I’ve worked with a lot of different professionals in both my personal and professional life. Until recently, I thought that I needed to know what I wanted the professional to do for me before I hired them. I knew my problem (well, at least I thought I did). I researched solutions and knew what solution I wanted (well, at least I thought I did). Then I would find a professional who would perform the solution that I wanted for what I understood was the problem.
See, I’ve always been taught that if I have a problem I need to also come up with a solution before asking for help. I don’t really know exactly where I learned that from- society, family, school, who knows- nor did I realize that I was behaving with that particular thought process. But, boy, did my behavior say that I thought that way.
Until we were working with a professional and I didn’t have the answer. It was someone working on an aspect of business that was still fairly new to me and I hadn’t done my usual research-a-thing-to-death-before-deciding-I-needed-to-hire-a-professional thing. She was recommended by a trusted colleague and so I hired her without my usual research fanaticism. And that meant that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. I couldn’t even feign an answer.
Finally, after much deliberation, I went back to her and said, “I have a problem with this thing but I don’t have any suggestions on how to fix it.” Her response was exactly what I’ve apparently been needing to hear my whole life. She said, “I don’t expect you to have suggestions or solutions. That’s my job. You just need to tell me what you want fixed.”
Many months later, I still think of this interaction. It’s allowed me to work more cohesively with other professionals. I’m now able to say, “I have a problem and I’m coming to you with it so you can solve it since I can’t.” Honestly, it’s made my life a whole lot better.
Why am I telling you all of this? What on earth does this have to do with pet behavior consulting and training? Well, now that I’ve identified this trend in my own behavior, I’ve started seeing it with my clients, too. I see clients who have researched the bejeezus out of their pet’s behavior. They think they know what the problem is. They think they know what the solution they want is. Sometimes I agree with their assessment; sometimes I don’t. And sometimes, I see that this thought process is really getting in their own way of making progress. Just like it did (and sometimes still does) for me. So for all of you out there who are like me, this one’s for you.
How this can get in the way of progress
There are a few different ways that I see this particular human behavior get in the way of making progress on their pet’s behavior modification plan:
- Misidentifying the problem means researching the wrong solutions. Sometimes that means you have to unlearn the incorrect thing and then relearn the correct one. That takes extra time.
- Solutions aren’t necessarily cut and dried when it comes to something complex like behavior change, which means the chances of coming up with the correct solution are slimmer for non-professionals.
- Misidentifying why something works can cause someone to go for incorrect solutions for seemingly similar behaviors that are actually quite different.
- Waiting longer than necessary to start working with or communicating problems with a professional.
There are plenty more behaviors that I see getting in the way that appear to be along this same vein, but this list is sufficient for now. It’s kind of vague, though. So let me give you a real-world example that I see all the time.
Fido barks. A lot. At everything! Fido’s body language is saying that he’s usually uncomfortable when he’s barking, but his pet parent, Jane, hasn’t learned how to read canine body language yet and so isn’t aware of that factor. Jane gets on the Google machine and searches “How do I get my dog to stop barking?” There are a whole bunch of articles that talk about how to decrease barking. Jane tries a few tactics, which either don’t work or seem to make the barking worse. What gives?! She’s now at her wit’s end and reaches out to a professional for help.
After thorough history-taking, the professional identifies that Fido is barking because he’s uncomfortable. Jane hears this and tells the professional that she wants to help Fido feel more comfortable and teach him that the world isn’t so scary. They spend the rest of the session discussing how to help Fido feel more comfortable in the world and spend very little time talking about the barking that caused Jane to book the appointment in the first place. The professional does assure Jane, though, that Fido should bark less when he feels more comfortable.
What you actually want is going to dictate what you should actually do
In the previous example with Jane and Fido, we see that Jane is actually more concerned about Fido feeling uncomfortable than she is about the barking. She cares more about him feeling confident and comfortable in the world than she does about stopping the barking. Especially if Fido feeling confident is going to naturally decrease the barking!
That means the solutions the professional will provide for Jane are going to be about helping Fido’s comfort levels and will be less about the barking. Jane should have actually Googled how to help her dog feel more confident! But she wouldn’t have known that without a professional helping her through that discovery.
On the flip side, let’s say Janet has the same problem with her dog, Fluffy. The only difference is that Janet isn’t as concerned about Fluffy feeling comfortable as she is about the barking after hearing the same thing from the professional. She really just wants the barking to stop. The solutions that Janet goes for will likely be different than Jane’s because they actually want different things.
What you actually want is going to dictate what professional you should go with
It should come as no surprise to those of you who have interacted with us or our content before that here at Pet Harmony we care about the learning experience from both the human and the pet’s perspective. We want everyone- regardless of species- to feel confident, comfortable, and empowered through an empathetic learning journey. And that means we tend to attract the Janes of the world. Now, that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with Janet or that she’s a bad person. It just means she’s not going to connect with our material in the same way that Jane will. And that’s okay! Maybe we’re not the right fit for Janet.
When you’re searching for the right professional for you, you need to find someone who cares about the same things you do. If you want someone who is going to build your pet’s confidence you need a professional who cares about your pet’s mental health. If you want someone who is going to help keep your family safe you need a professional who cares about safety.
So how do you do this? If they provide free content like a blog, podcast, or social media, then check out their content. You’re not necessarily looking for how to fix your problem; you’re looking for the things that the professional cares about. Are they talking about the things that you care about? Or are they talking about things that you don’t particularly care about?
I personally think free content is a great window into what someone cares about, as someone who writes a lot of free content! I get to choose the topic and how I talk about it without thinking about engaging in a back-and-forth conversation, which means I’m more likely to share my beliefs unfettered. That’s not always an option, though, so talking with your next potential professional can be a great option, too!
If you’re already working with a professional, you likely already have some insight as to how they put their beliefs into action. If you’re vibing with how they’re responding to your case, awesome. If you have a feeling that something just isn’t quite gelling, start by talking to them about it. Sometimes it’s a miscommunication issue that can be solved. Sometimes they may just not be the right fit for you.
When you find the right professional, you don’t need to come up with the solutions
When you’re working with a professional who values the same things that you do, you can trust them to come up with the best solution and that means you won’t have to do it yourself! It’s actually often better that way. Not only is it the reason you’re paying them and less work for you, but it sometimes means it’ll be easier for you to accept their solution. When we envision something going or working one way and then someone gives us another option, it takes a moment for us to get on board no matter how good that option is. Humans are just quirky that way!
The amazing thing about this is it frees you up to be more open about problems or issues you’re having. You no longer have to think about a solution before communicating with your professional! You get to just discuss with them and let them work their magic.
- Are you someone who feels like you have to have a solution before you can come to a professional with the problem? Me too. Identifying and admitting this behavior is the first step.
- If that’s you, your next step is to make sure you’re working with the right professional. They’re going to be the person who has the same values as you! Actually, this step is important regardless of whether you find yourself having to have solutions before communicating problems!
- Then, discuss any issues you’re having with the professional. Be open to whatever solution they pose. It may be very different than what you would have come up with- and that’s a good thing! If you knew how to fix it you probably would have done so already.