Is this as good as it gets?

This isn't even Grace's bed, but you see who "owns" it. She's a bit snippy when she doesn't get her way. Of all her adorable traits, that isn't one of them. Do you know anyone like that?

Next weekend Grace and I will be attending a two-day class together. It’s for dogs that are fearful, aggressive or reactive. Grace can be all of them, in varying degrees. I submitted an application to have her considered as a case study and she was accepted. Since I’ve tried lots of things to improve these challenges, I’m incredibly interested to see what I learn.

But a nagging thought keeps going through my mind as I enter this course: when will we reach the point that Grace just won’t change? Or can’t change? Has she already stretched so much that it’s as good as it gets? Or is she able to continue to get out of her existing mindset of fear? How much influence do I have? Will I have?

It’s noteworthy to point out that Grace has changed A LOT since I’ve had her. One of the biggest improvements is her ability to accept new people, which happens much more quickly and less skeptically than she did in those early days. Yet her fear is palpable at times. And there are a few things she still does that, well, they annoy me. (Sorry Grace.)

I’m sure she’d be happier, too, if we could lessen her fear.

The three things I specifically want to address are her fear of children, her excessive and piercing barking in the house when anything or anyone moves by the window, and her whining while riding in the car. All these things I have been ineffective thus far in changing.

In reading another blog a few weeks ago, the question was posed: “Do personalities ever change?” It’s a question that is often asked in my line of work. On that blog, experts and novices chimed in with all sorts of answers, ranging from yes to no. I don’t have the clinical background or scientific data to validate this, but from what I’ve read and experienced, here’s my opinion. Sure, we can change. But it’s not always likely and it’s certainly not easy. The triggers that create change have to be very dramatic, and even then, it’s usually not lasting. We can learn skills that help us adjust in certain situations, but our core traits don’t move much.

When someone is in a job that isn’t working out, this becomes a very delicate question because it affects a person’s self-esteem and livelihood. How much can the person change to fit the job? How much can the employer invest in that growth and development? How much motivation exists for both parties to work collaboratively on it? I have seen situations where an employer and employee work hard to create success. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on how much each party is able to bend. I think the critical piece is to ensure that everyone is involved in an ongoing and constructive conversation about it, with mutually understood goals.

So here I am, expecting big(ger) and lasting changes from my dog. I’ve seen pretty remarkable strides in the six years we’ve been together. We’re about to see if more can come.

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9 comments

  1. Anna says:

    Interesting post, I don’t know a lot of background on grace… Luna in the past has been a bit snappy but usually at dogs who invade her space with heckalot of energy before she was okay with it. She now is a lot more tolerant, but it’s just in her nature too. While dogs can/are products of their environment… they also just like us are born with a certain nature, and as you said the core personality traits may never change a lot. By nature Luna is a more high strung dog than Wyatt, but she also shuts off well in the house considering her breed etc. I know a bit reason for this is due to how i raised her, and what I required of her. I did not want a stage 5 clinger, she may have already been born (well I know she was) with a more independent nature, but I definitely encouraged that in her as well to combat any velcro-ness in her breed. She is a super guard dog in that she does not miss a thing/noise and I know that’s part of her nature, more so than some other vizslas I know, but by knowing that it gives me insight into areas I will have to work harder on. Anyway enough rambling, good post.
    Do let us know how the class goes, training never really ends, there can always be improvement IMO. Whether we continue to set the bar higher and higher simply comes down to our own wants and desires out of our dog.
    Anna
    http://www.akginspiration.com

    • I like your comment that training never ends and I think that’s important for me to realize. Sometimes it gets discouraging when things aren’t what you want after a ton of hard work, but I guess you never know when the turning point will be if you stop trying. I will definitely give updates on the class. It’s given by Suzanne Clothier who wrote the book: “Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships With Dogs.” So I’m very much looking forward to learning from her.

  2. didiwright says:

    I think it’s very cool (and admirable) that you’ve entered that course. It just shows how much you love Grace and how important she is to you. I wish the course will provide you with all the answers to the yet unsolved issues you’ve got with Grace. Out of the three things you’re listing, I think her fear of children (which George also shows to some degree) is the most important one, because it could have tragic consequences (for the child and/or the dog) if she ever snapped and bit a little hand in self-defence. The other two are definitely annoying, although not as crucially important, in my opinion. Of course, George doesn’t do any barking or whining, so it’s easy for me to say. I’d be interested to hear how one can solve the constant yapping whenever anything moves that little dogs do, because my in-laws’ chihuahua is driving the whole family crazy.
    As for how much can a person change to fit their job, I’d say it depends on the person, their flexibility and their desire/motivation for changing. To make this question more to my liking, I’d ask “How much SHOULD a person change to fit their job”. And I’d say not very much…Of course, one should be flexible and open to learning new behaviours and adapting to the environment and the tasks on hand. But if a job requires that you betray who you are, makes you unhappy and/or knocks your self-esteem, then you’re in the wrong job and should change it.
    Good luck with the course. I can’t wait to hear the good news 😉

    • Hi Didi — I agree about the priority of the issues. Definitely the fear of children could result in a big problem that I certainly want to avoid. And I suspect if we address that particular fear, the other items will diminish. Since I work from home, having Grace be so vocal is a real issue — trying to conduct a professional phone conversation is quite difficult when you’re distracted! People are understanding but it isn’t an ideal situation. So I’m very interested to see what I can learn and I’ll pass it along in case it helps with the chihuahua!
      You’ve made a very astute observation about people needing to change for a job. I do believe that when we already “fit,” then true success and happiness comes. As you noted, we can always improve our skills and learn new techniques, but if we aren’t authentic, it’s not going to work out in the long run — for anyone. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Funny you mention core values of a personality. For a very long time I did not like Babyboy as a ‘person’ I saw his personality as too fearfull and too selfish. I cared for him as I would any cat, but I didnt have stronge feelings of respect for him. He was my ‘obligation’ cat.

    But over the years, something I don’t know what occcured. But this month when he didnt come home one time I expected him to, I was devastated by the notion of ‘what ifs’ It was only then that it realy hit home how much he had grown on me.
    Yes he’s changed a little and so have I. Those core values I disliked are still there but I dont mind them so much.
    heheh for that matter, my husbands core value is to talk to me when ever Im trying to read a book. Can that ever change? Ive tried for almost 2 decades to change that without sucess. 🙂
    how old was Grace when you got her?

  4. This is fascinating to me. We have two dogs, the youngest is 6 and after we left him with a friend was terrified of guys. (Bad mix and he ended up crating him almost all the time because he was diging. Katherine was livid.) Anyway, that was years ago and he’s still sometimes scared of men, not me obviously. And he HATES any other dog besides his brother. I should look for a class like this!

    • Thanks for stopping by; one of the (many) things I learned from this class was how some dogs “take better notes” about bad things that happen to them, and some are more deeply affected. Combine the two and, naturally, it has a bigger impact. Sounds like with your dog that he hasn’t forgotten and generalizes the bad experience to the potential for it happening again. I also learned that I had sometimes dismissed Grace’s fear too readily. In situations where I knew she would be safe, but she didn’t, and then I didn’t acknowledge her fear nor try to remove her from that situation, I probably made it much worse for her. It was a great class and I learned so much. Highly recommend such a seminar for people and dogs! 🙂

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