Have you ever exited the highway and entered a curve that changes the direction you were heading? A well designed curve requires very little steering. Once you adjust for it there are no sharp changes that require you to make abrupt movements of the steering wheel, you hold your position and wind along with the curve.
In the industry of outdoor recreation improvements are always being made to equipment so that the energy required to use it decreases. Downhill skis are shorter and shaped so that minor shifts in weight will cause them to carve out a turn. A huge improvement compared to the cumbersome wooden skis you see mounted as decoration on old barns or straight fiberglass skis cluttering garages.
Good athletes make their sports look easy, effortless. They don’t battle with gravity, they play with it. When a level of proficiency is established, even among novices, there’s a feeling described as “being in the zone.” It’s a feeling of flow and synchronicity. It’s a feeling of exhilaration.
People can also experience these feelings in relationships. We have best friends, lovers, soul mates. There’s an ease we feel in each other’s company. And like being in the “the zone” there’s a lack of fear.
When I spent more time hiking and backpacking I enjoyed crossing boulder fields. Unlike walking on an easily identified trail, boulder fields lack a single defined route. As you hop from boulder to boulder you are constantly scanning ahead so that each choice you make regarding where to put your foot is sure to provide you with another option for moving forward. It felt like playing a game with a mountain.
Good trainers of dogs make the work they do look effortless. There’s a flow to behavior and their sight is already set on the next behavior and what they need to do to get it, what subtle shift of weight is necessary to end up at their desired destination. No missteps to send them tumbling.
It is possible when climbing up a rock face or ledges to get “bluffed.” You were able to go up or down to get to a particular location but there is no safe, next step to take, and it’s impossible to back track. It can require a rescue by professionals, if you’re lucky to have them available to help.
We can find ourselves “bluffed” by some dogs. There’s a behavior, perhaps one we’ve created, and there seems to be no turning back, and we can’t see a route forward. It is possible for some people to muscle their way to the top of a rock or through a challenging rapid. It can be tempting to try to muscle our way to behavior changes in our dogs.
The athletes who are a joy to watch are the ones who use good technique and finesse to reach their goals. The skaters who fly on the ice and the gymnasts who soar as though physical laws don’t pertain to them. Their efforts are imperceptible but the results are obvious. The time and energy they put into honing their skills is apparent.
The same is true of dog trainers. Force and coercion often mask a lack of skill. The thrill the audience gets watching these trainers is different than the thrill one gets watching an artist. When you’ve experienced performance “in the zone” you want to stay there. When you bring your dog along with you, you’re less likely to find yourself on behavioral bluffs, hoping that both of you make it out alive.