If you are reading this it means that I have made it to the big 2-5. Yep, last week was my birthday. Twenty five years old. There are a lot of intimidating aspects about turning 25, but one of them is the fact that this was birthday number four I am celebrating on this blog (22, 23, 24 – whoa what a time machine!). Time flies. What better way to jump back on the blog than to channel my inner BuzzFeed and make a list of everything I’ve learned up until this very day?
In all seriousness, I’ve grown up immensely between October 1st last year and October 1st this year. It’s been a crazy, beautiful year and it feels like a lot of different journeys came to a head. Dogs have taught me a lot. My relationships have taught me a lot. My job has taught me a lot. So here are 25 lessons that I’ve learned over the past 9,138ish days. I promise to make most of them dog related.
1. Everything is a work in progress. Like this blog, for example. If you’re reading it on the actual site then hi, welcome to my new design that I hoped to have finished weeks ago for a big unveiling. Oops. But you can’t let a little lag in progress discourage you from reaching your goal. I will complete this makeover… one day!
2. “You have to be well to do good.” This is my favorite quote from an awesome blog post the geniuses at Notes from a Dog Walker wrote about setting up boundaries for yourself to prevent compassion fatigue. Re: #1 – I haven’t been updating this blog because I’ve been working on, oh, just about one million other things. It’s not that I don’t love this blog and wish I could give it more of my attention, but it came to the point that for my own sanity something had to give – and that something was this sweet little nook in the corner of the internet. Luckily I know it (and you guys!) will always be here for when I have some extra time to breathe :-).
3. Science is a thing. Oh the world of dog training… whew! I’m exhausted just thinking about all of the debating, the arguing and the I’m-right-you’re-wrong-ing. Over the past few years my knowledge for animal behavior has grown to a point where I feel comfortable digging up the scientific reasoning behind why I train the way I do. I grew up loving biology and majoring in animal science, so in my adult life I’ve really valued knowing the why behind what I do with animals – it helps me not lose sleep over the arguing. I’m confident in what I know. As late Dr. Sophia Yin writes, “What does it mean to base your training on science? It means using the scientific method to work through the problem and possible solutions, as well as measuring behavior change and evaluating your methods based on results.” Swoon.
4. Treat yo self. Similar to #2, it’s important you look out for yourself in your busy life. I’m sure you have work priorities, maybe a family, probably/definitely dogs, and just remember that yes, they are counting on you – but you can’t be counted on if you’re not happy and healthy! Grab that crazy-expensive pumpkin spice latte before work just because it makes me happy? Don’t mind if I do.
5. Kindness is powerful. I swear by this phrase. I’m kind to my dogs and I’m kind to people around me, and I see every day how this impacts my interactions. I’ve learned that I can get those results I want by being kind (and, yes, sometimes direct!) and respectful.
6. We’re all different. So different. Guess what, guys – I’m not you and you’re not me, so I have no idea how you think or why you do what you do! Ground breaking, I know. But this has been one of the most life changing realizations for me lately. I cannot understand why someone did what they did… and still survive? I don’t have to rationalize or understand the way a person acts to get along with them? My love of kindness might not float your boat, and that’s okay! The simple understanding that I’m the way I am and it’s probably not the way you are eases a lot of frustrations. Try it.
7. Dogs are awesome. Funny lesson, I know. But I just love them! I’ve learned to, ya know, appreciate the smaller things in life – and one of those is a wiggling dog butt greeting you at an appointment or in a shelter kennel or at the end of a long day. As trainers and even shelter workers we often turn them into such specimens (especially when I don’t have my own), we often forget the value they have on their soul. Don’t ever forget that.
8. The definition of love/hate is the internet. Am I right?? Scrolling through your Facebook feed can be so uplifting and so heartbreaking all at the same time. Do yourself a favor and set boundaries if you need to (you see what I did there?). I promise that person will not find out if you unfollow them! And you will not go to hell for not wanting to see the **URGENT DOG** postings on your own social media time.
9. “Remember that time when…” REMEMBER THESE MOMENTS. I find myself reminiscing a lot lately, I think because I’ve had a lot of “pinch me” moments the last few years. Lucky me, I know. But you never know when you’re going to wake up thinking, “Man, I was really lucky.” The past few weeks I’ve been remembering my experience of going through KPA with Paco. Even though at the time it was stressful and overwhelming, boy did we have a blast. I truly miss it, and I don’t want to ever forget it!
10. Mom and Dad always know best. Shout out to the best parents there are! Nothing makes you appreciate your parents more than growing up. You know that Mark Twain quote? “When I was sixteen, my father was the most ignorant man in the world. By the time I reached 21, I was surprised at how much he had learned in five years.” Yeah, that.
11. People can disagree and still be friends. Whoa. This was a biggie for me. You and I can have different viewpoints and that won’t cause us to be forever divided? This speaks a bit to #6 as I’ve realized that the fact that I’m different from other people means they’ll have different view points. Go figure. This has also helped immensely being in animal welfare. Agree to disagree – or, better yet, agree to have a healthy, respectful conversation. Now let’s move on and save some animals.
12. Words matter. This has so many different meanings across so many worlds of loving animals, but as I’ve matured I’ve noticed that what I say can truly, 100% have an impact on the subject matter, no matter how big or small. From gossiping to spewing misinformation about animal training to trying to be an advocate for something – think before you speak.
13. Love wildly. Don’t need much explanation here. Don’t hold back. Love your dogs and your friends and your family as much as you possibly can, every day.
14. All dogs are individuals. See #6 and #11. Same goes for dogs. The more I learn about behavior, the more I am aware that no two dogs will ever be the same, even if they’re the same breed or litter. I work every day at not generalizing about dogs, even in a lighthearted sense (“Ooookay, let’s not generalize you guys! xoxo your let’s-give-everyone-a-chance coworker”). When you shift to this mindset, you start doing more for the dog in front of you rather than the dog you’re assuming them to be. Makes life easier.
15. If it’s broke, fix it. Or should I say, “Quit your b*tchin’.” The only one who can solve my problems is me. Instead of moping, I’ve learned to take action. It can be hard, but much more with it in the end. Like with dog training: you can get upset about your dog’s behavior, or you can figure out how to improve it.
16. Life is about reinforcers. I keep thinking, “THIS is the best lesson I’ve learned!” throughout this whole post. But forreal, this might be it. The science of learning works across species. People (and dogs and fish and zoo animals) do what works for them. They will always do what works for them. Figure out what reinforces and motivates the people around you, and use that. Guess what: reprimanding someone for not calling you more often when they do finally call you will not increase their behavior of calling you. Telling them they’re a rockstar who made your whole day by calling them might get better results. Or giving them $5 every time they call, that might work too :-).
17. Give yourself victories. This ties into #16. Victories are what make the world go round and keep you feeling positive (they’re very reinforcing). I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t treat the simple behavior of getting my butt out of bed in the morning as a victory, I’d surely give up by 10 am. Okay maybe not. But seriously! Pat yourself on the back for those accomplishments at work. Do a little dance after you finish the dishes. Give yourself a quarter for making your bed in the morning. Acknowledging these little moments you did something right throughout the day makes ya realize that hey, you’re not so bad.
18. It always gets better. Change is scary. Really, really scary. I remember when we were looking at housing this past summer and my roommate was panicking. I looked at her and said, “But Ash, think about it – it’s always gotten better, every time we’ve moved, even though it was always scary and hard and unknown.” Change is a good and necessary process in life. My favorite quote: “It’s always okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” If you’re having a really bad day with your dog, remind yourself that it can only go up from there!
19. Don’t be embarrassed. This mindset is tough for me because I’m a sensitive soul and I care way too much what people think about me. But lately I’ve learned… f*!k em. Excuse my french, but seriously. The majority of people I was worried about were people I didn’t know and would never meet again. Yikes, they’re seeing me with my treat pouch! (Just kidding I have never had ANY shame in my treat pouch game, ha!). But if I break out in a dance to this awesome song on my iPod right here on the sidewalk they’ll think I’m weird. Ugh, my dog is having a bad day and is trying to eat their perfectly well behaved dog. Guess what. You are a blip in their day, they probably won’t even remember you. And if they do? Well, you’ll never know, so who cares. Same goes for people you do know. If they’re worth knowing, they won’t judge you… (hopefully).
20. Never stop learning. Continuing. Education. Continuing education. I can’t stress the importance of this no matter what you do in life, and especially in the dog world. Studies are published every day about behavior and animal cognition. Do yourself and your animals a favor and stay updated on what the scientists and professionals are saying.
21. Put down your phone. Another toughie for me. This really inspiring video called “Look Up” was circulating a few months ago about how much we miss in life when our noses are in our phones. I am 100% guilty of this almost all of the time (hey, at least I acknowledge it). There are some situations I always try to keep my phone away, and one is definitely when I’m walking a dog. Yes for the safety factor but also to be present with him when we’re on this happy little nature walk together. Again, it’s the smaller things in life.
22. Listen to the voices. Yes, the ones in your head. No, I am not suggesting you have a disorder. Malcolm Gladwell has this great book called, “Blink.” It’s about listening to that gut feeling – something we ignore all too often. Most of the time, it turns out that that feeling was correct all along. You owe it to yourself to at least take them into account and add them to the conversation in real life.
23. Take a day off. Or five. Burn out is a thing, and you don’t want it. We live in a gogogogogo world, and our bodies are programmed to be a gogo-stop-gogo-stop creature. I always feel guilty for sitting on the couch and not running around doing this, that or the other thing. But then I remember my mental and physical health is just as important as my productivity. See #2 and #4.
24. You are enough. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else – whether it be at your job, in your relationship, etc. It’s great to have people to look up to, but remember that you are not them and you need to have your own standards for yourself. You can make tweaks here and there but you can’t change who you are as a person – and the good news is that you probably don’t have to. You’re awesome, give yourself some credit.
25. YOLO. Yup, I went there. “You only live once.” Don’t use that mentality to rob your favorite pet supply store, but DO use that mentality when you’re deciding about taking a trip, visiting your family, taking that class, whatever the choice may be. Life waits for no one!
Cheers to year twenty five. And thanks to all of you wonderful people for being here for four wonderful years!