Sunday, April 8, 2018

Work In Progress

I read a recent post by Patricia McConnell titled "Are We Doing Enough For Our Dogs?"  As I was reading it, all I could think was AH-FREAKING-MEN!!  This is an area that I feel like I have constantly struggled with.  I never feel like I'm doing enough or measuring up to what is expected.  Add to that taking a year "off," and I am rife with guilt over not doing enough for my dogs.

Side bar on the word guilt.  I have assigned the feeling of guilt to many situations, but when the actual definition of the word was pointed out to me, it has helped me dissect the feeling and tackle the situation in a more constructive manner.  Guilt is "the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime."  In a nutshell, guilt is when you have done something wrong.  I feel guilty for not fitting in training time last Wednesday with either dog.  Did I actually do something wrong or commit a crime?  No.  Assigning that feeling the name guilt is incorrect.  I feel bad that I didn't fit in training time with either dog.  But just breaking it down and making the situation relatively black and white with that one question, has helped me handle those uncomfortable feelings.  The bad feeling doesn't linger.  And instead of wallowing unproductively in it, I make a promise or a plan to remedy this instance.  For me, it makes the situation more manageable and alleviates the mental anguish.  Sometimes words have too much power.  This is one way that I'm trying to tackle that in a more constructive way.

McConnell goes on to discuss where this question comes from.  If you are in a position where you are able to ask this question, then you are in a position of privilege.  If you can ask this question, then you are able to meet all the basic needs of your survival.  You are not focused on where your next meal is going to come from.  You're not concerned about having a roof over your head.  If you are able to ask this question with regards to a non-human being under your care, you're doing pretty well compared to a lot of areas in the world.  As she points out, this is a first world problem.

For good or for ill, realizing that makes me feel less bad.  I have a job, I have a house, regardless of the past year, I have good health.  My basic needs are not in danger of not being met.  This gives me the luxury of caring about my dogs. 

Life moves ahead at what seems like an ever increasing rate.  The expectations are higher.  There are things that you need and have to do, things that you should do and then there are things that you want to do.  We have the varied expectations and duties of work, which enable us to put food in our bellies, a roof over our heads and enjoy the dogs in our lives.  Through work life and dog life, we meet other people.  We form bonds with those people.  Interactions with those people can take place just in the professional or dog related setting, or we find (sometimes struggle to) time to connect with people outside of either of those venues.  The more people you know, the more pulls on your time you have.  The more expectations you may feel the pressure to meet.  I don't mean this in a negative way, but it is a pull on our physical time as well as a potential pull on your psyche.  If you're an introvert, then you REALLY get this.  We are a social species.  No matter how introverted you are, you need that contact with at least one other person and this can create turmoil within. 

On the home front, you can get inundated with information.  Information on what you should feed your dog and how you should feed it.  How often, what types, durrations and in what contexts you should exercise your dog.  How often and what types of mental stimulation your dog needs.  What activities you should and should not participate in.  The list goes on and on and surely if you do not follow the golden rule your dog will be ruined forever! 

All of that and so much more is what I'm struggling with.  It boils down to struggling with the idea that I am not doing enough for my dogs.  The past year of their lives has been the most sedate and boring year of their for them.  My schedule has been constantly evolving.  My ability, both physically and mentally, to work with my dogs has been gradually coming back.  But for some reason, this feeling of dread that I am not doing enough for my dogs freezes me in my tracks and has been a road block for getting back after it.  Acknowledging it doesn't always help me either.  I've had to make the effort to work at it.  I've had to start doing things that I know will succeed to get my rear in gear.  I'm having to put a lot more effort into my training plan than I'm used to.  I have to really think about what I want to work on with both dogs and where each dog is at.  Whereas before I could work on the same things multiple days in a row, that kind of a schedule demotivates me for training and I'm more likely to prioritize one of the many other things on my list of things that need looking at.  So my training plan has had to evolve.

I now have to schedule a chunk of time each week to work out my training plan for the week ahead, day by day.  I need to take into account project load at work that might have me staying there longer or might have me mentally or physically worn out or both.  I need to take into account any week day evening plans that I have and I've also had to start limiting the number of week day plans that I make.  It got way too easy to let that get out of control if I didn't set limitations and that was doing nothing but causing me to feel more frazzled.  I also needed to freshen up my training.  I've been working on some of the same things with my past dogs as well as the current.  While each dog has something different to bring to the table and I know that it all builds to the individual goals that I have for them, I'm at a point right now where I need to freshen things up a little to get ME more interested and to positively reinforce ME to keep going. 

I've also had to think about my time management.  There are a million papers, books, blog posts and articles that I want to read.  But again, making time for that reading is challenging.  So I've managed to find a happy medium that makes me feel like I'm maximizing my time.  I listen to a lot of podcasts.  Yeah, I'm late to the game, but I'm finally there.  I have a wide variety of interests and listening to various podcasts lets me continue to learn and stay up on a variety of topics so that I feel like I'm continuing to increase my knowledge without that time being taken away from other things. I listen to podcasts while I'm doing tasks that need doing, but don't require my rapt attention.  I listen to them while I'm driving, which has had the added bonus of decreasing my road rage by engaging my frontal cortex and keeping my head in a more logical space.  I listen while I'm cleaning and cooking at home.  These are all tasks that I HAVE to do, so I might as well maximize the time and get something more out of it.  It has made for a happier and more informed me.

And as I mentioned in my last post, I decided to sign up for an online dog training course to spice up my training regimen.  I'm just getting back into the swing of things and I don't want to go so balls to the wall that I burn myself out immediately and defeat the purpose.  So I chose the Relationship Walks class at the bronze level.  As I mentioned, it meets the criteria I had set forth for myself.  So far so good.  This past week had a lot going on and I fell behind, in a manner of speaking.   But I was able to "catch up" today.  So I think I have found what will currently work for me. 

Everything is a work in progress.  I'm getting there.  I'm trying to do enough for my dogs, whatever that feels like at the moment.  But I'm also keeping in mind that I need to take care of myself first.  My dogs depend on me.  If I'm not taking care of myself, then I surely won't be able to take care of them to the level that I think they should be.  That reminder helps.  As McConnell said in her post, "put the oxygen mask on yourself first."

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