This is the final 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. If you haven't read the other posts, here are links to the first, second, third and fourth posts.
Hopefully by now you’re starting to understand the tremendous potential that exists within your perfect dog. Today I’d like to take some time to explore that potential.
Potential is a powerful concept. Potential is unmanifested reality. It is what could be. Every moment contains nearly limitless potential. You could win the lottery. You could get hit by a bus. You can change the likelihood of a particular potentiality coming to fruition by altering your behavior. You’re more likely to win the lottery if you play it (though the winning ticket could also just blow into your lap). You’re less likely to be hit by a bus if you’re careful crossing the street (but one could still crash into your living room). There are no guarantees when we are dealing with potential, but the best tool we have to attain a desired potentiality is to alter our behavior and thinking in ways that call that potentiality into being.
In regards to the potentialities of your dog’s behavior there are two exercises I’d strongly recommend. Both of these exercises require you to be creative. The more creativity you allow to enter into these exercises the more you will get out of them. There are no right or wrong answers here. The goal is to explore what the landscape of potential looks like when you’re standing in the perspective that your dog is perfect.
Firstly, we need to look deeply into the potentialities that exist. The more you explore the spectrum of possibilities, the more at peace you will be about where you are now, and the more excited you will get about what could be. Both of these benefits will make our job easier as we progress. Take some time and write out what you see in your dog’s potential. Write for a few minutes about all the potentialities you’d like to see come into reality regarding your dog’s behavior. When you’re done, take another few minutes and write about all the potentialities you can imagine that you’d prefer to avoid. Awareness of both of these sets of potentialities, as well as your feelings toward them, is is the fuel you will use to drive you to change the way you interact with your dog.
Now that you have spent some time considering your dog's potential, the second exercise is to look equally deeply into what you can alter in your behavior and the world in order to increase the probability that reality manifests in a way that you value. Even if this is your first dog, and you have very little exposure to dog behavior and training concepts, there’s value in thinking about this on your own without prompting from me. I could certainly offer suggestions, but you will probably be amazed with the things you come up with on your own when you start thinking about your dog’s behavior in this manner. Write for a few moments about what you could do to assist the potentialities in your dog that you would like to come to be. Next write for a few minutes about how you could shape your dog’s experience to minimize the potentialities that you would prefer to avoid.
These exercises have a purpose. Just spending a few minutes thinking about these things puts you miles ahead of most dog owners, who are just hoping for the best. You’ve begun creating what could be thought of as a map of your dog’s potential, as well as some paths that should take you where you want to go while avoiding the places you want to stay out of. As you progress, you may want to revisit this map. You may want to add more detail. You may discover whole new territories that you weren’t aware of. Hopefully you will also discover wider, easier paths to navigate this map. Don’t be surprised if some of those new paths look kind of strange to you. Remember that this territory isn’t just governed by your human mind, it also is shaped by your dog’s canine mind and the environment he exists in. We need to consider all three of those variables, so sometimes the best way forward will be counterintuitive.
We also need to be realistic about this map. Just like on a traditional map, some places are easier to get to than others. It may be helpful to imagine that the places that seem really interesting on the map are uphill - you can think of them as the places with the best views. The places you want to avoid (the muddy swamps) are downhill. It’s always harder to go uphill than down, and when the slope is steep you will have to work hard and be disciplined about staying on the path. Some of that high ground will be difficult to access. The path to those places may be long and challenging. They are still accessible, but only you can decide if the trip is with the effort.
Now that we’ve mapped out the territory of potential, there are a few things we need to do before we begin navigating. First, we need to figure out where we are right now. We need to assess where our dog’s behavior currently exists on this map. Next, we need to look over the landscape and decide where we want to go. Finally, we need to realize that this map, like all maps, is just an approximation of our dog’s potential. The quality and resolution of this map is going to be determined by how much we understand our dog’s mind and the environment he is in. It’s not easy to navigate a city using a low-resolution map of the state. We improve the quality and resolution of our map by learning more about our dog’s minds and the environment he exists in, and that makes it easier and faster to navigate to where we want to go.
My next series of blog posts will help you with some ideas to work on that map. A good map makes it much easier to get where you want to be. Just remember, however, that a good map is useless if you don't get out there and put one foot in front of the other each and every day. The map is just a guide, you need to take that map and actually use it. It's one thing to look at a map of the Appalachian Trail, another thing to walk it. You'll get much farther on a crappy map if you're consistently making steps than you would playing with the latest satellite GPS but never setting foot out your door.