Turning a Negative into a Positive
In a few days, it will have been 25 years since the devastating day when NASA’s Challenger space shuttle broke into pieces over the Atlantic Ocean. I remember hearing stories about it, but didn’t see it live. The news reported that just over a minute into the flight, the shuttle disintegrated with its seven crew members aboard. While the leadership of NASA was criticized and judged in the days, months, and years following, there’s an important lesson to take from the incident – how to turn a negative into a positive.
When bad things happen, we can react one of several ways. We can feel defeated, depressed, hopeless, or we can use it as a learning experience, to grow, redefine, and improve. NASA may have been beaten down by their failures that day in 1986 and again years later, but when you are dreaming big and tackling what seems impossible, you are bound to have some setbacks along the way. The same is true when you are rehabilitating a dog. Not every day is going to be a good one. Not every experience is going to be positive. But with each negative experience or display of bad behavior is the opportunity for you to correct it and turn it around into a canvas for learning.
Negative experiences serve as reminders for ways we can improve our lives. The “downs” are the best teachers to become clear with your belief system and what you want in life. It allows you to be more in tune to yourself because you are more vulnerable. Without weakness, you don’t know strength. Dogs are mirrors of our lives and can only achieve balance when we achieve balance as humans. You’ve heard the phrase, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” – your dog is only as good as its human too.
I had the privilege of working with NASA Astronauts Suni Williams and Leland Melvin on the Dog Whisperer television show in Season 7. Suni’s Jack Russell Terrier Gorby had a tendency to go after dogs that were bigger than him, making it difficult for her to spend time with Leland and his Rhodesian ridgeback mixes, Jake and Scout. Despite their out-of-this-world courage and dedication to dreaming big as astronauts, they needed my help to apply the same leadership with their dogs. (Learn more about this episode here.)
Even though Suni and Leland exuded a particular sense of calmness and assertiveness, there was something missing when it came time to bring their dogs together. At work, they challenge themselves as what I’d like to call “calculated dare devils.” What I mean is that not many other people can do what they do – you and I can be adventurous, but we can’t just say, “I think today I’ll go to the moon.” They spend years training and learning. They have their own sense of balance between mind and body and we had to take that same energy and apply it to their dogs. Ultimately, we were able to turn the negative experience of their dogs not getting along to turn it into the positive experience of their dogs being able to be around each other without any aggression or problems, so Suni and Leland could enjoy their social time together. Through that experience they became stronger humans, better leaders, both in their own lives and their relationships with their dogs. But what gave us the opportunity to do so was the original negativity or bad behavior.
As you consider the problem behaviors you’re trying to correct in your dog, or just little adjustments you’d like to make, whether it’s serious problems like aggression or less severe like pulling on the leash, don’t get frustrated or down if you have some setbacks along the way. If the dogs I work with never exhibited bad behavior, how would I be able to correct and rehabilitate it? Take every negative experience and look at it as an opportunity to correct and grow – turn it into a positive!