NEW! The Book of Boundaries | Pre-Order Now (Coming October 2022)
melissau.com icon melissau.com

Why you might feel like you’re “failing”

  • June 7, 2021

Henry was THAT DOG in our first group training class.

The dog that wouldn’t listen. Barked like crazy. Ate the treat he was supposed to leave. Wanted to sniff every other dog’s butt. He was THAT dog for an entire hour, in a room full of 15 other perfectly content, well-behaved dogs.

Let me back up.

Henry is our re-homed Moyen Poodle. He’s just over a year old, and we’ve had him since October 2020, when the family who couldn’t take care of him sent him to live with us. He came pretty well-trained—he knew sit and shake, and he was crate-trained and house-broken. But he wasn’t well exercised or socialized with other dogs, and once we started to socialize him, one thing was clear.

Henry was The Mayor. Of everything. And everywhere. Not a dog could walk by without Henry wanting to greet them (and play). Not a person could approach without Henry wanting to sniff them (and play). He’d pull, and whine, and bark, and otherwise pitch a tantrum because he JUST WANTS EVERYONE TO LOVE ON HIM.

He’s a sweet dog who gets along with 100% of the creatures I have introduced him to, but his extroverted personality isn’t always welcomed. Not every dog wants to play, not every person at the park is a potential friend, and if we’re in a crowded environment with many potential playmates, he loses all executive function and becomes a pulling, barking ball of excited frustration

It’s not good.

We’ve been working on training with him at home and the local park, teaching him through various techniques to stay focused on his humans. He’s been coming along nicely, but what he really needs is to learn to be chill in a space with other dogs. So I enrolled him in a group training class.

We’ve been working on training with him at home and the local park, teaching him through various techniques to stay focused on his humans. He’s been coming along nicely, but what he really needs is to learn to be chill in a space with other dogs. So I enrolled him in a group training class.

We showed up last week to an indoor space already full of 15 dogs and 23 humans, and every few minutes or so, we all moved towards the center of the room and asked our dogs to perform. Sit, down, sit. Leave it (in my hand), leave it (on the ground), leave it (walking from tempting treat to tempting ball scattered about the room). He knows these skills at home.

In the group setting, it was a dumpster fire on top of a train wreck.

He pulled, he lunged, he barked, and when the other dogs actually did leave their treat, he’d swipe in and steal it—so much so that the room started laughing at his antics. In a word, he was hopeless.

When we left, my son said, “That was terrible.” I laughed and agreed. But then I explained that it wasn’t Henry’s fault, and it didn’t mean we were doing it wrong. We just didn’t set Henry up for success. We threw too many distractions at him at once, and asked him to perform just as faultlessly as he would at home. We gave him too many challenges too soon, without enough tools or experience to know how to navigate them. It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t calm down, slow down, pay attention, and execute. We expected far too much as was reasonable.

Do you see where I’m going here?

After a failure to “perform” (as a parent or partner, in your career, in the gym, or in your own personal growth), how often are you reflecting back on whether or not you were even capable of succeeding in the environment you found yourself in? I’m betting not that often. (Maybe never.)

Oh, but we’re quick to blame ourselves. I should be more patient. I should be more dedicated. I should be tougher. I should work harder. I must not be talented/skilled/smart enough. I must not be worthy.

Maybe it’s not about any of that at all. Maybe you’re asking too damn much of yourself in this moment. Maybe you’re not setting yourself up to succeed. Maybe your standards are unreasonably high, given the circumstances. Maybe someone else’s standards for you are, and you’ve simply accepted them as gospel.

Maybe there’s been a pandemic and illness and job loss or uncertainty and kids and financial stress and lack of social support and maybe we’re all just so forking tired right now that we’re Henry in a room with 16 other dogs and 23 humans expecting ourselves to calm down, focus, and perform with grace.

What if it’s not our fault? What if we’re not set up for success? What if we allowed that to be okay, and reset our expectations, and gave ourselves credit for the performance we had been giving, and changed our strategy such that we can succeed—but succeeding looks different than you were imagining, because now it’s realistic and attainable?

How about we do that.

We took Henry home and gave him the rest of the night off. The next morning, we practiced “leave it” at home, in the quiet of our kitchen. After a few attempts, Henry really started to get it. I rewarded him copiously with cheese, snuggled him for a job well done, and let him bask in the glory of knowing he was, in fact, a good boy.

Take from that what you will. (I really hope you do.)

XO MU