On Dogs, Books and Patience

Victoria Schade Dog Training, Writing

“Everything doesn’t happen according to your timetable.”

My mom started telling me that when I was a child and she still does – frequently – in an effort to help me slow down and develop patience.

True story: it’s not working.

I’ve been relentless and restless forever. I want all the things, and I want them yesterday. Doesn’t matter if it’s related to my career, relationships, skills acquisition, or online shopping, if it doesn’t come fast, something’s wrong.

The one exception? When I’m working with a shy dog.

Any time I’m trying to help a nervous dog find his confidence, the world slows down and all expectations go out the window. My training mantra is that the dog is Fred Astaire, leading the dance, and we’re Ginger Rodgers, following along to his tempo. Letting the dog lead can feel counterintuitive and clunky, but it’s truly the only way to help the dog/human pair find a mutual rhythm. Allowing a dog to bloom at his own pace all but guarantees success. The dog decides what happens next, and that knowledge – that we’ll never push him beyond what’s comfortable, and we’ll acknowledge his moves in the right direction no matter how small – is a powerful motivator.

There’s beauty in letting go of the dog training check list and spending time just being with the dog. Observing. Celebrating the tiniest of achievements. Like today, for example, when I worked with a shy pup who was rescued from a circumstance that left her so shut down in the presence of strangers that she wouldn’t even open her eyes to look at me. Fifty minutes into the lesson (yes, 5-0), after a ton of gentle groundwork, she was finally confident enough to approach me and take a treat from my hand. Normally, by the end of the first lesson we’ve gotten through sit, down and coming when called. Not with Libby, though. All she could give me were a few fleeting treat-grabs. Sure, it was a glacial pace, but based on where we started I consider it phenomenal progress.

“Glacial pace” also sums up how to my first novel, Life on the Leash, came to be. Paired with my impatience for all things non-dog related, it made for a bumpy ride. I started writing Life on the Leash nearly ten years ago. I put 11,000 words on paper then promptly put the darn thing in a drawer for seven years. When I finally took it out and finished it, two years ago, I wanted my critique partners to report back to me with their edits immediately. (Nope, they don’t have lives and jobs and families.) I wanted to find an agent yesterday. (For any aspiring writers keeping track, my agent-tracking Excel spreadsheet has more than 50 but less than 100 color-coded entries.) I wanted my book deal to come through in one day. (We’ve all heard those overnight success stories.)

Guess what? None of it happened according to my timetable.

Life on the Leash came to be in fits and starts. Some parts of the journey were surprisingly quick, while others made me want to pull my hair out. (In those instances, frustration crying really helped.) There came a point, though, when I finally surrendered to the process, and much like when I work with a shy dog, I just sat back and celebrated the tiniest baby-steps in the right direction. It didn’t fully silence the impatient hard-charger within me, but it helped. I made it through the first round of tough stuff, and Life on the Leash is coming to a bookshelf near you in September of 2018!

So is there a lesson in all of this? I should probably end my maiden voyage blog post with a commitment to apply my Zen shy dog training approach to all aspects of my life, but anyone who knows me knows that ain’t gonna happen. Despite my luck with a “slow and steady wins the race” mindset during the run-up to Life on the Leash’s publication, I know I’ll remain true to my terrier roots.