Like many of her peers, Victoria Stilwell understands what it takes to develop awesome, healthy relationships with dogs. Understand, communicate effectively, always be positive and consistent. Embrace life long learning. She says, “A good relationship is based on cooperation, not dominance.”
Why is it that humans mess this up? What is it about the human condition that guarantees each one of us will fail, not just once, but many times before we get this right?
Stilwell didn’t think she was writing a self-development book when she wrote It’s Me Or The Dog – How to Have the Perfect Pet. But. I think that’s exactly what she’s done. As I watch my son grapple with some of the harder truths about the human condition, I reread parts of this book so that, at the end of a not-so-great day, I can remind him of the important things.
1. “It is easier to blame problem behavior on a dog’s character than to look at how the environment we have created might be affecting it.” (pg 33 of It’s Me Or The Dog.)
Stilwell describes a puppy that finds itself in a home with humans who fail to grasp the basic fundamentals of consistent, positive, reward-based training. Not understanding why their puppy is behaving badly, these humans dump the pup at their local shelter. Sadly, the outcome for this pup is not a happy one. Stilwell’s larger point is that the odds of survival for shelter dogs are slim; that “…between six and ten million dogs are put down in American shelters every year, and only 5% of these for medical reasons.” (pg 35)
How can we fix this? Know, says Stilwell, that “…rescue dogs take time and patience … it’s necessary to understand why dogs behave the way that they do, to see the world from their point of view.” (pg 35.)
To see the world from their point of view.
If humans are going to mess up big time, this is where we do just that. Many of us fail to learn that one of the secrets to getting along has a lot to do with climbing inside of someone’s head to figure out what makes them tick; that finding common ground opens the door to clear and direct communication. Without honest discourse there is no safe place to come together to solve problems, to fix things, to work together as a team.
Better than this is wanting someone else to succeed more than you want success for yourself. Just imagine what kind of a team you’d have with this as your bench mark! If I told you that it takes years for this to happen, would you believe me? Would you be willing to take the first step to make this be true? All you have to do is be the leader that you want to follow.
What kind of leader should you be?
Be kind with your words, thoughtful with your actions and selfless with how you motivate others. Do the work on yourself to be the best person you can be. Self-development is where your dream team begins.
Each day, pick one aspect of yourself that needs work. Maybe you need to buddy up with a colleague on one project and, in order to do this, you have to ignore that person’s sour attitude. One of your goals for the day becomes staying positive and supportive no matter what. Sometimes, this is easier said than done. If true leadership is wanting the other person’s success more than your own, your inner work on this day is figuring out how to bring that about.
The “figuring it out” part is the hardest kind of work that you will ever do. It requires patience and a lot of practice. But, I promise you this. You can learn from watching the leaders around you. Make a deliberate choice to model the behavior and the language of the leaders that have already stepped up – the leaders who have done their self-development work and, as a result, are farther along on the path that you have just found. Don’t despair. Don’t give up. Above all else, don’t ever, ever give up.