Ooops. My Bad.

Give me a break.

Cut me some slack.

We learn from our mistakes.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

4 dogs down on the floor looking at the camera

Four dogs practicing doing something that probably makes no sense to them.

Despite the fact that our language is littered with phrases that attempt to make us feel ok about making mistakes, or to request that others be less critical of us when we do, we sure as heck do not seem to have incorporated this magnanimity into our lives or culture. Even our dogs are subject to our lack of tolerance for ‘errors’.

When we are afraid to make ‘mistakes’ we become limited in our abilities to learn, improve or innovate. How many of us refuse to try to do something for fear of looking ‘foolish’ or being ridiculed? Few of us are ‘naturals’ at all the activities we may attempt to perform. I rarely participated in team sports when I was growing up because I didn’t think I was ‘good’ enough yet every summer I learned a host of new skills as I played with friends.

I could walk on stilts, jump on a pogo stick, swirl a mean hula hoop, swim, dive, and run. We showed off to each other, shouted to our parents to ‘LOOK AT ME!’ ‘WATCH THIS MOM!’ even as we stumbled or belly flopped. We were cheered on regardless and this encouragement gave us the incentive to keep trying, to screw up our courage and try a back flip, to show how fast we could run barefooted on a dirt road and ride our bikes with our hands at our sides.

Any new skill requires a certain amount of ‘rewiring’ of the brain. Our muscles need to memorize new movements, and dexterity improves with repetition. Even behaviors such as loose leash walking require a dog learn a new way of moving. Sure they already ‘know’ how to walk slowly, but just think how challenging it would be for you to go out and train for a marathon while being forced to hold the hand of a three year old. Old patterns and habits are hard to break.

When your dog’s behavior isn’t quite perfect, instead of finding fault, throw them a bone and help them do better next time.

NOTE: I will be offering a seminar on working with fearful dogs in Santa Cruz, CA on September 9, 2012. Contact me for details.

11 comments so far

  1. Lynn on

    Usually, it’s my inadequate training I find fault with when it comes to Tulip’s “mistakes,” but thanks for the reminder.

    This is off topic, sorry, but I have a quick question. Having overcome her fear of coughs, brushes, towels, stuffed toys and a host of other usually unscary things, Tulip seems to be getting nervous about things that “normal” dogs are often scared of, like thunderstorms and fireworks, which she previously seemed oblivious to. One nice side effect is that she’s started coming to be with me when it’s thundery, even if I’m in the living room with the Scary Man. She’s not much for physical contact, but it’s wonderful to think she comes to me for comfort. (And I do comfort her with head scratches and the touching she doesn’t mind.) I don’t like the idea that she’s developing new fears, though. What do you make of it?

    • fearfuldogs on

      Don’t know what to make of it, except to encourage you to do what you can to lower the stress she feels during storms. I’d consider going beyond just comforting. Sound phobias can get worse if not dealt with.

  2. Lynn on

    Thanks. I’ve been reading up on sound phobias and how to help. It’s thundering right now, though, and she’s lying here calmly. Perhaps I’m the one who’s being hypersensitive.

  3. Kay Liestman on

    Mattie was afraid of thunder when we first got her, but we failed to recognize it as fear, because she lunged and barked at the ceiling, as if she could attack the storm. Her “behavior” vet recognized it and sent us a “Thundershirt,” a snug garment that velcros to the dog like a t-shirt. It worked wonders and she doesn’t need it any more. She seems to have transferred that response to fireworks, too.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Body wraps can work for some dogs. Great when they do!

  4. Lynn on

    Thanks for the Thundershirt tip. Perhaps it would help her general unease in the living room, thunder or no. I’ll give it a try.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s among the ‘can’t hurt, might help’ remedies. It’s not a huge investment so worth a try. Put it on along with feeding super good treats, when there’s no thunder. When I put one on Sunny in the car he gets glassy eyed and dopey looking. When I put one on Nibbles in the car, nothing. Both are uncomfortable in the car.

  5. Kay Liestman on

    Our behavior vet said to call it a “happy shirt” and be sure that great things happened every time it was on–Mattie was not impressed with the happy shirt stuff. But after sleeping in it thru a bad storm one night, she has been great with storms.

  6. Lynn on

    OK, I’ll try the happy shirt and chicken. She’s willing to stay in the living room just for chicken, but we can’t feed it to her for hours on end. Thanks, both. This website is so helpful …

    • fearfuldogs on

      Fill a kong with good stuff & freeze it. It may not last for hours but sometimes a full belly is calming. Research melatonin. Talk to a vet about an anti-anxiety med for storms.

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