Updated: May 15, 2019
This spring has been one long exercise in resiliency, both physically and mentally.
It was Sunday night at 6pm and Sweat Pea, one of my dwarf Nigerian goats was not progressing in her labor. I called our veterinarian.
“Hey Doc, Sweet Pea is having problems kidding, are you at the clinic?
“Yep, bring her in.”
I cannot express the gratitude I have for our Veterinarian. He’s an absolute gem. We spent the next 2 hours performing a C-section on Sweat Pea. I moved her into the dog kennels that night, where she and her kid would be warm and easy to keep an eye on. I then spent the next 24 hours milking her and feeding her baby. Thirty-six hours after surgery, Sweet Pea was up, drinking and eating. Unfortunately, her kid didn’t make it.
I cried when her baby died.
I wiped my tears, warmed the bottle and went out to supplemental feed the other baby goats.
The circle of life continues on the farm.
This spring has shown me the definition of resilience. Western Iowa and most of Nebraska are still recovering from record-breaking flooding. Thousands of acres of cropland will be fallow this year and millions of production animals died. Many farmers may not financially survive. We are lucky. We are muddy, but not flooded.
Farmers are some of the most resilient people on the planet.
Over a 48-hour period this spring, my husband and I slogged through mud to vaccinate cattle, tracked a lost bull ½ mile in the rain, kidded out three goats for a total of eight babies. He ran his small business and I continued to operate my new business and fought off a spring cold. There were additional does to kid out and calving season was starting.
We are now finishing calving season, I have three dogs in training for odor detection with certifications looming, I am writing a business plan for an agri-tourism business, still running my small business, and launching a new program for a nonprofit.
Some days getting out of bed is a struggle. Having animals to feed and care for provides a reason to get up, put on a pair of flannel pants and muck boots to check on the babies. Then muscle memory kicks in and you stumble to the coffee pot.
Nice weather helps.
I have begun to think about how to build grit and resiliency in my working dogs during my long walks in the sporadic nice weather. A good friend, an Army Veteran, always comments ‘Train like you fight!’.
In a deployment situation, nine times out of ten, the dogs will be tired when they finally acquire odor. They won’t be fresh out of the crate, full of quivering anticipation. They will have worked hours in hostile conditions to locate strongest presentation of odor and must complete their trained behavior to notify me.
My training routine has begun to change.
Strength and conditioning workouts are completed prior to training odor detection. It may be a short game of fetch, agility, swimming, or even direction and control, but I try and create a situation where they are winded prior to searching. Sometimes they are very tired when we start odor work.
The dogs need to practice their resiliency, just like us. I have a specific training plan to make sure they are successful. Resiliency is a skill we can develop in ourselves and in our dogs. It needs to be done with care so the animal (human or non) is not overwhelmed.
It has been interesting to watch the change in how the dogs work. All are more deliberate and thoughtful about how they work odor. They have a higher sniff rate (more sniffs per second) and are in better shape.
The growth in my dogs has led me to contemplate how we teach individuals in the workforce to handle and overcome adversity.
Many of my friends are small business owners and I have clients who work in small and large companies. All routinely express a desire for an employee that has grit, is willing to work hard and make logical decisions under pressure. Someone who is resilient.
I can manufacture training environments for the dogs to encourage this skill. We can also do that for our employees. Creating a safe environment where failure is a learning experience, little achievements are celebrated (a little) and the achievement bar is raised at the rate where the animal is successful are key.
What are your ideas to creating a resilient working dog? Or employee?
Robin Greubel Robin has been training working dogs since 2001 and educating working dog handlers and trainers all over the nation since 2008. While working in corporate America, she managed relationships and people using the same behavior principles she honed training dogs. Not only can these principles transform your ability to work at an elite level with your dog, but apply to every animal (humans too!) you work with. She is the CEO of the K9Sensus Foundation, a foundation that focuses on training the human end of the leash and is a certified professional coach.