A Poem By Lisa Sellman
I completely loathe the hours that I spend at work;
I file papers and type all day and my boss is a jerk.
My life was destined to be exciting, unique & thrilling;
Instead I spend my day longing for a job that is fulfilling.
I was a full bright scholar in my youth;
I was envied by all, if you want the truth.
My parents demanded that I attend law school;
Instead I became a mime and thought it was cool.
I adored Mercel Marceau and planned to be a star;
I stopped going to classes and told my teachers, au revoir.
My days were spent doing the art that I so adored;
Instead of reality, I lived via my vision board.
I only am now happy when I leave my desk at the DMV;
I rush home as fast as I can like a just released parolee.
My home is shared with someone who finds me perfect;
Instead of co-workers ready to judge my intellect.
I used to come home and my only friend was Judge Judy;
I now am languished by kisses from my dog Rudy.
My wit is amazing and my sense of humor divine;
Instead of a boss that hates me, I am loved by this canine.
I found him by accident while looking on Craig’s List;
I was taken with his beautiful eyes and could not resist.
My heart was so broken and needed repair;
Instead of me rescuing him, he was the answer to my prayer.
Victoria Stilwell is as beautiful as she is kind. I spent a wonderful 4 hours training shelter dogs and getting to know Victoria in November of last year. It was so refreshing to meet someone who I completely connected with on so many levels. She offered me so many kind words and at times was just speechless as she watched and asked questions as I worked with the shelter dogs.
The first 4 dogs I worked with kind of confused Victoria. Each dog walked perfectly fine for me and she commented on how strange it was for someone to give a dog up for adoption that was so well behaved. Victoria apologized and thought she would ask the manager of the kennel for dogs that were known to be difficult on leash so she can at least see me training a dog - 3 out of the 4 that I worked with were on the list of dogs known to be difficult on leash with the 4th dog a stray that no one from the shelter had ever walked before since they could not get near it. Since these dogs did not have an owner to get their cues from, I simply set the tone that they could walk well on leash and just really saw them in complete confidance of what I was doing. This is what I do with all of the dogs that I walk on leash – I just know they can and I don’t even imagine that they will not be able to walk perfectly for me. This is not so much about dog training but about understanding the power of our thoughts and how that affects how we interact with our world. I did not have the luxury to have the dog not walk nicely on leash which then I would have to try to figure out how to untrain the dog. It is much easier to just see the perfection and the dog will rise to that expectation.
Then our session started to get interesting. Victoria scanned over all of the dogs and found one that was completely shut down – it had been brought in that morning, had been shaved because it’s hair was all matted, a stray tiny dog – perhaps under a year, that was not socialized in the least. The dog had not moved for the 3 hours we had been there so Victoria went and picked it up and wanted me to show her how I would work with this dog.
I asked Victoria to sit down with it in her lap on a bench because I did not want to take the dog outside right away. She sat with the dog and it was shaking violently – terrified of all the new experiences. I just breathed in deep, put my hand on the dog and exhaled slowly. She was still holding the dog and I continued with my hand on its back – slowly massaging and looking away the whole time. Victoria noticed the heart beat slowing down of the freightened dog. I moved to the boundary areas for the dog – the tail, feet and ears and after about 10 minutes of this – I put a tiny harness on the dog and we walked outside together – same as the rest to the complete amazement of Victoria and the staff at the shelter.
She said she had seen enough and we went to meet her husband and manager, Van, for lunch. As we drove, Victoria was so excited about the Tellington TTouch Method of bodywork with dogs and the different supplies and harnesses that I used. She wanted to share with the other trainers these techniques and to write about it for her blog – combining the touch with the positive dog training made such a huge difference and she wanted to hear all about the years of training and the program that I graduated from and what it costed. I think back to that conversation and it is kind of strange that I was suppose to do the shortcut for everyone else in the program instead of this being a unique way for me to work with the dogs. I attributed my techniques to TTouch and said that it was what I learned but I did not clarify or stand up for myself by saying that it also comes from all of the dogs that I take care of, my 8 years of professionally dog walking and all of the dogs that I have trained and the years I spent volunteering at the Humane Society. It also goes back to growing up with horses and dogs and having a little common sense about how to be around animals. Had I taught the other Victoria Stilwell Trainers the techniques of TTouch in a video on line or wrote up a manual for them, it would not be the same at all. There is no substitute for experience but I was suppose to discount my experiences to make it easier for the other trainers and to bring a new glory to the Victoria Stilwell program. I did not really think about that until after the car ride because at the time, I just thought this would lead to more and more people learning how to work in harmony with their dogs. Also, if the TTouch program got more students because of Victoria Stilwell’s endorsement, that would be a win win for everyone.
As we arrived at the restaurant, Victoria’s husand, Van, stepped out of his vehicle and whinced with pain. He was having knee replacement surgery the next day after a basketball injury and could hardly stand. We sat down and Victoria was so excited to tell Van all about our experiences at the shelter and how incredible it was to watch me work with the dogs. She continued on even as we ordered and the food arrived. Van finally looked at me in a very skeptical way and asked what I wanted to get out of being in the Victoria Stilwell program – strange since this was on the application that I had filled out 4 months previously that lead me to where I was at that moment. I said that I wanted to utilize the Victoria Stilwell Positive Dog Training brand so I can attain more customers and to bring more awareness on what positive training is and how powerful it can be. I also wanted to use the brand for my upcoming events at Chuck and Don’s stores, the upcoming Pet Expo, and even so more people would take my group classes that I planned on teaching at Adogo some day, a pet hotel that offers training here in the cities. I want future customers to know that I stand for quality and I think that is what the VSPDT stamp would convey.
Van then told me that I could not use the VSPDT brand at Adogo unless the facility purchased a facility fee (a $3,000 per year investment) and also I could not teach with other dog trainers unless they were VSPDT trainers. Instead of handing to me the manual that was mine as being a member of the program, he put it away and continued to lecture me as if I was trying to get away with something sneaky. He asked me why I did not have a place already established as a place where I trained. I explained that my business is going into people’s homes, just like Victoria does on her show. At this point, I really wanted to ask the waiter for a glass of wine because my buzz from the morning was wearing off really quick and I needed something to lighten the atmosphere. I commented on how good the food was which had Victoria chiming in again on a cheerful note all about the restaurant and how glad she was I came all of the way from Minnesota. It seemed like everything changed with the mentioning of the licensing fees and what I could not do with the Victoria Stilwell name. Instead of going over all of the marketing ideas which this lunch was intended, it became awkward silence while Victoria stared at Van pleading with him with her big brown eyes to do the management tasks which were suppose to happen at that lunch.
Silence can be awkward and sometimes we fill the silence with mindless chatter – instead I saw Van and Victoria for who they were. A married couple, one hopeful and trusting and one dealing with a lot of pain but also fear of his lack of control of situations. I saw him as never really fully being able to step outside of the shadow of his wife and lead his own life. This program that he created and has been working on for years, has less than 50 dog trainers in it and it is global program- it was a failure. I just thought about how much I gave up to get here to this lunch, all of the references and application procedures, the days driving, the hotel fees, my husband taking off work to be there and drive me, and everything started to look kind of different and I wondered why I was there. I knew that Victoria made small talk because Van did not like her referencing my good work as a trainer. The lunch was suppose to be me gushing over her - instead I felt sad for her because she was married to a man that was insecure in his own life and he held Victoria back – in no other way than Victoria could not just be the light that she was. The confidant woman that I was with at the shelter disappeared as we talked small talk about what brought them to Atlanta and their years on Broadway and when they lived in Minneapolis when she had a run at the Ordway during her dancing days. We never talked more about the entire purpose of my trip or becoming a member of her team or even dog training in general. It was awkward and I decided just to enjoy the pasta and hope that the Vodka in the sauce would kick in -which it did not.
Two weeks later, Chuck and Don’s needed my bio information for my upcoming demos in the stores that would be taking place in the spring. I decided to call Van and inquire if I can mention that I am a part of the VSPDT team for my bio. He called me back to inform me that no decisions would be made until after Christmas – 6 weeks after my interview in person with Victoria. I told him that I would not be able to use it for the bio then for Chuck and Don’s which is why I scheduled the in-person interview when I did. Also, I planned on doing demos at the Pet Expo coming up and planned on saying I was part of the VSPDT for those, too. I wanted to order a big banner that had my picture along with Victoria. I needed to know so I could plan my marketing for these events. He said that there was nothing he could do about it. I asked if I could speak to Victoria and he said that she has no say as to who does or does not become a member of the program. This confused me because he just said he could not do anything about making the decision and now he is telling me he is the only person responsible for making the decision.
I then waited a month later – now the middle of January and called to ask for a decision. He told me that he does not think that I would be a team player on the Victoria Stilwell Positive Dog Training Team. He thinks that I am only joining the program to use her name to only promote myself and that all of the trainers that they choose are chosen because they can work together. He said that he inquired with a trainer that used to live in St. Paul and she did not know me. With this revelation, he concluded that I do not work well with others. He only wants trainers to be a part of the program that will promote the program to other trainers so there is a bigger impact of the name recognition of the VSPDT brand.
I then told him about all of the Gunflint Lodge events I put on where I invited other dog professionals to attend the Dog Lover’s Retreats and raise funds for dog charities. I told him about all of the other events and volunteer work I did with Retreive a Golden of Minnesota, getting donated food to Red Lake Rosie’s, collecting food during different events with the pet sitting groups, and the networking groups I was a part of in the Twin Cities. He wanted references now not from dog training clients but from people in the dog community that could vouch for the fact that I am a team player. I supplied him with the name of several people that attended Gunflint Lodge with me over the years, the president of Retreive a Golden of Minnesota, the Midwest Distributor for Bil Jac Dog Food, Trish, the owner of Urbanimal, and a few other names. He said he would call the references and get back to me. Still having a little hope, I asked if I could have a quote from Victoria for my website about the things she observed while I worked with the dogs. He said no because her endorsements are only for people in the program.
That was the last time I heard from him – in January. What could I have done differently. Should I have just used clicker training as she assumed I was going to? Should I have not brought my own equipment that I like? Would it have all been better if he had not been in so much pain when he met me, the day before his surgery? What happened? I wasted a lot of energy depating these things. Last week, I sent Van an email to let him know that I am formally withdrawing my application since it had been a year since starting the application process, 8 months since my in person interview, and 6 months since his last contact with me. Clearly all of this was in conflict with my idea of what an appropriate amount of time is to be in waiting and this just does not work for me any longer.
This is my painful shadow that has sucked my energy in 2012 – the shameful secret that Victoria Stilwell’s husband does not like me, the awful truth that a dog trainer that used to live in the Twin Cities never heard of me, and that my future was doomed since I was never going to get endorsed by Victoria Stilwell. I actually looked into giving up dog training – thought I would go back to working at a hospital. I even looked at working at a GNC store because I thought I needed to learn everything about supplements and nutrition since a big part of me thought there must be something really wrong with me and maybe there was a pill that could help me. At my lowest idea, I thought I maybe was not fit for living in the public world and thought I need time at an Ashram in India – maybe this is my chance for an Eat, Pray, Love kind of adventure – without the whole messy divorce stuff.
Here is all I know today – I never did get offered the position to train at Adogo, I did not do the Pet Expo, and I still struggle with marketing my business. On the up note, I did do events at Chuck and Don’s Pet Food Outlet this spring, 10 of them and sometimes I would have 15 people and their dogs waiting for me to show them canine massage and bodywork techniques for a calm dog. I guess I did not need someone to endorse me after all. I spoke to the Editor of Bark magazine yesterday about doing an article on canine massage in the future. A Crowd Cut coupon in April has kept me pretty busy and introduced me to a whole new array of dog clients. I have an appointment the first week of August with the Executive Director at MNSnap (Minnesota Spay and Neuter) about doing some fundraising for them. I also was asked to be a part of the Midwest Family Pet Expo coming up in October. Next week, I will be assisting with the Dr. Ian Dunbar Seminar coming to Minneapolis. I also have another interview with Animal Spirit Network in the fall, my spring interview was great and people from as far away as Norway tuned into here me speak about turning problems to possibilites with positive dog training. And With all of these things, I think I am seeing that I will be ok.
As long as I had planned exactly what would happen when I attained the validation from Victoria Stilwell, I lost my way. Stepping into my life was really scary with so much of my energy still back in Atlanta. In order for me to go forward, I had to cut my ties to that and see it as it is – a moment in time, just like now is a moment in time – the only difference is that I have control over what I do in this moment in time. Now is the only time that we can make changes and go forward in our lives – it does not work to remake the past in the same way that I can’t orchestrate my future without being grounded firmly in the present – right now.
Slowly I am starting to see that experience in good light. My husband and I had an amazing time on our vacation. We even brought our dog Jasmine. She loved playing in the ocean and walking on the beach.
While we drove, she napped and my husband and I grew closer and closer with all of the conversations we had through the many hours on the road. We stopped at many places along the way and even visited Metropolis, Illinois where Superman was born.
My feelings never do lie to me and there is one thing that I will never forget from that trip, I felt amazing after a morning working with the shelter dogs as can be seen from my smile below – I don’t think it had anything to do with Victoria Stilwell – it was all me and I think I am remembering what it feels like to be me, again.
There used to be a television show years ago with a feisty British woman that was called, “The Weakest Link”. The show featured contestants answering a series of questions of an easier nature which would strengthen the chain. Eventually, a question would be found too difficult for an individual and they would be deemed the weakest link, the one that broke the chain. The basis for the title is the old saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”.
Lately, I have been creating a very strong chain but I am afraid because I also have a weakest link. I have a secret that has been destroying me these past 6 months. No matter what I do, it is there. I hope by writing publicly about this shame – it will no longer be a secret and I can bring this shadow to the light and it will disappear.
Work is very important to me. My first job at a grocery store landed me working right along side the Manager doing the end caps at 14 and working with the other department heads in complete harmony. I never came late and saved my money diligently which lead me to be able to pay a lot of my first year of college on my own. I then worked at a hospital for many years after college and learned how to work in other departments at ease to cover and pick up shifts when needed. I mastered the workings of the Infant Care Center, Special Care Nursery, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Urgent Care, Emergency Room, and eventually even worked in Human Resources. I could do it all and my reviews and pay check showed that but my sleep habits were terrible picking up all of those different shifts.
After about 8 years of that, my husband encouraged me to get a day job. I went to my old stand by that kept me in the black in college and applied at Wells Fargo. I paid for college with encoding checks – that is typing the black ink numbers at the bottom of a check into a computer. Sound boring to you? It fascinated me and I was making one of the top salaries because we were paid by how many checks we processed. I was error free and loving the high salary as I typed my way to glory. Wells Fargo had positions as underwriters and processors in the mortgage department when I applied after my hospital work. We could all work our way towards underwriting levels and were paid more based on good telephone relations with our customers. I mastered this and was awarded the distinction after less than 18 months after my first day being awarded a cruise to the Caribbean along with 1000 other Wells Fargo employees of notable action. The next employee who was employed even close to me in time was 7 years.
Upon returning from the cruise, things changed at Wells Fargo and I knew the impending mortgage financial crisis was upon us. Instead of underwriting mortgages and verifying documents, we were told things would be taken care of post closing and to just get everything to the closing company. Something stunk and upon a return from a vacation in Hawaii, my husband said it was my turn to do whatever I want as I had encouraged him to do what he wanted 10 years prior when we were first married. I decided to start a business focused on taking care of pets, and Aloha Pet Care was born. I would later change the business to “The Good Dog Handling and Training” as it morphed into my true passion of dog training.
I, like most entrepreneurs, love the work I do but find the marketing to be difficult sometimes. When I heard about the Victoria Stilwell Positive Dog Training Program, I thought it was for me. In November, my husband and I drove to Atlanta to interview in person. Victoria Stilwell has a wonderful TV show on Animal Planet called, “It’s Me or The Dog”.
Being accepted into her program would mean she would refer me as a preferred dog trainer that utilized only kind and humane methods. Also, as a plus for me, I could write articles about positive dog training which would be featured on her blog. After supplying Victoria about 30 references of clients and professionals that knew my skills and integrity in dog training, the next phase was the personal interview. We met at a lovely Atlanta Shelter. My adventure was to begin and here I was as I waited to meet Victoria on that morning – I was giddy, excited and completely full of how wonderful the world really can be when you work hard and follow your desires and passions. I had already been accepted into the program – this interview was more of a prefunctuary phase in which I would learn how to use her name and logo information to get veterinarians to work with me and for the local media to know that I am fully supported by her. I was told I could assist in putting on seminars and she may even visit Minneapolis.
I really felt I needed her name with my name to feel that I was endorsed by someone – I did not know my own value. What happens next? Are my dreams fulfilled? You already know that they were not since this is called The Weakest Link and I am talking about shame – but I will let you ponder it all a bit longer. The truth will be revealed – it always does.
“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.” –Dalai Lama
“Fake it until you make it.” is a phrase I often use with my dog training clients. I have found that if the dog owner can exhale and be relaxed, the dog picks up on that calm energy and their fear of other dogs on walks or other undesirable behavior can be eliminated quite quickly. The habit of a dog owner that is used to her dog charging at other dogs will invariably wrap the leash around their wrists and be prepared for a battle when they see other dogs. I remind the owners that developing trust with their dogs is the ultimate goal and the dogs pick up on the calmness and flourish. I have seen dog owners be so surprised at how intelligent their once troubled dogs become in the face of a calm and relaxed environment.
I have seen these words work miracles when I am working with clients – they don’t have to be a zen master to portray a calmness around their dogs. Just an awareness of how their own nervous energy affects their dogs. I know these words work for my clients but I now need to use them more often for my own life when I am not working with dogs. It is natural for me to be calm in a dog training session – but since I don’t train 24/7, 2012 has became a year for me to look within and really work on my own self. It has been 3 months since I wrote in this blog. Writing and poetry had been such a healing technique for me in the past and I am hoping that it will be that way for me once again.
Yesterday, I was at a Chuck and Don’s Pet Store doing a demonstration on positive dog training and bodywork for a calm dog. When I am working, I am always in the flow. I love showing people simple things they can do to help their dogs feel more calm and relaxed to eliminate bad behaviors. I had a lovely woman who stopped by with her cocker spaniel that was in agility. The issue she had was the dog became extremely stressed at the events and had issues with the weave poles but used to have fun in agility. I decided to ask the woman if she had fun in agility. She began to tell me how competitive agility is and that she began to not enjoy the other people that compete. She goes to the events for exercise for the dog. The interesting thing was that as soon as she began talking about the other people in agility – her dog became very upset and needed to be on her lap and was anxious. I explained to the woman that perhaps her dog can sense her own agitation which causes the dog to be so nervous at the events. She was somewhat surprised but then as soon as we talked about other things, not agility related, the dog was calm. I told her that her dog loves her very much and just wants her to be happy – so if agility does not make her happy – why do it? It was a fun experience helping this woman to really deal with her emotions and help her to figure them out. She and her dog left with a deeper bond and I felt quite pleased.
I bring awareness to other people about their actions around their dogs but my own feelings become quite difficult to disern. I want to be happy – just like everyone else but my happiness depends so much on my work and my relationship with others. I had many experiences last year that made me realize that I need to find that worthiness within myself. Perhaps this is what we all as humans need to do but some of us struggle a little more in this area. I don’t think before I was faking it when I was happy and confidant – I just think more awareness came up and I need to do the work on myself that is difficult and not easy.
So today – I am going to fake it. I am going to decide to be optimistic, be proud of my accomplishments, and see the beautiful dance that life is unfolding within me. I have become quite good at studying things this year – from books, to classes, to techniques, to directions from experts. Improving myself has became my focus and I have decided to give up on improving and start living. Becoming a student of life has stopped me from living and instead put me full of worry if I am making any mistakes. Time to give up the search and just decide that I have found it. This is my life – warts and all – and letting myself live it is the best gift I can give myself. Freedom to just be me.
So as I continue to be the confidant dog trainer with all of the answers, please be patient with me and offer a little encouragement if you can, as I join so many others on this bewildering path called life. Breath, exhale, and I am going to let life take care of the rest..
Last weekend, I had a wonderful walking partner to show off the lovely lake and park near my home. Sophie is a one year old St. Bernard and I wanted to spend a little time with her alone. We are experiencing such beautiful weather here in Minnesota with our spring that has came in full force.
It was Sophie’s first time at the park and there was a lot of critters to watch – we have two eagles that have taken up residence recently as well as the usual deer and squirrels. We went out very early so there were hardly any other dogs out there which was nice – we had the whole place to ourselves and the morning was full of enchantment. When Sophie arrived last week snow was everywhere but things have really changed recently.
After we had been out for about an hour, Sophie stopped in her tracks with her head held high listening for what many never hear – Spring. The ice on the creek we were walking past was frozen over but it was melting and the sound was as loud as multiple cannons being fired. We must have stayed for 15 minutes transfixed with the sound of nature, entering the flow.
By now, the hard edges of the frozen creek are all gone as I observed on my walk this morning. It is flowing fast as if there never was a time that it had not been in the flow. The creek’s transformation goes unnoticed by most but to Sophie and I, we knew how much work it was to get into that flow that now seems so effortless. Now that creek has no recollection of a time when it was not in the flow, no worries of breaking free, the pain and uncomfortable feeling it must have been in to expose itself after being covered all winter.
Just for today, and maybe the next day and the next day after, I am going to choose to be in the flow. Let the hard edges melt, and let my spirit be in awe of this time and smile confidently as things continue to change, day by day, season by season, person by person. We are all here to evolve and grow, sometimes it is uncomfortable to change – but when you get in the flow, and you know when you are in the flow, the ease and comfort is worth it and things just happen to go in harmony with where you are. So join me and I will join you, in the flow.
Last night, my husband and I watched the movie, Moneyball. I had wanted to see this movie ever since it came out and even though I am not one to attend a lot of baseball games, the plot for the movie intrigued me. Brad Pitt plays a general manager for a baseball team that loses the last game of the season – the World Series so the individual talent of his team gets bought by other teams that have a bigger budget. He hires a Yale Economics and Computer whiz which develops a program to pick players based on nothing else than the fact that they can win games. The looks, attitudes off the field, past injuries, age, nothing else matters. This theory not only makes the team have the longest string of wins of any other baseball team in history but conveys a confidence to all of the players on the team as they are honored for their own unique gifts.
The entire movie had one idea – truth. When we ask ourselves this question – what is true – it is amazing how we strip away our past, our failures, excuses, and difficulties. We can just stand in an honest way and move forward to success.
I love that idea of getting to the truth because everything else is really just a made up way to put excuses over the solution which is right in front of us. I believe that nature teaches us truth and I honor this belief when I work with dogs. I think all humans crave truth and when you look at the number of people that share their lives with dogs – many people’s only introduction to nature, truth is a guiding force in our lives.
I first started seeing the effects of truth many years ago when I worked with a Pit Bull that was very agressive towards the owner and family members. She had taken the dog for years to trainers that taught her how to use a clicker and she continually was made to feel that everything was her fault. Her home was quite destroyed with chew marks every where on woodwork and she was not able to really look me in the eyes when we spoke. I saw the truth right away. This woman gave off such a sense of fear – that her dog always had to be on edge with its surroundings. There was no calmness or sense of safety and relaxation and her frustration with the dog led her to being more cut off from the real issue – her own feeling of lack and self worth. As I introduced some breathing techniques and positive training methods, things changed quite quickly even in that first session.
Teaching her to introduce a relaxed breath with her dog sets the tone for the dog being naturally in harmony with her. If she can continue to practice this while she trains the dog, the dog will not be on edge and the frustration will go away. I hope I planted the seed for her to practice ways to be more relaxed all of the time. The main problem with most people is that they are not aware of their own tension and the messages they give energenticly to their dogs. Fear is our biggest message we send out which is fear of the future and fear of the past – breath can only be done in the present moment which is healing for both the person and the dog. This is my truth and I find it has served me well as a dog trainer.
This is one of my favorite photos from an event that I did at the Renaissance Festival several years ago. I said that anyone that had a dog that pulled on the leash, I would show them how to work with their dog. I probably helped hundreds and all of them had this perplexed look on their face such as the woman above – complete confusion. Her dog had pulled her for years which it did as she walked towards the stage to see me. With an exhale and a simple breath and my own open heart - her dog just stood their confidently in the glory which was that moment. I would have loved to have worked more with her but many people do not want to find out how easy life and working with their dog can truly be.
I have struggled in the past identifying who I truly am but I find that I can not struggle and be in my truth at the same time. I think it is much easier to just stay in my truth. I think dogs figured this out a long, long time ago.
Over the past several weeks, I have been working on a new website, TheGoodDog.info,and redefining my services and skills. It has been interesting to think back to all of the experiences I have had professionally, that have stuck with me and others that I have had to let go. I have been saddened at times as I thought what to put in my site because many of my endeavors have led to failures.
Failing is such a powerful word and loaded with emotion. Failing comes from a latin word fallere which means “to decieve”. It is so interesting to me when I look at the original meaning of words. When I think of the things that I failed at – it wasn’t that I failed at the actual endeavor itself – it was that it did not resonate with who I really was and did not fulfill me. These failures were typically things that I have tried, very hard at most times and spent years and countless hours being a part of them, but I had to eventually realize I was deceived into thinking that I needed that to be me.
The failure that most stands out to me is defining myself as a typical dog trainer. Teaching group classes is what most dog trainers do. I would go to these classes where 15 people and their dogs would walk around in circles and sit on command and I would always be drawn to the 2 or 3 dogs and their owners that were themselves failing. These dogs eventually would drop out of class and we could focus on the people that could handle the clicker and give treats at a fast enough pace. After witnessing a dog trainer drag a standard poodle that was terrified of walking beside anyone with a collar choking the dog and the dog frozen in a sit position, I decided being a dog trainer in the tradition sense was not for me. I now teach dog behavior and massage workshops but it is my own techniques, not focused on sitting on command.
The problem for me was that I did not see dog training in those black and white terms. I saw dog training as a way of being kind and understanding to other people and their dogs. I saw dogs responding to the genuine peaceful nature that people are at their natural core. Dogs have been our companions for 15,000 years and when we teach dog training anything else than a natural, relaxed way of being with our dogs, I think we fail. Instead of seeing the dog as naughty or the owner as not clicking fast enough, I see dog training as just an extension of understanding and compassion. I think dogs can teach us so much when we put the labels away and just open up to how our own energy affects everything around us. Opening up to our natural calm and peaceful self, with confidence and trust, allows dogs the freedom to do what they naturally are, our companions.
I think that as we grow and become into our own, letting go becomes easier and easier. One of the challenges of life is to define ourselves and honor the unique gifts that we are each here to bring. I love teaching people how to connect with not only themselves but with their dogs and everyone else around them. It is the energy of love and compassion and I see it affecting my life every day. Above is a photo of me with my dog, Jasmine. My hand is on her heart and we are connected – just as dogs and humans should be – it is not an intellectual mind control of tricks – it is our natural way of being together – and this is what I see myself as wanting to teach. I want to convey how natural it is for people and their dogs to work together with open hearts and kindness.
What about you? What have you had to let go of and what are you now learning to honor about yourselves. We can not grow unless we let go. I recently read this beautiful quote by Joseph Campbell and it so defines my new ideas of myself.
We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.
This past Saturday I had an interesting dog training client that I would have so loved to have helped more. She had a 6 month border collie puppy that came to her after her 17 year old dog passed away. She recieved the puppy from a co-worker when it was 8 weeks old. She did not have the needed yard or time for training but she did not realize her needs or really want to change the situation for her or the puppy. I showed her some positive dog training techniques and leash handling techniques but a frustrated puppy and an exhausted owner do not make a good training partnership. The choice of the dog she would spend the rest of her life with was decided by someone else and she did not know that she could have chosen. Turned out her first dog was a stray a neighbor found and abandoned to her as well.
An amazing part of growing up and becoming mature is realizing our own power to choose what we bring into our lives. When I was a junior in college, I met my boyfriend and now husband, Rick. I had actually made a list of the man I was going to marry and he fit all of the items on my list except for one silly item which I later found out he met, also. When I was a kid, I would visit my uncles pig farm in Canada and I decided that I wanted to marry a pig farmer some day. On our first date, the brown hair, blue eyes, over 6 feet tall trophy boyfriend fit my requirements as well as his kindness and sweetness. When I found out he had been raised on a pig farm in Minnesota, I knew I had met my husband. We have now been married for 17 1/2 years. I am sure part of the strength of our bond is I knew exactly what I wanted before I met him.
The same thing happened when I decided to get a puppy in 2004. I knew exactly the personality I wanted and why I wanted the dog. I wanted a dog that I could take camping and walk around the park by my house so it had to be of somewhat an athletic dog. Also, I had a professional pet care business so it had to have an easy going personality that would get along with other dogs – this led me more to the Golden Retreiver with sweet disposition. I decided to aply with Retreive a Golden of Minnesota. RAGOM had a litter of puppies coming due any day. We had our home inspection and were so excited for our new Golden Retriever puppy.
Once the pups arrived we had a phone call that the puppies came out “mixed”. The rescue named all of the pups after detectives since the father was a mystery. Jasmine’s name was Nancy Drew but she looked more like a Jasmine to me. When we met the litter of pups, all of them were going crazy with Rick laying on the ground and the pups jumping all over him. Except for one sweet little puppy that was watching it all with the sweetest look on her face. I sat down on the grass and she bounded over to me, slid on her back and I gave her a belly rub – it was love at first site. Yes – she does not look like the Golden Retreiver that I had dreamed of but she is all that I could ever have wanted.
One of the amazing thing about dogs is how they know right away what dogs they want to play with at the dog park. When I take Jasmine to the dog park, we often will see 10 or 15 dogs before she finds the dog that embodies IT. IT for Jasmine is a whole lot of fun all wrapped up in a dog similar in size to Jasmine (she is 60 pounds but she is not choosey – anything over 40 pounds will do), athletic build and plenty of fast paw movement with zips here and there. But most importantly, the dog has to be fearless – if there is a lake – they are leaping straight in the middle, if there is a crowd of dogs, they run straight through them. When the play is done and both dogs are tired out, they say their good byes after a fun afternoon of joy filled craziness. I envy her power of deductive match making for herself and wish I knew how to decipher the right type of people to have in my life with a butt sniff.
In the choice of my husband as well as my dog, I chose the qualities that I wanted and made it happen – I did not settle and I am sure that is why I have such a happy life now. Many people don’t realize that their life is a choice – it is all up to the individual to decide what they want to bring into their life. What about you – do you realize that you have the power to choose whom or what you bring into your life? Choosing a partner in our life is such an important choice – the peace and calm environment that you have created can be destroyed easily with the wrong choice. Worst yet is to be frozen in fear and scared to make choices to move forward and share our lives with others.
Each day I learn from dogs to be choosey about who I spend my time with but when someone meets the sniff test – I go all in and I am fearless!
A very strange phenomenon has happened over the past 30 years with humans – more and more humans have trouble sleeping at night. If you watch the evening news, commercials come on all the time for sleep aids and medications for restless leg syndrome. It seems a sign of our times that spending all day in our heads in front of a computer screen at work is not a natural component to having a fulfilling job that allows our body to rest completely at night. When you think about this from an evolutionary stand point, humans used to spend most of their time feeding their families. Walking long ways to get water, harvesting the bounty for meals and hunting. All of these aspects have been changed into ordering our meals delivered to our homes and quick convenience meals in most cases. It used to be that people at least went grocery shopping but now on-line ordering for groceries is very common as is delivery right to our doors. Many people make up for their lack of exercise by working out at the gym but working out is not a complete substitute for the physical demands our body used to perform just in a typical day for survival.
As a dog trainer, I sometimes simplify my questions when I look at the dogs in our lives and how they have handled the changing demands of a modern life. One such breed that is often a cause for concern is the beautiful and majestic German Shepherd. Intelligence, strength, and stamina along with loyalty to their owner embody this breed. The problem is that many people get a German Shepherd and keep the dog in a kennel during the day which only confuses this loyal dog to the extreme as they become more and more destructive and frustrated. The strangest thing about the German Shepherd is that it now is being classified as a Dangerous Dog by some states and countries. How can this be and what can we do to help the German Shepherd. It is the same answer as to the question, how can people sleep better at night – allow the German Shepherd to do what it was meant to do and for people to begin to ask themselves the same question, “What was I meant to do with my life?”
The Wildlife Science Center is 30 minutes north of Minneapolis and houses wolves, foxes, coyotes, cougars, lynx, as well as the home ground for some very important rehabilitated dogs. Peggy Callahan, president and founder of the Wildlife Science Center, also runs a dog sanctuary for dogs that have failed at other facilities. Seeing her dogs in action in protecting her from the wolves was amazing. Witnessing 12,000 years of instinctual behavior in protection was really an amazing site to see and impressed me again with what we can learn from the dogs in our lives.
Before coming to the Wildlife Science Center, he had failed placement in many homes. Assuming that a simple walk in the morning would tire him out will not do the trick. It is all mental as to how he uses his energy.
The wolves are staring back at him with a ferocious glare. In all actuality, the wolves would stay in their cages based on the fencing alone but this dog really sees his part in the center as integral to its function.
As I was saying good bye and thanking Peggy Callahan for the tour, I took this picture of her dog, exhausted from a morning doing exactly what he was meant to do with his life. Protecting his owner from wolves. He was well rested and pleased with himself and slept comfortably so he could go back out and do what he is meant to do later in the day.
This made me think back to times in my life where I had trouble sleeping. I used to work in more office related positions where I was on a computer most of the time dealing with papers that did not really mean much to me. I put in my hours at work and never really felt like I accomplished much as the next day my in-box would be over flowing with what I had to do the next day. In 2004, when I began my own dog training and professional pet care business, that changed for me. Getting out in the fresh air, taking dogs for long walks, developing relationships with the dogs in my care and the families I was training, I felt fulfilled – much like I used to feel when I was a kid and worked with my horses and dogs back then that I showed. My body was physically tired, my mind was mentally fulfilled, and my spirit soared.
How about you? How do you sleep at night? Could it be that you are not living your life as you are meant to? What can you do to feel more fulfilled? Could you spend more of your day in nature as humans are meant to? Could you find more fulfillment in your job? Perhaps could you even question yourself as to “What am I meant to be doing?” I think dogs can show us that when we are living the lives we are meant to be living, life is so simple, easy, and it just is as it should be.
- On a day like today, I so appreciate that I have a dog in my life and that has a hunger for adventure. The snow is falling and it is cold in Minnesota, but that does not stop Jasmine. It would be easy for me to wake up, have a quick bit to eat and focus on my work – promoting my dog training business and also working on my next children’s book. But having Jasmine in my life, I have to consider her needs as well. A walk is in order this morning, as is every day. The funny thing is – I have found that when she makes me go for a walk, it is just as beneficial for her as it is for me.
People and dogs have been living together for what experts have discovered to be 15,000 years now. A ritualistic buriel site of a dog found in a cave disc in France is how the date was discovered. Food was precious back then as well as time so it does beg to ask the question, why would our ancestors bring an animal into their dwelling? I have my own theory that perhaps a person stumbled upon a wolf den and took the pups, not realizing the mother wolf would return. They may have found as the pups got older that they alerted people to noises outside so the people could rest comfortably at night. It may also have been the same desire I have had since I was a child when I found birds with broken wings or stray cats – caring for all of nature is just a natural desire within us.
No matter why dogs first came to be with us, they are here to stay. One estimate is that there are 75 million dogs living in the United States alone. As a dog trainer, I work with so many people and their dogs and I am always amazed at how the exact perfect dog is matched up with the family that really needs it. I find myself saying at each session, “You are so lucky to have got this dog – he is perfect for your family.” Even if the family groans and does not see why their naughty and misbehaving dog is the right one, by the end of the session, they know.
I find in my own case, my dog helps me to see what is important in life. From a very early age, having a bank account and making money was a priority for me. It may have been from being raised in a household without a father and money was always tight. I never wanted to cause problems so I never asked for anything if I could help it. I wanted to buy my own things so I started babysitting at 13 and corn detassling and bean spraying that same summer. I even had a house painting business and painted my first house at 14. I worked full time in the summers and part time during school at a grocery store. When I was 16, I went away for the summer and worked as a nanny – in New York. Even when I was in New York, I had a bank account and would walk to put my checks in the bank – it was just how I valued myself – how much money I had in the bank.
The problem was, I never had enough money. When I was making $3/hour as a kid at the grocery store, $12/hour as a college graduate at Children’s Hospital or $35/hour as a contract mortgage underwriter during a summer in Illinois, it did not matter – there always was a feeling that I had to make more. That was – until Jasmine came into my life and I started to see what was important.
Jasmine taught me that I am worth more than just my bank account and that feeling joy in my heart is more important than any deposit I can make. Jasmine’s priorities include a good night’s sleep, good food, exercise, and plenty of play time. She values her family and home and being loved. When I used to seek out my worth through a bank account balance – I always came up short. With a tail wag and a cuddle from my dog, I am worth more than words can express.
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