in the arena.
What is an excuse? The dictionary states:
1. seek to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offence); try to justify.
2. release (someone) from a duty or requirement.
This is how I see it. An excuse is the reasoning you give something that didn’t go to plan to avoid the pain of having to own the outcome or make any changes. An excuse means WE don’t need to change. Something external to us needs to.
Instead, an understanding. (As per the dictionary)
1. the ability to understand something; comprehension.
2. sympathetic awareness or tolerance.
When whatever happens that didn’t go to plan is seen from a place of understanding, awareness and opportunity give us the ability to see what could come of this situation. It is internally motivated. It is accepting our faults with compassion, and then looking to resolve them through knowledge.
Excuses keep us stuck. Understandings move us forward.
I will give you some examples of how simply the wording of a sentence tells me whether someone is making an excuse and not wanting to change, and someone who owns the situation and already looking for understanding.
Like I mentioned earlier, young dogs do silly things in the arena. They over work the sides, bulge the mob, or get to focussed on one individual sheep and lose the global feel of the whole mob. That’s young dogs. It’s not an excuse, it’s a reality. They are learning.
Here are some examples of differing interpretations of similar experiences from different trialers.
Excuse: The yard was an odd shape. My dog couldn’t get around the side to get a leader
Understanding: I need to teach my dog how to work off balance so I can place him where I need him in different shaped spaces.
Excuse: The sheep kept turning around and wouldn’t get off the trailer
Understanding: My dog was unsettled by the sound of the sheep hooves on the aluminium trailer and wouldn’t sit in the correct position when I asked him. That caused the sheep to turn in and look at him rather then down the race. I can build an aluminium trailer easy enough at home. We’ll do that next week so we can train the dogs on the aluminium surface and get them comfortable with it.
Excuse: The judge didn’t give us enough time
Understanding: I spent too much time setting up for the first obstacle. I need to learn to move with more fluidity and momentum.
Excuse: He got too excited and wouldn’t listen to me. He was an idiot
Understanding: Our emotions overruled the thinking. Maybe I need to spend a little longer in the warm up before I bring him into the arena to get the energy out and get us working together. I didn’t give him enough time to relax in the space
Excuse: There were too many sheep to fit into the drenching race easily. It make it too tight for my dog
Understanding: I had trouble sending my dog all the way up the race to move the leader forward. I need to improve his confidence staying up on their backs for longer.
Any event or experience can be seen from so many different angles. Saying it is only a young dog, or it was a tough course, or difficult sheep is fine if you can see past that. Having reasons for why what happened happened is expected. There is a reason why…. so now what ya gonna doing about it that matters.
If it is an excuse your thinking goes like…
They were tough sheep…(insert crickets here)…… nothing more.
Meaning, I don’t want to know how to handle them better. I wan’t to blame the sheep so I don’t have to do the work to get better. It’s not my fault, it’s the sheep.
If it is an understanding your thinking goes like…
They were tough sheep, but workable… I really struggled to hold the mob together. My dog was always one stride too late, causing one sheep to keep separating from the mob. How interesting.
Meaning, what do I need to learn to help my dog balance the eye quicker. Do I need more strength? Does he need to be fitter? What does he need to learn that he does no yet? Who can I ask that can help me?
Being a handler with enough emotional intelligence to keep looking internally for understanding with compassion will always get better results than those that blame outside factors. I heard a great quote not long ago, it’s not quite word for word as I can’t remember the whole thing but it went a little something like this.
When knowledge stops, violence starts. A great handler, when angry with a dog, can still walk up and gently pat him on the head as he knows there is more in this for both of us to learn.
A great handler knows how to balance obedience and trust and is insatiably curious.
Looking for answers to why things happened is awesome. It’s only an excuse if you don’t want to change or do the work when you find the answer.
Moving past an excuse is inserting more after the initial sentence.
This happened because (insert excuse here) … so I need to (insert understanding here)!
Or.. you can even switch it around.
Because I caused my dog to ……. the sheep ……… I need to ….. next time to create ……..
Listen to your language, and play with your sentences. I heard a cool concept a little while ago. It was a coaching session for a young Mum who was having trouble with their relationship. Her husband had forgotten her birthday and she was having trouble moving past it.
Here are two ways of looking at the event.
1. My husband forgot my birthday meaning he doesn’t love me. (Blame, it’s his fault I feel unloved)
2. Someone who loves me forgot my birthday. (I am loved, he just forgot my birthday)
Same experience, different feeling attached to the sentence, different response.
I was shocked when I first started doing this. What an awakening for me.
Listen to your language people… it will tell you an awful lot about your thinking if you are stuck in one aspect in your life.