In our modern lifestyles, success is paramount and the moment is forgotten. We are striving to achieve. It is bred into us from extra maths and ballet lessons at the age of 6 to the successful degrees we will achieve to the best job and the smartest car. It can be a stressful life. Our self-worth is conditional. We are only judged to be enough, if we are that wall street banker, or the owner of the cool car, or if we wear the best labels. And we document the journey to stardom in selfies that reflect an apparent barrenless existence.
Perhaps we know how stressful it can be to be in relationship with someone on the off chance that they will make us feel better. We work to make them happy. Or make them feel proud of us. And we do this, usually because we have – at some stage, been parented by someone (not necessarily a parent), who made us feel less than, and only worthy – on condition that… .
Animals, according to popular theology – are there for our gain. Does this theology infiltrate – even if we don’t buy into it? Do we unconsciously buy into the need to control the creatures in our camps? Does this cause a case of – do this – so I can prove my belief system about myself? Then I can offer you a reward. And only then.
This is a classic case of operant conditioning at its worst. Do the behaviour to achieve the reward. And it is all about the reward. The relationship and care is forgotten in the process.
Is this what we are doing with the animals with which we work? Sure we love them. More than anything. I love my sons too. Yet remain stressed about their future, and put pressure on them to succeed. To the point where they have acted out and told me – with true teenage actions – to back off. This moment was a highlight for me. It made me look at the relationships I have with animals too. Because they are enough. Just being the amazing animals that they are. And I choose to be in relationship with them not to make them do flick flacks in the agility ring, or perform amazing feats of intelligence. But because when I look into their eyes it feels like I am home.
I still need to ask the question – do I look into their eyes often enough for them to believe they are enough? Do they equate me with care, or only with resources - food and attention rewards? Do I create anticipation in them the moment they see me? Or do they also feel like they have come home when we connect.
Do I sit on the floor with my dog? Do I spend time in the company of the animal I train without expectation? Do I provide toys other than the norm? Where they can investigate something novel?
Hard question for an animal trainer to reflect upon, but I believe one that is imperative. Have we achieved enough of a balance? Is their life enriched in our care? Or are they acting out in a teenage frenzy because we have not provided effectively? Question always is – what would love do? Answer? Would be keen to know your response.