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I tried to walk my dog today.
Because Griffey has some leash reactivity, we have a fairly strict management plan for him. If we are not out of the house before 7:30, we don’t walk that day. We meet his needs in other ways.
Walks after 7:30 aren’t fun. For anyone. He’s scared. I’m frustrated and annoyed. Both of us are hypervigilant. Neither of us starts the day off by melting the stress away and feeling empowered. It bleeds into and makes the rest of our day harder.
So, we manage it. Sometimes, even with management, stuff happens.
And stuff happened today.
I saw a biker coming down the opposite side of the cross street as we entered a 6-way interchange. Even if the biker turned in our general direction, they SHOULD have been on the opposite side of a garden median. I brought Griffey as far away from the street as possible to get him the distance he would need.
And it would have been fine. Except the biker decided to ride against traffic and get within 6 feet of us.
To share my internal dialogue would be… colorful. With so much space, with me clearly trying to get more distance (no other reason someone would duck behind garbage cans), why would you ride ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE STREET!?
Either way, it happened. I started to beat myself up. Helloooooooo, shame spiral! But then I looked at Griffey and realized Griffey was okay.
Sure, he still had a lunging, barking, screaming fit when the biker got too close, which we work very hard to avoid. Frankly, my internal fit was significantly worse than his external reaction.
But he recovered. In record time. By the time the biker was across the street, Griffey was looking back at me, his muscles had relaxed, he was bounding next to me like a little deer. He was ready to continue on our adventure. He rebounded. He rebounded faster than I did.
Was it ideal? Absolutely not. Will I use this information to try to inform my decisions in the future? Yes. I don’t want it to happen again. My goal is still to prevent over threshold events entirely. But it reminded me that in our behavior change journeys, success can be measured in a number of ways. Not only a reaction – no reaction dichotomy.
There are multiple measures of success
Griffey being comfortable in his environment has always been the primary goal. But comfort looks different in different places. In Florida, it was the escape from the heat and fire ants. In Washington, it was finding locations that didn’t aggravate his allergies. In California, it’s finding adequate space from the plethora of scary monsters.
3 years ago, had we been in this situation, I would have had to pick Griffey up and walk him home. This event would have brought him to and kept him over his threshold for hours. The dog that barked behind the fence on our way home would have been yet another threat to our very existence, and we would have lost it all over again.
Instead, he was ready to continue, his body got loose, he was able to eat and respond to well-practiced cues. The dog behind the fence got little more than a chuff before continuing on our way.
3 years ago, for the rest of the day, every little sound outside the house would have been the end of the world. He would have been hyper-vigilant. Tense. Unable to settle.
Instead, we made it home, and he was able to settle in the sun with a frozen kong. He’s now curled up asleep in his cave. Even with the delivery person ringing the doorbell, he has been able to relax and settle. He was able to “flight” back inside when the neighbor’s dog barked across the street.
There is more than one metric for success in every behavior change journey. I lost sight of that.
- What are some other ways you can measure success in your journey? Does your dog settle more? Do they look to you for help? Do they tell you “no” when they aren’t ready? What are some ways you see improvement outside of your primary goal?
- Having a hard, disheartening day? Take a minute to look at some happy time pictures or videos you have of your dog.
- If you aren’t sure what success looks like for your journey, we’d love to help! Work with one of our behavior consultants to make sure you are seeing progress toward your goals!
4 thoughts on “Measuring Success in Behavior Journeys”
Thanks for sharing. I am constantly asking that very question about my TH girl. What can I use as a measure of success for her? And it is not a static answer. It seems somewhat fluid depending on the situation. I guess just as in breaking down the management/behavior change tasks into small approximations, the measures of success must be broken down into small approximations as well. And that is okay. Time to recovery after an over threshold event is a good measure. And that may be all I ever have. Either way the management and work to prevent over threshold events will be daily and lifelong. They have become daily routines.
I reassess this occasionally (as long well as all the other systems we have in place) because we are always learning new things.
Sometimes my ideas of “success” are different than 6 weeks ago. Now, after having so many difficult walks, my idea of success is more around my ability to reframe staying home and doing other activities instead.
I need an app or paper printable that has spots to track time of a triggering event, what is was/how close it was to the dog/space to make notes on intensity of trigger, whether or not the dog was able to take food when trying to gain distance, self calming behaviors observed, how long it took to recover once returned to their safe environment, etc. I do much better with a visual aid so I can see a list of the dog’s successes right in front of me! Currently, I image a “DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT” sign in my head ????
Yes! I use a piece of paper on my desk. I’ve had clients use whiteboards, google sheets or docs, calendar apps, habit planners, tag-ulators and so many other things. Finding what works for you is so important!
I need my own “days without incident” sign! 😀
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