Like many people, I’m classically conditioned to associate “New Year’s Resolutions” with broad, generic and doomed-to-fail pronouncements, like “I’ll be healthier!” “I’ll lose 20 pounds!” “I’ll be an all around better person!” “I’ll kind and generous to everyone I meet!” I made my share of impossible resolutions in decades past, and like most of them, they fell apart before the end of January. However, as is often the case, learning about behavior and dog training has helped me to come up with focused and attainable goals, so now I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, I made one or two commitments for the year to come.
We know that commitments are most often kept if 1) they are focused and specific, 2) they are attainable and 3) they are made public. Not that you have to blog about them yourself, but at least tell your friends, write them down, post the on your mirror …. do what you can to put them out into the universe in some way.
For example, I always make one related to my own nutrition. Instead of “I’ll lose X number of pounds,” or “I”ll eat healthier food,” last year I decided to eat sardines once a week. (By the way, the word “decision” originated from “decis,” or to “cut off” — as in, “cut off all other options”. Truly making a decision – truly – means selecting one option and completely eliminating all others.) Did I eat sardines 52 times last year? Nope, but pretty darn close. They aren’t my favorite food, but they are really, really good for me (and the environment, they are one of the few fishes not over harvested). I mix them with my favorite honey mustard and a tiny bit of mayonnaise and put them on crunchy yummy toast and eat them with a big salad. I’ve gotten to look forward to my sardine night, no kidding. (FYI, Willie gets one sardine, from a tin of unsalted, water packed sardines, every night.)
The year before it was “eat beans” (lentils, kidney etc) at least once a week. I aimed for twice a week, and have found it easy to do. I make lots of soup with beans in them, or buy Amy’s organic soups (I love you Amy). This year? Continuing with what works, I’m staying focused and specific. This year it’s “eat greens 2 times a week.” (greens as in kale, chard, collard greens). They are so so good for you, and I’m developing a taste for them.
Uh, isn’t this a blog about canine behavior and dog training? Yup, and you probably already know where I’m going with this. Every year I make a commitment related to Willie too. Last year it was to start working Willie off the farm more, with thoughts of occasionally getting back into herding dog trials. As you know, we entered our first one in October, and although we weren’t perfect by any means, we did well and had fun.
This year, my commitment to Willie is to increase his comfort at working sheep with spectators and to increase his comfort at working at over 100 yards away off the farm. (I guess that’s two commitments – but you’ll see they are related.) I’ve learned over the years that Willie is profoundly affected by others watching him work. I thought that it was primarily me – that I changed when people were watching us work – and I’m still sure that is a factor. It doesn’t phase me to work dogs on a stage at a seminar, but working sheep? Ah, a different story altogether. Lordy if only others could have seen some of the work we’ve done just the two of us! But over the years I’ve realized that, more than any other dog I’ve had, Willie himself gets nervous when there are others watching us, no matter how it impacts on me. His work at the trial also made it clear that once we were over 100 yards (a pittance in a trial), with the addition of spectators, Willie listened less and worried more.
So that’s my commitment to Willie: to get him working sheep out and about as much as I can this summer, and to gradually increase the distance at which he is comfortable working off the farm. Not much I can do about it now though… too much snow to even think about working sheep. Of course, this is party for my benefit, because I love working Willie on sheep, but he loves it too, so it’s a win/win. (I just, one hour after posting, re-read this and realized how very unspecific it is! Very unlike my specific commitment re nutrition, yes? So here’s my revised commitment: work Willie off the farm once a week if weather cooperates and I’m in town. Work Willie once a month summer/fall in front of other people, trying to replicate a trial like setting. Ah, much better!)
What’s your 2011 commitment to your dog? I’d love to hear it. . . Just make it focused, specific and attainable. Just like dog training, you need to set yourself up to win so that you get reinforced, rather than learning to fail. (I think we trainers and dog lovers often do that to ourselves: set up expectations we can meet and then feeling guilty about it.) You’ll find making a decision (cutting off other options) about the one commitment you’re going to make an interesting one in itself.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: I’ll look forward to sitting back and reading your 2011 commitments over the New Year’s weekend. I also look forward to being home more and enjoying the birds at our feeders. We’ve had more this winter than I can ever remember, including a Sharp-Shinned Hawk (think so anyway, could have been a Cooper’s but the tail seemed more square at the tip), who was attempting to feed on the other birds themselves.
Here are a few I got snaps of yesterday:
Black-capped Chickadee. (Love their calls – “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee”). There must be 6 or 7 at the feeders everyday, along with a mixed flock of Nuthatches, Titmice, several kinds of Woodpeckers. Chickadees are oxytocin pump birds: cute, athletic, very tame.
Here’s the White Breasted Nuthatch. Always flocks with Chickadees in winter, feeds mostly off of insects hidden in tree bark. Is able to ‘walk’ straight down a tree trunk without falling off. Call sounds like “Yank Yank.” Love ’em.
Another one of my favorites, the Tufted Titmouse. Usually only have two or three a winter, but also flock with Chickadees and Nuthatches. Much more flighty than Chickadees though, took forever to get this photo!