This is the first post in a five-part series sharing some simple partnership principles that you can easily incorporate into your life today!
The series will follow Mary’s journey, a dog mom facing some tough challenges. I’m going to reveal how Mary (not her real name, of course!) put these principles into practice and the effect they had on her partnership with her dog, Max.
As we go through each part, I’ll explain my approach to helping Mary overcome each challenge, and you’ll get direct insights and takeaways into how you can use these tips yourself.
This series is a look behind the curtain at what learning to be together as partners really looks like – and just how far you can both go! Get ready, here’s part one of Mary’s story.
“Clarity leads to success.”
Why clarity leads to success
You guessed it, the first partnership principle I’m talking about is clarity!
Clarity is one of the key principles to establishing a brilliant partnership with your dog. It’s really that vital first step in your journey to a happier life together.
When you get clear on what you want, how you want to live, and what you want your dog to know about how you live together, everything else is possible.
Without clarity, it’s easy to get confused and stuck. You and your dog might not understand each other. What happens then? You may get escalated, unwanted behaviors, like excessive barking, lunging, pulling on the leash, showing you’re distracted and disconnected.
Clarity allows you to understand each other better. You can start communicating, collaborating, and cooperating to work through challenges together. It helps you to feel inspired and eager to live that dream life you envision with your dog.
Perhaps that’s your dog running to you whenever you invite engagement, or that they’re more attentive and responsive because they trust and understand you. That’s what clarity can bring to your life with your dogs.
How to get clear on where you’re going
I think the first step to living more cooperatively with your dog is to understand what you want to teach them about your normal life together. I like to say, “normalize the normal”.
This is a no-drama way to help your dog learn about what life is all about … how we live cooperatively together. Think of it as seeing the big picture. What does your ideal life with your dog look like?
Your ideal life vision can help you orient towards it and map out a plan to get there. That’s the Brilliant Partners way!
Introducing Mary and Max
Mary is an avatar representing a typical dog mom who’s come to me looking for help with her dog, who we’ll call Max.
Mary’s goal was to be able to take Max out and about so they could enjoy fun places and experiences together.
However, Mary struggled to walk Max. He nearly pulled her down, and once nearly got hit by a car because he got away from Mary.
So Mary’s big picture here was that to be able to walk together anywhere, Max needed to self-regulate, and want to seek guidance from Mary. It also meant that Mary needed to self-regulate, focus her attention on Max, and have the desire to be present with and available to support Max.
“Everything else is possible, once we know exactly what we want, how we want to live, and what it is that we want our dogs to know about how we live together.”
The starting point
Let’s first get clear on where Mary and Max are starting from. Mary is reluctant to take Max for walks because he gets distracted and pulls her strongly toward whatever he’s interested in. She feels like she’s tried everything – but nothing works for more than a few minutes or a couple of times.
The first step with Mary was to help her understand dog-human interaction. As social mammals that thrive in family units, dogs naturally look to humans for guidance. But when the guidance isn’t there or isn’t clear, dogs can become anxious. This leads to behavior that’s misinterpreted as unruly or stubborn.
What’s the best way to communicate guidance to your dog? Role modeling. Dogs follow our lead (literally and figuratively!) and influencing their behavior can be as simple as managing our own.
If you want to calm your dog, consider if you’re role modeling calm. For example, you could take some long, deep breaths. If you want your dog to be playful, fun, and attentive, then think about how you can be more playful, fun, and attentive.
The other thing Mary had to get clear on was why she was choosing to do certain activities with Max. When you plan your activities and adventures with an end-goal in mind, learning becomes much more fun, easy, and successful.
A plan also helps keep you in the green zone, where you feel safe, calm, and happy and where trust and confidence is created.
Finally, Mary learned that putting Max under pressure to act on a command, like sit or stay, without first teaching him self-regulation skills, can lead to anxiety and ultimately failure.
How to encourage self-regulation
Mary’s new role as collaborator with Max, is to assess the situation and develop a plan so they can enjoy walking together as partners. The first thing she wants to tackle is their self-regulation.
When Max can self-regulate, he has the agency and freedom to choose to walk with her responsibly. This is when Mary has her first “aha!” moment.
Max actually has very little self-regulation in his life. Mary realizes that they’ve been relying on trained, cued behaviors, and so Max doesn’t know to use his own agency because Mary is making his choices for him by cueing his behavior.
Mary’s plan is to be more attentive and patient with Max when they’re interacting. Instead of firing off cues and commands to get him to do what she wants, her aim is to connect through her body language, intention, expression and let the heart-mind connection take over.
This is a clear way to role model self-regulation – as Mary self-regulates, Max will begin to follow her lead!
The key here is to make this a way of life, what I call a ‘daily practice’.
Each time Mary and Max interact, that could be feeding him a treat, letting him out, putting his leash on, playing a game, or inviting him for a snuggle … Mary is going to role model calm, connected, self-regulation.
After just one day of practicing this approach Mary had her next “aha!” moment.
Mary realized that previously, she would only pay attention to Max when he did something big and unwanted. Inadvertently, she’d taught Max that he only gets her focus when he’s misbehaving! A calm and quiet Max often got no attention.
This realization is definitely a powerful one.
When it came to walking Max, Mary realized they weren’t quite ready yet, and she didn’t want to keep repeating their pattern of stressed and disconnected walks. So Mary thought of more creative ways to exercise him, keeping walks to a minimum while they learned a new way to be happy partners. If she did have to walk Max, Mary would choose a time and a place that would help to avoid their triggers, to keep them on the right path toward learning to walk as partners.
Isn’t it amazing how getting clear on your challenges can get the ball to success rolling?
Now you’ve heard how finding clarity helped Mary, it’s your turn.
Below are some journal prompts that can help you start thinking about how to find clarity with your dog.
What specific challenge with your dog could use your focus right now?
For Mary, it was walking Max. As she broke this challenge down, she started to see the other areas that needed work first.
So, start with your ‘big challenge’ … and then instead of tackling that big challenge head on (or even several challenges), really think about what else is going on behind the scenes and try to keep your focus there.
Now I want to encourage you to think about each of these questions individually. The answers can help you to get clear on the steps to take next:
- What is the outcome you’d like to have?
- Where are you starting from?
- How can you be more clear, as a role model for your dog?
- How is your own self-regulation influencing your dog and how can you change that?
- What are you asking or expecting of your dog that is just too hard? How will you change that?
- How can you be more attentive and present and available for your dog?
- How will you show your dog your love affection and appreciation as a daily practice?
There you go my friends, I hope you have some fun contemplating these questions and implementing more clarity in your partnership!
If you’d like to work with me and learn how to create a partnership lifestyle for you and your dog, you can request an invitation to join us in the Brilliant Partners Academy when the doors open for the next enrollment!
You can listen to everything I talked about in this blog post over on my podcast – Enlightened By Dogs. It’s episode 167, which you can listen to here.