Before your dog can learn to respect you, she has to learn to trust you. To earn a dog’s trust, you have to be a confident Pack Leader and provide protection and direction — sufficient exercise, and consistent rules, all with calm-assertive energy.
But before you can provide any of that to your dog there’s one other place where you need to earn trust.
That place is in yourself, and it’s true not just for dealing with your dog but dealing with life in general. If you can’t trust yourself, then no one and nothing can trust you. And yet, a lot of the time, we tend to send ourselves messages of mistrust.
How often have you had some new task to do or a new thing to try and thought to yourself, “I can’t” before you even attempted it? Okay, that kind of attitude might make sense if someone told you, “I want you to fly this 747” or “Can you perform this kidney transplant” when you’re not a pilot or a surgeon. But for easy things — like walking your dog — “I can’t” shouldn’t even be in your vocabulary.
Keep in mind that the challenge is not necessarily succeeding at that thing the first time. It’s trying to do it in the first place. You may succeed or you may fail, but that’s not the part that matters. Remember: failure can be a better learning experience than success, because it teaches you how to do it better the second time, and the third time, and so on.
The first time Michael Phelps dove into a pool or Cristiano Ronaldo kicked a football, they did not do it as world class athletes. The difference is that they kept on swimming and kicking to get where they are today. The first time you walked your dog may not have been the greatest experience — but it won’t get better if you don’t keep trying.
The secret to developing trust in yourself is to give yourself permission to fail, and then recognize that it isn’t the worst thing in the world. There are plenty of people who failed in big ways long before becoming successful, and if they’d given up you’d never have heard of them.
And you have heard of them: Oprah, who was fired from her first TV anchor job in Baltimore; Steven Spielberg, who was rejected by film school twice; Walt Disney, who lost a newspaper job for lacking imagination; Colonel Sanders, who seemingly couldn’t even keep a job; and Sidney Poitier, who was told early on by a director to give it up because he’d never succeed as an actor.
Among that group, there are 66 Oscar nominations and 23 wins just for starters, and you’d probably recognize each of them by just a single name. In fact, one of them is a brand unto himself and another is synonymous with as basic a food item as fried chicken.
Oprah herself gave some great advice on the subject when she told the Harvard graduating class of 2013, “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”
In the case of each of you, I want you to remember that failure is moving you in the direction of success by helping you to identify the issues that are preventing you from having that ideal relationship with your dog so that you can move forward. With each failure that you put behind you, you move in the new direction of success and you become less afraid of failing each time.
A funny thing happens when you lose your fear of failure: You start to succeed more and more. Success breeds confidence, and confidence helps you learn to trust yourself.
This is advice that I have taken myself. When I came to the U.S. over 25 years ago, I didn’t make it on the first try. Or the second. I did learn that getting caught meant a free sandwich and a Coke, and a trip back to Tijuana. It also taught me how to not get caught the next time — and how to trust that I would make it eventually.
So can you. You just have to risk failure, learn when it happens, and keep on going until one day without even realizing it you’ve succeeded at what you set out to do and so much more, and have found that place of trust, respect, and balance with your dog.
Stay calm, and keep going!