Welcome to the Instinct blog!
This week, we’re discussing a simple and sustainable mindset shift that can help you stay motivated along your dog’s behavior & training journey.
Ditching the Metamorphosis Mindset
(and adopting an alternative outlook)
This month, as we’re inundated with messages to transform ourselves and our lives—“New Year, New You” and all that—I’m reminded how unhelpful this Metamorphosis Mindset is in general, and how harmful it can be when we apply it to our training & behavior modification goals with our dogs.
So many of us enter into a training program with a vision of transforming our dogs into something/someone else. We envision setting out on the journey with our troubled, disorderly caterpillar, going through a few months of hard & messy work, then emerging out the other side with a stable, social butterfly at our side. A metamorphosis from Reactive Rover to Calm, Cool, Collected Canine, from Fearful Fido to Fearless Fluffy.
The problem with this transformational outlook? Every time your dog reacts to a trigger, or has a setback, or struggles to cope with a new situation, you are delivered a harsh reminder that they are not yet a butterfly. And all you can think is, “This isn’t working. They’re never going to be a butterfly.”
You feel disappointment, failure, and sometimes, resentment at your dog’s persistent caterpillar-ness—no matter how much progress you’ve already made together.
An Alternative Outlook: “Better Armor”
A couple of years ago, an article was published in The Atlantic chronicling the 3-month journey of the author as she attempted to become a more extroverted and less anxious individual. Spoiler alert: she did not experience a metamorphosis. She did, however, acquire specific new skills, and learn new activities and strategies, to help her feel more confident about navigating social events, and to better manage her anxiety.
Her description of the outcome she achieved has been rattling around in my brain since 2022: to paraphrase slightly, “I’m the same me, but with better armor.”
I was instantly struck by how apt this analogy could be in framing our behavior modification journeys with our dogs.
As noted above, setting an objective to transform your dog into someone else is a recipe for heartache. But setting out to equip them (and you) with a kick-ass set of armor to help them navigate the world feeling safer and more confident? That sort of compassionate, process-oriented goal-setting sets you and your dog up for a far greater likelihood of success over the long term.
Here’s why I love the analogy:
- Armor takes time to craft and fit. Moving through the world wearing armor takes practice. At first, it feels clunky, heavy, awkward, and unnatural. Over time, it starts to feel more like a second skin; it gives the wearer confidence as they discover their newfound capabilities (though, depending on the suit in question, it can always start to feel heavy and tiring if worn for long periods).
- Armor requires maintenance and repairs. It has weak spots. It is not infallible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly helpful and potentially lifesaving.
- The type of armor needed changes based on the battlefield (environment) and the unique needs and characteristics of the individual wearing the equipment.
- Armor is not meant to be worn all day. It is critical to be able to come home to a place where the individual feels safe and secure taking off their armor to recharge.
I could go on, but I’m guessing you’re starting to see the potential parallels to your outlook on your behavior modification journey with your dog!
Embracing a New Mindset Takes Practice!
Whether you’re just starting out on a behavior modification journey, or you’ve been trodding along the path for months or years already, consider this:
Whatever issues you may be experiencing with your dog, stop trying to transform them into someone else. Accept who they are. Then, set your sights on equipping them (and you) with the absolute BEST suit of armor you can possibly acquire to help them navigate the battlefield of life peacefully, happily, and safely.
Same Dog, Better Armor
P.S. If this analogy doesn’t resonate with you, that’s 100% okay! We’d love to hear about the mindset, outlook, analogy, etc. that works for you, and that inspires you to continue trying to improve life for you and your dog. Shoot us an email at [email protected] to share your thoughts.
Check out the resources below!
Join one of our free, live training & behavior seminars via Zoom!
Hosted by Instinct behavior consultants, these seminars include a 1 hr presentation plus live Q&A session. Open to all!
Sign up for the Nature-Driven Nurture Foundations course in our Online School. Learn our groundbreaking canine behavioral health framework that teaches you how to optimize your dog’s training & care based on their unique, individual Nature. This self-paced course includes:
- Access to private Alumni Facebook group
- Twice-monthly Zoom Q&As with Instinct co-founders
Or, contact your local Instinct for fully customized training & behavior support with certified, veterinarian-recommended trainers and behavior consultants.