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.