Shake those expectations!

changing people reactivity May 12, 2016

Expectations can hang over us like weights – you need to be this size, this tidy, this successful, this qualified - before you are acceptable or worthy or valued. Sometimes these expectations drive us on but more often they crush us. We can’t move forward, our anxiety builds and we are paralyzed.

I see this every day too with our dogs. They have to be a certain way, behave in a certain way. Dogs are social so they should want to meet and play with other dogs. Dogs are companions so they should be willing to be touched by anyone who wants to meet them. Dogs are intelligent and trainable so they should behave perfectly in every situation and perform whenever we ask.

And if our dog isn’t like that, it adds to the weight of expectation on us too. Good dogs have good owners, so I must be a rubbish owner. Good trainers have well behaved dogs so my training efforts must be crap.  Good relationships result in harmonious partnerships, so my dog must hate me.

It breaks my heart to hear people beating themselves up because their dog is less than some image of perfect that they have been fed by trainers, by family and friends, by the internet. People who feel they have let their dog down because they couldn’t do something that dogs "should” be able to do. It makes me furious to hear of people thrown out of training classes, without support, because they and their dogs were somehow not “good enough”. I just want to give them a hug and tell them it will be OK. That it is OK. That the only thing their dog has to be is what they are and that the only thing they have to be is in their dog’s corner. Get that right and the rest will come.

It won't necessarily be easy. It may take a while. You may need to learn new skills. It will certainly take effort. And it may not look like it does in the pictures or the movies or even the videos you see on Youtube. But that will no longer matter. Because once you let go of the expectation that says 'my dog must be X' or 'my dog must do Y' (you fill in the blanks), then you can just enjoy the journey that you are on together. You can face the challenges by finding what works for the two of you, rather than what you “should” do in that situation. What works for both of you mind you – not what works for you at the expense of your dog’s comfort or safety – and not what works for your dog at the expense of your sanity! The only rule is that both you and your dog stay safe and happy.

When you let go of expectation, you stop being driven by outcome and instead you can concentrate on helping your dog to reach his or her potential, whatever that is. You can try things without being afraid of failure – and instead just see what happens and learn from it. And when you do this, it may surprise you just how high you can soar.

So shake off all those expectations. Find out what works for you and listen to your dog about what works for them – then do that. As long as it works for you both, it is OK.

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