Ever since I embarked on my journey to become a dog trainer my desire to learn has increased exponentially. The more I do this, the more I want to learn. The more I learn, the more I want to learn. It’s a crazy cycle.
One of the many learning discoveries this week at Peaceable Paws was to realize, I had quite a few things in common with my shelter dog.
Anxiety is defined as “the distress or uneasiness of mind caused by apprehensive anticipation of future danger or misfortune, real or imagined (Whole Dog Journal, Fear Itself, Pat Miller, April 2007)
Emotions are a biological response to stimuli which cause physiological changes in the body over which we have no control.
Fear and anxiety go hand in hand.
In my case, anxiety is situational as it seems to pop up in specific situations – when I know I am going to be tested.
I was stressed and anxious for each week of the 2 academies I attended. Many times it hindered my ability to get out the information I know I have in my head and use on a regular basis – successfully.
When I first heard about Pat Miller’s training academies, I knew I wanted to go. If nothing else, just to spend a week with Pat Miller J
I’d check the schedule, read about the programs, look at my calendar for the best times to go. For every time I said to myself I was ready – there were twice as many times where decided I wouldn’t go and gave up the idea.
It didn’t matter when colleagues, friends or family tried to reassure me.
Why can’t I get over this? Why can’t I just say to everyone and myself, “I have nothing to worry about. I know I am a great dog trainer. I know my stuff very well. I’m going to stop worrying about it.” I can’t because like the rest of the world, 4 footed and otherwise, I have no control over my emotions.
I feel my heart rate increase, my breathing change and my ability to think clearly begins to fade. I try to keep it in check with deep slow breathing, not always successfully.
Ironically it’s what I worked on this week in the academy with my shelter dog.
Chloe has generalized anxiety and unfortunately it severely impacts her daily life. I’m sure if Chloe could control whether to be frightened in the face of unfamiliar stimuli or not, she’d choose not to be.
One of the things I was trying to teach her, was she can do something else when she feels frightened. I did this using Grisha Stewart’s B.A.T. protocol. (http://functionalrewards.com/book/BAT-Excerpt.pdf).
In a nutshell, it’s teaching the dog he has the power to move away from his stressor.  In addition to this, I wanted to give her strong operant skills (sit, target) to increase her level of confidence.

By the end of the week, she was learning she had control over whether or not to approach the scary stimulus.

She was also offering sits just after she encountered something new. It was amazing to watch. It was the beginning of discovering she can make a conscious decision to do something else when she feels anxious. Much like my deep breathing.
My anxiety does not impact my daily life in the same way. Mine is more situational.
There was absolutely no logical reason for me to be anxious for at least 2 reasons.
1) Pat’s goal is for you to succeed. She provides a judgmental free, safe zone in which to do so.
2) I am a good trainer and know my stuff.
I did extremely well both times.
I can’t help but think how well I’d do if I didn’t have this anxiety.
It wasn’t easy for me to bite the bullet and take the first step of sending in my deposit and following through with the program but I am so glad I pushed myself. The two weeks I did were two of the best training experiences I’ve had in my years of training. I will be coming back for more. I will be anxious for Level 3 at Peaceable Paws J