“Comparison is the thief of joy” is a quote that has really hit home for me recently. It’s so easy to get discouraged when the training we’re doing with our dog isn’t going the way we hoped or isn’t progressing as quickly as we’d like. This is especially true for those of us who have dogs who suffer from reactivity or other fear-based/impulse control issues. It can feel like all the other dogs around you are perfectly trained and that their handlers have some secret to a well-adjusted dog. Our confidence in ourselves as handlers and in our dogs can diminish so quickly after experiencing setbacks in our training.
This can be exhausting to deal with and make us feel like we should just give up or try more extreme methods that we would never have considered before. Worst-case scenarios flood your mind and it becomes almost paralyzing to just go for a normal walk. Giving up can feel like the path of least resistance sometimes.
It’s easy to tell someone to “just keep trying” or “it’ll get better” but for the person who’s actually dealing with this issue day by day, it can bring on a feeling of hopelessness.
Change takes time and behavioural modification isn’t a “one size fits all” type of training. What works for one dog may not work for the next so we must be patient and give our dog’s the time they need to learn what we want from them. Many of us also have dogs who have gone through considerable trauma, abuse and have developed different issues because of this. For these dogs, this might be something they will struggle with for their entire lives. So how is it fair for us to compare their progress to that of the dog who hasn’t had these experiences?
One of the most common questions I get is “how long will it take before this issue is fixed?”. The short answer, I have absolutely no idea. We all want a quick fix when it comes to training, but experience has taught me that that’s just not how things work. Every “quick fix” comes with consequences.
We need to take the time your dog needs to condition the right responses and choices. This cannot be put in a time frame. It would be the same as asking someone who is having a panic attack to “get over it” or someone who suffers from depression to “just think happy”. As much as we want to help, these statements only devalue the struggle that a person is going through and make it even harder for them to cope. Our dogs can suffer from the same mental health issues that we can suffer from. Even though the thing they’re reacting to doesn’t make sense to us; to them, it’s a very real threat.
It’s important to remember that you are not alone in your struggles and I hope that you always feel like you can reach out if you need some help. Above all else, stop trying to compare your journey to those that others are taking. If we really want to move past these issues, we must stop comparing ourselves, our dogs and our progress to those around us.