Items that do not constitute an emergency or require an apology in my universe: taking longer than 24 hours to respond to an email, text, or phone call about mundane business items.
Real emergencies occupy my universe – that’s what I orbit around.
Urgency drives deployment. A life could depend on how fast I can get to the scene, my dog’s and my effectiveness in the field, and the team’s capacity to deliver care in time. In wilderness search and rescue, there is actually a whole decision chart that helps determine how ‘urgent’ a response needs to be.
On the farm, urgency is determined by how much blood/bone is showing, whether you actually need to make a trip to the emergency room, or if the animal will die unless your immediate actions alter the course of nature.
The things that cause my heart to race include a 1 a.m. phone call that reports a dementia patient missing, while outside it’s 32 degrees, she has been gone for 4 hours and rain is coming in 30 minutes.
Another is watching a baby calf emerge form the womb onto frozen ground, freezing rain in the forecast, overcast skies, 20 mph winds, and the closest shelter 200 yards away (that’s one’s happened twice in the last two months).
In my former corporate life, I spent a lot of time responding to “emergencies.” These were events that seemed crucial and time sensitive in the moment, but were really not that important in retrospect.
After being out of that universe and fully occupying this one, the concept of urgent is relative.
A month ago, I was presented with a training opportunity that expired in 48 hours. While instructing a seminar, I could expose Niko to an odor source not readily available to me. It felt urgent, and the opportunity was vanishing when I left to drive home.
It was hard, but I said no.
We were not at a stage in his training where he could successfully meet the training objectives.
Experience has taught me well that a false sense of urgency in dog training, or in life, gets me into trouble. I’ve made a rash decision and landed squarely in a situation for which I (and my dog) were not prepared.
We are all presented with opportunities as we move through training, or life, that can create a sense of urgency. We think we’re missing huge opportunities to advance if we fail to take action. But if we take the time to evaluate all the pieces of our dog’s training – and our own – we grow at the pace that is meant for us, and give our dogs what they need and deserve.
Another chance in your dog’s training life will emerge when the time is right.
Have a plan and stick to it – that foundation and a deep reinforcement history with your dog will allow you to leverage even greater opportunities later.
The “urgency” will come around again – and this time you’ll both be ready. In the meantime, celebrate saying no. “No” is a complete sentence. It takes a lot of courage, but the real emergencies will benefit from restraint in the end.
Robin has been training working dogs since 2001 and educating working dog handlers and trainers all over the nation since 2008. She is the CEO of the K9Sensus Foundation, a foundation that focuses on training the human end of the leash. 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.