By Sean O’Shea
One of the greatest challenges for dog owners post-training is fighting…the slippery slope.
Your dog comes back to you and he’s like a new guy. He’s well-mannered, he doesn’t do the old stuff that drove you crazy, his commands are spot-on, and he’s just kinda amazing overall. You rejoice!
But then the slippery slope slips up on you. The slippery slope is all about the slow, almost unnoticeable return to regular life. The slow return of old habit patterns. The loss of focus. Perhaps taking the easy (or lazy!) route instead of doing what you know you should. And especially letting little, teeny, tiny moments – the ones that seem totally inconsequential – get away from you. This is how all the great work you paid for starts to come undone. Drip by drip. Teeny moment missed by teeny moment missed.
It almost never happens in some big and obvious fashion. That would be easy to see and address (and most of us wouldn’t let ourselves off the hook for the easy and obvious). But because all these moments seem so small, innocuous, and are maybe even hard to see, we start to slip.
And so slowly, drip by drip you start to lose that new and awesome dog you got back.
Owners slip back into real life and are distracted. Owners are amazed that their dog is SO much better that they allow some little things because the good-to-bad ratio is so improved. Owners haven’t been educated on how important the small moments are and how to effectively address them. Owners aren’t truly prepared to change their habits and lifestyle. Owners feel bad about the rules, structure, accountability. It’s a ton of work.
But here’s the thing, the way your trainer made all this crazy progress, the way they delivered you a totally new and improved dog, was precisely through addressing all the small moments and understanding how valuable they are. By not being distracted when the dog was out with them. By focusing and addressing issues the moment they occurred. By seeing what your dog was capable of and continually asking for more, rather than less. By not feeling bad about sharing the stuff that makes your dog feel more comfortable, happy, safe, and fun to be around. And by being willing to do the work. Lots of it.
I get it, it’s hard. Really hard. Especially if you have the luxury of owning a dog who leans more to the troubled side of life. But like everything else in life, there are no shortcuts. No cheating. Not if you want the good stuff.
The good news is, the slippery slope can totally be avoided. With some new disciplines and some mental shifts you can totally keep the awesome dog that came back to you, but it’s going to require oodles of work. Like, serious oodles. We always tell our clients that the hard work starts when the the dog goes home. Not that we haven’t done our job, we have, but that’s easy. It’s our job. The real challenge is for everyday people – people who aren’t dog trainers, people with tons of other important things going on in their busy lives – to prioritize and make both the mental effort as well as the physical effort to ward off the slippery slope. To do all the necessary stuff to maintain this awesomeness your dog came back with.
Like all life stuff, it comes down to how bad you want it? Will you make the time? Will you prioritize the work? Will you maintain focus? Will you train yourself to be a deputy dog trainer? Is it important enough to you? It’s like eating right, working out, saving money, doing a great job at work, and maintaining awesome relationships – they all take sacrifice, self-improvement, and continued hard work. But they all also pay off some handsome rewards.
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