Recently we returned from a session of 'pushing for food' where I felt we were making progress. I opened the van doors to let him out. He just sat and looked at me. I gently pulled at his collar. In response he got up slowly, took a step forward tentatively, not fully standing up. I stepped back and waited to see what he would do. He stopped. He was left half standing there, just looking at me, not sniffing, not licking his lips, just looking past me, like a statue. I reminded myself that his behaviour was about the emotion that he is feeling, so I tried to get a sense of his emotion. As I did so I felt sadness and tears started to well up in my eyes. A feeling of “I wish someone understood me, I'm lonely and just want to be loved for being myself, of being confused and not knowing what was expected of me”. The strange thing was that at exactly the point when I started to feel these feelings, his tail started to move, very gently, raising slightly and waving side to side for just 4 or 5 times, and he looked more attentively at me, as if in some sort of recognition. Then the emotion passed. If he's picking up on my emotion - what is going on?
I thought about the van, where he was staying, and its significance to me. My van represents freedom for me, free from day to day responsibilities and things that I 'should' be. I bought it especially to enjoy my dogs, but even the decision to do so was like 'breaking free' (I obviously need to get out more!).
I left Logan to settle back in the van, where he stayed for the rest of the afternoon. A few days later, I was working with Logan again. Our progress appeared to be going backwards. On this day he was very hyper, to the extent that I was worried that he would bolt. I tried holding him back with the long-line and pushing for food, but his push was much reduced and we were not in the flow at all. In the end I let him have a run to see how it would pan out, it seemed pointless fighting it.
Because I am following the NDT process , as he ran away from me full speed, totally ignoring my calls, I checked in with my feelings. I was overwhelmed with the emotion along the lines of "its not fair, he doesn't want to stay with me, people don't love me, even though I am doing everything I can" - it honestly felt like the stuck emotion of a 3-year old! I wanted to bawl my heart out. Thank goodness the field is remote and it was early in the morning.
I sought advice from NDT friends who gave me feedback. I re-read the chapter in Your Dog is Your Mirror called 'Decoding Your Dog'. I followed the advice – consider what am I thinking when my dog does something good and what I am thinking when my dog does something that makes me feel vulnerable – and I let the ideas come to me. Things still appeared to be going backwards. I left him for a day and half without food to see if that made a difference and decided to keep him in the long-line (both starving him and keeping him on the long-line were difficult things for me to do and were only done in desperation).
The next day I kept him on the long-line and when he strained just encouraged him. I called him to me, but as he came towards me he would veer off again. So I stood at the end of the line trying to make sense of it - if it was mirroring me – I tried to feel what was going on.
Then I had a eureka moment. It felt like he was being too pressurised by my expectations - when he was coming back to me to push I believe he was picking up my anxiety, pressure to perform (coming from the head, not the heart) and it was causing him to avoid me at the last minute.
As I became aware of these feelings I realised that it mirrored stuff for me in my life, being asked to cope with things before I felt able to, being scared of moving forward in new areas of my life in case I made a mistake. I know I was right in making the connection because I started 'greeting' again, Scottish parlance for crying and my barometer for knowing I have unblocked something! So I stopped calling him and just waited. Eventually he started coming back to me of his own accord, with stronger pushes than he had given me before. It was lovely - so I quit while we were ahead! I think it was breakthrough - only time will tell. And he stayed in the van to get over it!
I am still a beginner in all of this, although well and truly hooked as it all slowly unfolds. Below is the lovely advice that I got from Sang Koh, the NDT dog trainer who has been helping me with this process, that I would like to share.
The big lesson in this for so many of us is to unlearn what we’ve been taught. To quiet the mind and peel away the layers of personality we’ve developed through our lives that keep us safe. But we have to pull away those layers to have an emotional dialogue with our dogs. So my advice to you would be to actually do less “training” and spend more time just relaxing. As you saw, the pushing and all the other stuff will come in time, once you let go of the need to have Logan perform for you. Don’t worry about “progress” because there is no ultimate “goal”. There’s only being. Just be with Logan getting to know who he really is, learning to appreciate his true nature. The connection and bond you want will naturally develop once you can let go of the notion that he, or you, need to perform to be loved"