I was thinking about this topic on a snowy morning when I announced to John that we should go snow shooing with the dogs! We got ready and headed out the door. We were in awe of the amount of snow just outside our front door. I love outings like this, but today it was a different story.
We normally walk the dogs on leashes if next to a road. This morning however, we decided that they could be off-leash as it was a holiday and the snow filled roads most likely would prevent any cars from speeding. The dogs were happy to explore familiar, yet quite different surroundings because of the snow. As always, I practiced calling them back just to release them after coming to me. I also practice stopping on cue and waits (dog not moving forward, but staying in place or coming back to me).
I began my snow shooing adventure with gusto only to discover that I was getting really warm and thirsty as I failed to bring water with me. Now, I am not that comfortable and I am getting irritable at the dogs when they don’t respond as I want them to.
I realize that part of my frustration and my insistence that they came to me had to do with feeling somewhat vulnerable. I am athletic, but not super experienced in winter forms of exercise. I realized I was not very fast in my snow shoes should I have needed to intervene if we came across the pack of coyotes that live in our neighborhood or should Deuce have decided to chase a car; an unlikely scenario, I realized- but the mind plays tricks on us when we are not feeling on top of our game.
We continue down the wash with me gravitating between being frustrated at the dogs and having to manage them and enjoying the activity. At some point, I scolded myself for having such lofty expectations of our exploration and being a control freak. Can I just relax and let the dogs be?
At times, I am looking at the really beautiful landscape all covered in white with icicles here and there clinging to tree branches. My frustration grows because I want to stop to enjoy my surroundings and even take a few pictures, but I am still managing the dogs.
So to answer the question: Yes, even professional dog trainers (or at least this professional dog trainer) get frustrated with their dogs. The difference might be that once we get our “cool” back we know how to troubleshoot and we are very keen at management.
The same holds true not only in snowy outings with the gang, but when one does not plan a training session ahead of time and now things are not panning out. This frankly is a rookie mistake resulting in everyone paying the price.
When we get frustrated, our dogs often don’t understand why we are treating them differently. Differently not in a good way, but perhaps our voices are harsh and we even might glance at them with a hard stare, which they can only interpret as a threat.
We all can respond to stress and frustration in ways that we wish were few and far in between. However, we can still take stock of what leads to a frustrating situation or a frustrating disposition be it as we get ready to go out and have fun with the dogs or before a training session.
One piece of advice I give my clients who love to go exploring with their dogs, and especially to those that love to work out hard, is to find time for these activities away from their dogs. My example of our snow shooing adventure and my wanting to take photographs are a perfect example of a conflict of interest that might produce bad results.
Yes indeed, I can snap a picture with my iPhone while minding my dogs, but I cannot really take the time to pull out my other camera, wait for excellent lighting and decide on what makes for a great composition while minding the dogs. The solution then is to be clear about the expectations that each adventure offers and to stick to them as best one can. Taking the time to be with my dogs is of paramount importance to me, but so is enjoying a fun activity without adding more stress and becoming a nag. I learned a valuable lesson this morning: Adjust your expectations and plan for what is important so that my frustration at a less than an ideal outcome does not spill onto my dogs.