Lesson 01: Talking to Your Friends & Family

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Well, this part is never easy. How often we receive unsolicited advice from friends and family and while it comes from a good place, it's rarely helpful. 

I've started getting my family and friends into the habit of listening to understand instead of listening to respond and then asking "are you looking for support or advice?". This habit (when remembered) becomes incredibly helpful when the person is venting or struggling, they can choose what the response needs to be. 

Especially in this age of technology-dependence and armchair experts everywhere, it's so easy to slip into "you know what I would do..." or "what worked for me was..." without even thinking. It's understandable too - if we've had success and see those people for whom we care struggling, we want to share 

When receiving unsolicited advice from friends and family, it's much more difficult due to the emotional foundation upon which the conversation is sitting. There might be some history; some hurt or resentment. 

The best way to handle this is to keep things simple and polite rather than getting into a power struggle or sibling rivalry. A simple "Thank you so much for your helpful advice. We will certainly consider it." often closes the door on further discussion but validates their experience and shows appreciation, all in one go! 

Another option is to thank them and let them know that you working with a respected professional trainer. You don't necessarily have to go into detail as this often spurs a discussion on methods (which nobody really wants) but quickly changing to the subject immediately after is a great strategy. 

Boundaries

Perhaps you're getting together with family and you're worried about your dog's interactions with them or their dog/s. It will all depend on your relationship and your ability to manage and/or pivot. 

Before I go into these situations, I assess whether or not it's absolutely necessary that my dog is involved. Sometimes it's inevitable, like if we all have to get together last minute for Great Uncle Fred's funeral, but other times it's avoidable and that's easier for everyone.

I like having a backup plan so that I can easily board my dog with a trusted professional or leave them at home with or without a dog walker's help if it's a short visit. 

How many holidays have I left my dog at home, travelled to a family member's home, and left halfway through to give my dog a bio-break, and then return? Almost yearly! Not only does my dog not have to deal with the chaos, but I get a break from the chaos too! 

If it's unavoidable, you can always chat with each individual privately in advance and say "Hey - I'm planning on bringing Fido with me this weekend and wanted to chat with you beforehand so that we're all comfortable. As you know, Fido is uncomfortable around XYZ and we're working on it, but need to have some strategies so that it goes smoothly for all of us. I wonder if we can talk about what that looks like and if you can help me out."

As soon as you ask someone for help, they suddenly feel useful and much more open. If you walk into it with your back up or a list of rules, you might find that you're faced with a defensive person who is keen to bend those rules to see what happens. 

This gives you a fantastic gauge on their compliance level. If after these conversations, you find that you're feeling less comfortable, let's look at professional pet sitters or boarding facilities that are qualified and able to manage your dog for this period of time while you kick back and relax without the worry of management. 

Conclusion

It's important to see the person beyond the methods. Just because someone is using aversive methods or tools doesn't mean that they love their dog less than we do. 

I have family members and friends who use aversive methods and tools, and follow outdated advice and I have to remember to bite my tongue. It's especially hard as that "respected professional trainer" but I tell myself that I have not been hired to help them so I am not a Trainer right now - I am a sister, daughter, cousin, friend, etc. so I have a different role in this moment. I can still love the person and respect them even though our dog-raising and/or child-rearing methods differ. 

We all do the best we can with what we know and what we have. 

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