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By Published On: July 16th, 2012

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.

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