I’ve trained dogs professionally for quite a while. I’ve trained using all methods and styles. My personal methodologies morph with the passing of time and like anyone else who have moved on from something, being reintroduced to the past can be unpalatable. Like bumping into an old significant other you grew apart from long ago, you feel queasy, distracted, and avoidant. You out grew it for a reason. You know better now than you did then about some aspect of the relationship. You’ve moved on and you don’t want to go back. So what do you do when you’re faced with your past, or worst, have to commingle for an extended period?
I decided to sponsor a local community event. As part of the sponsorship I was given a booth. My booth was placed among my kind - dog clubs, rescues, organizations, service dog puppy raisers, etc. We were all packed together in a big circus type tent. The circus feel wasn’t absent either. When unregulated pet care and training standards are jampacked together in a small space, what can be overheard is as much a circus as the real thing. There is spectacle, storytelling, and of course, animals.
My booth was absent of my furry companions of this occasion, primarily due to the weather. Double coated spitz breeds who live in the AC at home, wilt in anything over 80. It was 95 the entire 4 days of the event. But others were not as thoughtful. Hot dogs abounded. In my earlier incarnation, I probably would have brought my dogs too. But today I know better, but that education came to me through a fostering of respect, understanding, empathy, and time. Unsurprisingly those four things seemed almost completely absent from the event. While there was time to foster some of this, but the outcome was uncertain at best.
Care and handling was all over the map. So was the advice. Some things I supported whole heartedly, others that made me cringe and my heart ache. I could speak up. I could speak over, make a side comment, or try to forcibly educate, but let's be honest, no one learns though that kind of experience. It only leaves individuals closed off, not open.
Like when an ex you can’t stand speaks and hearing their voice, you prickle. Nothing truly terrible is taking place. Nothing world ending is being said. But the involuntary disgust is still present. It is hard to breathe, and think clearly, let alone maintain professionalism and tact. But there is a choice. There is some control available. But that control involves only you.
I could say something angry, judgmental, or painful in the name of education. But am I really trying to educate, or am I trying to punish them for how I feel? Instead I can do any of the following constructive things:
- Have a conversation completely off the topic that is upsetting me.
- Get to know the individual.
- Offer hospitality through helping hands and offering water or snacks.
- Offer my expertise when asked and speak kindly and inviting.
- Demonstrate my methods and skills if the opportunity presents itself.
In addition I can go one step deeper and practice self awareness by learning what it is about myself that makes me feel the way I do. I can consider the following:
- Is the person I am upset with resonating with something I don’t like about myself,?
- Are they reminding me of a stressful experience in my past?
- Am I am struggling with something completely removed but I’m projecting that struggle on them?
- This kind of self awareness allows me to shift my thinking and take control of my reaction to what’s going on around me.
When all else fails, I find distance to be the most helpful. A walk, grabbing a snack, a bathroom meditation or anything else with purpose that creates physical distance from the stress. When you return you may be surprised by the result.
After practicing constructive interactions and getting space when necessary, my booth situation transformed. A new level of civility and kindness appeared. Engaging conversations, enthusiasm about new ideas emerged. Judgement melted away and kindness blossomed. The environment was now a safe place, grounded simply in our love for dogs.
The same can be accomplished in any stressful environment. It’s about implementing a system of respect, constructive interactions, and finding peace with ourselves.
Have you struggled with a similar situation? How did you get through it?