Backslides in any type of dog training can be difficult. Frustrating. Demoralizing. Heart-breaking. And the more difficult the problem, the more difficult the backslide becomes. The more progress you make, the harsher the backslide feels. I know this all too well.
In these moments, it becomes easy to focus on the backslides, on what seemed to be solidified or safe that isn’t anymore. It becomes easy to focus on how everything seems to be going astray on what was an upwards journey. It becomes easy to focus on what’s going wrong instead of what’s still going right. It becomes easy to forget all the progress you’ve made—forget just how far you’ve come and where you began.
So I am deciding today that I am making a change. I am going to keep playing “Rollercoaster”* on repeat and decide that I will remember the “low lows” but never forget the highs. For Oz as much as for myself. I am going to drown out any voices that are saying we might never progress and know that we will, that we are. That we may not be where I thought we might or should be at this very moment, but—who knows—our journey may get us somewhere even better. I am going to remember every bit of progress, clearly see each time my best boy makes a decision he couldn’t have made a few months ago. And I am going to revel in it. I’m going to remember that even when the backslide seems endless, there is always going to be a light at the end of the dog training tunnel. That any good roller coaster has a few unexpected turns, a few moments where you hold your breath, flip upside down, but always end up safe and back on your feet at the end. When progress has happened before, it will always happen again. Even if the coaster is bumpier than you thought, it will always even out—and that recovery is important as you move forward. So today I am deciding I will focus on my own recovery as much as I focus on Oz’s.
Instead of seeing backslides as demoralizing, I’m going to see them as more motivation to learn more, train smarter, be better. I’m going to turn them around in my head. I’m going to take the worst days, the worst slides, the bumpiest rides, and make them “glow.” We’re going to keep pushing through no matter what it is, because I know when we do, when we’re safer, when we’re happier, when we’re healthier, it’s all going to be worth it. We’re going to be so much better for it. A better trainer, a better person, a happier, more balanced canine. And I know at the end of the day, I would always “come back and ride that rollercoaster.” It was meant to be. We were meant to take this coaster together. No matter how bumpy the ride.
And as a reminder: the bumpy is always worth it, always makes the progress more sweet. Yesterday we had our own sweet one. Our hard work paid off as we set off on a hike where I assumed we were alone, when I suddenly heard tags jingling around the corner. I grabbed onto Oz’s harness just in case the dog was on leash and sure enough a leashed dog came around the corner about two feet from us. Oz’s biggest trigger has always been dogs staring at him intensely on leash and this dog delivered—staring intensely, posturing, and pulling on the leash. Yet Oz’s tail only went up a little as I attached his leash to his harness—his body stayed pretty normal and he didn’t feel like he had anything he needed to vocalize. I stood still holding the leash and let him assess the dog for a moment, then Oz went back to his sniffing exploration and ignored the dog all on his own. (!!!) The man began dragging his dog away up a different trail as the dog continued to posture and stare. The dog began to growl as we walked by and Oz stopped for a moment, watching the dog as it walked backwards, not taking its eyes off Oz. With just a partially raised tail, Oz dismissed the dog again and off we went. And he shook it off right away, staying relaxed and calm for the rest of the hike even with the dogs smell all down the trail. (!!!!)
And I know there will be more backslides, more dips and flips on our roller coaster ride. But right now, it’s time to celebrate and when the next bump arrives, we’re ready to focus on the good and learn from everything else.
So if you’re having a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, a bad year: join me. Let your own “happiness begin”.
*For your listening pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gv2txA_w204