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How I avoid losing momentum with New Years Resolutions and how you can apply that to your relationship with your dog
January came in and hit the ground running for me. There certainly wasn’t a sense of - come in quietly, sit down, and don’t touch anything vibe as tentatively expressed in so many New Years memes since 2021. From the dozens of questionnaires filled out and messages from concerned dog moms and dads already rolling in, it appears to be the same for pet parents wanting to help their stressed or anxious pups as well.
If you are the kind of person that feels refreshed by the new year - a clean slate, a start again of 365 new blank canvas days to meet your goals, to do things differently. Then I challenge you to give my strategy a try this year. Who knows - maybe next year too!
My New Year’s resolution is just: better.
In fact, better is my New Year's resolution every year now. At first, that might sound like I keep failing, so I start again with the same resolution in hopes of one-day meeting that goal. The truth, however, is that I continue to meet that goal year after year. It looks different each year for me, but it's attainable, and looking back, I can see the growth based on setting that attainable goal. That gives me the motivation to keep going and keep getting - you guessed it - better.
For those of you that have worked with me in person, this strategy probably sounds very familiar. In behavior modification (and training), we give the dog easily achievable goals initially to build their confidence and keep them motivated by those small wins to keep going. This strengthens their bond and trust with us as we celebrate those wins together. This also opens the door to more challenging tasks and asks, such as working a little closer to those triggers without being triggered and being a little less stressed the next time there's a stranger visiting the home.
Think about the game Jenga. You can haphazardly pull pieces out of the wooden tower and stack them on top, taking the luck route of hoping someone pulls the piece that causes the tower to collapse before you do. This is generally how it's played the very first time you play the game, because you lack experience. Or you can learn, grow, progress - get better - with each game. As you continue to play more rounds and more games over time, you start learning how to strategically pick pieces that will not only result in stable placement, so the tower doesn't fall during your turn, but also take it one step further; strategically removing and placing pieces to make it more likely that the player following you will cause the tower to fall.
If you relate this to the pressures we place on our dogs to step ever so slightly outside of their comfort zones to progress and remain motivated to progress, if we expect that they will "win Jenga" the first (or third) time with no experience doing what we are asking of them (playing the game), then we are setting them up for failure. The difference is, if their tower falls - unlike those of us playing Jenga who can stack the blocks and play again - our dogs have an emotional attachment when their tower falls (they go over threshold and are overcome by their triggers). They are practicing that loss and remembering that loss, and that stacks the blocks against them for the next round.
As you get better in your practice, think about what got you there and how you can apply those compounding wins to help your dog succeed as well. Don't set your dog up for more than they can handle, leading to the human equivalent of giving up on that New Year's resolution. Instead, focus on small, achievable goals. Goals that simply help your dog get better. When you look back this time next year and reflect on where you are, know that those small achievable goals are so much sturdier of a foundation to continue growing. Setting too high of a goal, failing, trying again, failing, giving up, starting again, and attempting to build from a much less stable foundation leads to much less stable progress in the long run.
Wishing you all the best this year in your journey, whether personal, professional or pet parent related. I hope you reflect on your compounding wins this year, and you reach your "better" in whatever way that looks like to you.
A version of this article was originally posted in the Very Important Pet Parent (VIPP) Canine Community. Join my Community to access innumerable resources to help you and your dog learn and grow together as a team. Training challenges, private videos, and a support system of like-minded pet parents await!
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