Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Year's Resolution

We're an inpatient culture. At the very least we've developed into one. If you're old enough to remember Dana Carvey's grumpy old man eschewing the virtues of the old days, "Why, if we wanted to go to the bathroom we had to walk a mile in the rain and mud to a wooden shack in the middle of the night,...and we liked it that way." then you're old enough to know how much things have changed. Each generation views their respective realities through they're own period lens. The lens Du jour expects instant gratification, consider on demand movies (on your cell phone no less) books, music, etc. Home delivery is available, overnight if you like, for just about anything.

Inevitably this sensibility has spilled over into my world as well with the occasional dog owner assuming little more effort than that needed to call or e-mail should be required for a miraculous transformation in their dog. It comes across in different ways but I've gotten pretty good at ferreting these dog owners out and that's important because there's no better opportunity to set things straight than at that moment. Serious behavioral problems take time to address, in some cases so much time that it tests the will of even the most steadfast of the dog owners I work with. It's critical dog owners struggling with behavioral problems in their dogs understand this before they dig into the business at hand. For my part this idea cannot be understated.

As behaviorist Katenna Jones suggests in her book "Fetching the Perfect Dog Trainer" dog owners should expect to see a tangible response to training and conditioning very quickly. Some indication that the trainer's  hypothesis has merit and that the predicted outcome will come to fruition. The hard work comes in the day to day business of working and living with these dogs; fast food and  instant downloads this isn't, not by any stretch. It's also not for every dog owner and communicating that from the outset is critical. Julie K. Shaw, RVT, KPA-CTP, VTS (Behavior) at a recent seminar emphasized how important it is to assess the strength of the human animal bond. In other words, "How do you feel about your dog?" That's an enormously important question that plays very neatly into questions of expediency. If the bond you have with your dog is fractured, then the notion of pouring time, energy and financial resources (training, veterinary care etc. all have costs associated with them) into that relationship is pointless, it's also a disservice however expedient the draw of a new client may be. 

For dog owners who are informed and ready to put in the time, work begins. There are so many smart, creative thinkers working on ways to make training, counter conditioning, desensitizing and management more effective and often times more fun. It's an embarrassment of riches and yet it remains an imperfect science. A favorite Facebook page (Swipe to read) I Fucking Love Science posted a quote by 20th century philosopher Bertrand Russell, "Science does not aim to establish immutable truths and eternal dogmas; it's aim is to approach the truth by successive approximations, without claiming that at any stage final and complete accuracy has been achieved." For me that means I can sleep at night so long as I've been honest about my role in helping dog owners make their own successive approximations. It's also my responsibility to know when I've done as much as I can and whenever possible appreciate that the problems a dog owner is dealing with are outside my skill set. On that front I intend to do a better job. That's my New Year's Resolution. To listen more closely to what dog owners are telling me, to ask better questions and be a better part of that process of successive approximations. Oh, and eat more vegetables, can't forget that.