Your Perfect Dog (part 2 of 5)
This is the second post of a 5-part series about the amazing possibilities that appear when you view your relationship with your dog from the perspective that your dog is perfect. You can read the first post here.
Last week we began to examine the possibility that your dog is perfect. It can be difficult to believe your dog is perfect, especially when you're frustrated that his behavior isn't meeting your expectations. To reconcile this apparent contradiction, we need to look at what our expectations are, and what frustration means.
What exactly are your expectations? Where do they come from?
Everyone who has had a dog has experienced moments when their dog did not behave in the way that they wanted. These moments are frustrating, but they can also be the most precious and important moments if you use them wisely.
You may have an expectation for your dog to act in a different manner, but that expectation is not reality. It’s nothing more than a mental construct you’ve built by observing other dogs, in life and in media, with different genetics and different histories. With different owners and living in different environments. This holds true even if your expectations are based on another dog you had in the past - genetics vary, so you need to recognize that the new dog - even if it comes from the same parents - is unique. Additionally, you and your environment are not the same as they were when you had your last dog. The world and everything in it (including you) are in constant state of change.
No matter what behavior your dog demonstrates, you can rest assured that it is behaving exactly as it should in that moment. Not only that, it is acting the only way it possibly could, given his genetics and history. You may not like the behavior, or might expect different behavior, but the problem isn’t in the dog, it’s in your assumptions, your expectations or your understanding of dog behavior.
We all kind of know this on some level, but in the moment something interesting and tragic happens. Rather than questioning our assumptions and understandings, we get frustrated, and when that happens it’s really easy to just blame the dog.
When your dog behaves in a way that you don’t like, it can be frustrating.
The source of all frustration is the failure of reality to meet our expectations.
Or, put more truthfully, the failure of our expectations to match reality.
It’s the mismatch between the imaginary world we have constructed in our heads and the world of reality. You can argue all you want that your expectations “should” be met, but chances are you’re not going to win an argument with reality. I believe that in our culture frustration is an undervalued emotional state. One of the most valuable lessons you can learn in life is to learn to see frustration as a cue that your expectations are flawed, rather than that external reality is flawed.
If you want to have a hope of your dog meeting the expectations you’ve created, you need to embrace the idea that your dog is perfect, and will always continue to be perfect based on how you manage the interactions he has with you and the environment. The failure of “his” behavior to match the expectation you’ve created can only be addressed by altering those interactions. I put quotes around “his” because at this point you should be starting to understand that the thing we call the dog’s behavior really isn’t a description of the dog so much as a description of the dog-owner-environment system. As the owner of the dog you control so much of that system, it would be just as legitimate (and ironically true) to call it “your” behavior.
So, this week's exercise is to get frustrated with your dog's behavior. If you are like most people, that will be the easy part, you probably do it almost every day! The challenge will be to notice your frustration, and remind yourself that the dog is behaving perfectly. Remember, the frustration isn't because the dog isn't meeting your expectations, it's because your expectations aren't meeting reality.
This doesn't mean you simply have to accept undesired behavior, it means that you have to see the behavior for what it truly is - a perfect expression of the current dog-owner-environment system. If you decide that you want to change that behavior, you need to carefully consider modifying the parts of the system that you control - the owner and the environment. It's never the dog's fault. The dog is always perfect.
Next week we will talk some more about the benefits of accepting the point of view that your dog is perfect, and practice some exercises that will help you change the way that you feel about your dog for the better even if your dog's behavior doesn't change.