Last week I talked about how the behavior modification process is a journey: a journey someone may not be ready to take. With this two-part post series, I wanted to specifically address those folks who aren’t yet ready to take that journey.
Those of you who read last week’s post (check it out here if you haven’t already), you know that this article is written without judgment. Last week I mentioned that I also wouldn’t be ready for some behavior modification journeys and I’d be a hypocrite if I judged those who currently find themselves in that situation.
I simply want to provide some relief for those folks who aren’t yet ready to work with us or those who find themselves in a “failed start” situation by outlining some of the common scenarios I see and offering advice. Last week’s post was for folks who haven’t yet tried a program. This week we’ll get into the failed start situation for people who have tried a program already.
Let’s dive right in!
I started a program but my life changed and I can’t continue.
We’ve all been here, right? We start something with the best of intentions and then our lives are suddenly flipped upside down. The whole of 2020 has been like that. The good news is that because management is one of the first steps in creating a behavior modification program for an individual, you probably already have quite a few management tools and tricks up your sleeve. Lean on those as much as needed to keep everyone safe and to prevent your pet from being able to practice the unwanted behavior.
You may have some behavior modification techniques in your toolbox as well if you’re further into the program. It’s okay to take a break and get back into your program when life allows for it. Be sure to communicate these intentions with your consultant. We wonder about those clients who seemingly fall off the face of the earth and like to know that you and your family are okay.
I tried a program but didn’t understand how much work it would be on my part.
We’ve also all been here, right? I feel like every time I start a new-to-me project I quickly learn how much more is involved than I expected. Sometimes that causes me to indefinitely shelve that project. Sometimes I’ll take the time to go through all the extra hoops I didn’t anticipate in order to finish it. The point is, it’s hard for us (or at least me) to fully understand what’s involved until I’m in the thick of it.
I see this with clients, too, because there’s no magic wand when it comes to behavior modification; just good ol’ hard-fashioned work. Sometimes people aren’t in a position to devote what they need to or would like to with a program. Like the previous scenario, the good news is that you probably have some management options that can keep everyone safe and keep the behavior from worsening until you’re ready to fully commit to the program.
Once again, be sure to communicate with your consultant. Sometimes we as consultants get overzealous and provide a plan that’s not feasible within someone’s lifestyle. When you let your consultant know that you can’t do everything in your plan, they can help you distill down the most important pieces and shelve things that can be focused on later. Often I find that doing so helps someone continue on with their plan with the knowledge that the timeline will be extended by paring back action items. Sometimes we agree to keep it at a management plan for now and they come back when they’re ready. There’s no shame in that, either.
I tried a program but admittedly didn’t put in all of the work.
This one is very similar to the scenario above, but I wanted to include it because there are reasons other than time constraints that cause people to not put in as much work as they’d intended into their pet’s behavior modification plan. I’d argue that time is one of the less-likely reasons, actually, but that’s perhaps a post for another day.
If you’re not putting in the work that you want to or intended to, think about why that is. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the “not enough time” rut. There are many times where clients will tell me that they didn’t have time to do something, but in looking at their plan I asked them to work on two separate things for 2-3 minutes 3-4x/week. We all have 2-3 minutes to spare each day for something we prioritize; the “not enough time” trope doesn’t work here. The question then becomes, “what’s the real reason?”
I find a myriad of reasons when I take that deep dive with my clients into figuring out what their roadblocks are. Sometimes they don’t remember why they’re doing something and so decided it wasn’t important. Sometimes they tried it a few times and it didn’t go like it did when we practiced. There are a lot of other reasons that I’ve found over the years.
The important part is that if you find yourself in this position, where it’s truly not a time issue when you’re being honest with yourself, to think about what the real issue is or ask your consultant to help you suss that out. When your consultant knows the real issue they will be better able to help you. If someone tells me it’s an issue of time but really was an issue of my explanation, I will decrease the time expectations but not change my explanation. That isn’t helpful to my client. Your consultant can only help you if you share your real challenges with them.
I tried a program but it was too challenging.
“Too challenging” can take on a lot of different forms: the exercises were difficult to implement or perform, there were a lot of moving pieces to remember, and so on. Like the above scenarios, this too is one where you should speak with your consultant (noticing a pattern?) There are several ways to achieve the same or similar results and troubleshooting is necessary for any behavior modification plan.
Your consultant will be able to break steps down further, help you practice to better perform the exercises, or change exercises entirely if you’re struggling with them. The most important part is to be specific with what in particular is too challenging. It doesn’t help to throw up your hands and say, “I can’t do this because I’m not a professional trainer.” That’s true for most of our clients! You don’t need to be a professional trainer to make it through your plan. You do need to tell your consultant exactly what’s challenging, though, in order to be successful.
I tried a program and I didn’t get along with the consultant or like the material, techniques, etc.
You need to click with your consultant and their program. You can be working with a really competent, well-known consultant but if you don’t get along with them then you might not be as successful as you could be. It’s okay to acknowledge that you would prefer to work with someone else.
Let your consultant know that you’re not going to continue with them and make sure to include in your search for your next consultant specifically what you are looking for. Do you want someone who responds primarily over the phone or email? Someone who works well with kids? Someone who is capable of giving you some tough love or a kick in the pants when you need it? Each consultant has strengths and weaknesses and it’s important to find someone who complements your needs.
On the flip side, we see a lot of clients who come to us because they didn’t like the program or techniques a previous professional was asking them to use. There are various reasons why that could be and many of them come down to the different training philosophies that arise due to our unregulated field. There are, of course, other reasons that fall more into the above categories, too.
The salient point for this category is that if you don’t agree with or believe in the philosophy governing your behavior modification plan then you likely won’t make as much progress with it. When people aren’t fully on board with their plan they’ll cherry pick the parts they like and ignore the rest. We’ll talk more about why this is detrimental in a few weeks, but for now just trust me when I say that you’re not going to be as successful by doing that.
If you find that you’re not on board with your behavior modification plan or the philosophy behind it, talk with your consultant and be upfront about this. They can explain to you why they’re doing what they’re doing and should be able to back it up with actual, peer-reviewed scientific studies or references containing those studies. If you’re still having trouble getting on board, it’s time to find someone else.
I tried a program and it truly didn’t work even though I did everything as the consultant said to and worked extensively with them to troubleshoot my plan.
There are many scenarios that can fall into this category– too many to talk about in the span of this article. I want to make it clear, though, that there are scenarios that absolutely don’t fall into this category (hence all of the qualifiers in the heading). Some of those include when people cherry pick parts of their plan and ignore the rest, practice something for only a couple days or weeks and give up if it doesn’t work without asking for help troubleshooting, or work with a consultant only once when they’ve been told their plan will need multiple sessions. Those scenarios fall into one of the above categories.
This category is specifically for those people who have been working in earnest with a consultant, following their behavior modification plan to a T, and their consultant acknowledges that all of that is true. Now, I’ve unfortunately seen consultants who will put the blame on a client who truly is following the entirety of their plan instead of recognizing that the plan isn’t working. But, if your consultant can’t give you clear, concrete examples of areas that need to be better followed then this situation may apply. If so, it’s time to find another consultant who has more expertise in the areas you’re needing help in.
A couple notes for folks in this category. One note: experience does not equal expertise. Someone may have fewer years of experience but have more expertise in a particular area. The second is that progress and success can be defined differently for different people. If your expectations are unrealistic (and a consultant should tell you that) then there may be no plan out there that will get you what you’re looking for. Be honest with your consultant as to what your expectations are so they can tell you if that’s reasonable. There are some factors that contribute to behavior that are simply not modifiable.
I started a program but I just can’t do this anymore.
The behavior modification journey is challenging. It’s longer than the average person anticipates and it’s more work than many people anticipate. Not only that, but it’s usually quite emotionally taxing for families to go through. This becomes even more prevalent when it’s a journey that someone didn’t sign up for or expect to go on.
I have many conversations with my clients about the human side of things. I explain to them that at a certain point regressions are going to feel even worse than it did in the beginning, even though their pet’s behavior regresses to a point that’s still better than it was. I offer exercises that can help with those feelings like they’re stuck or helpless.
Not infrequently, I have conversations that involve letting them know that they don’t have to do this. We talk about other options. Occasionally I’ll have this conversation with someone during our first session to let them know that we will work through a behavior modification plan but that at any point in time they can make the decision that this pet isn’t the right fit for them and they’re not the right fit for the pet. I tell them that I will support them regardless of that decision. I’ve worked in shelters longer than I’ve worked in behavior and I’ve seen how damaging trying to force something or someone to fit can be. I don’t wish that for my clients or the animals involved.
If this is you, know that it’s okay. Loving someone sometimes means knowing that someone else could provide more of what they need than you can. This is an incredibly difficult decision and we should all be a lot kinder to each other when it comes to these decisions. If you’re in a place where you feel like you can’t continue, talk with your consultant. They can lay out the different options. I won’t lie; for many cases the options aren’t great and the better options are usually not immediately available. Your consultant should be able to modify your plan in the meantime to help provide you with some relief while you’re deciding what to do.
- Have you experienced a failed start with a program like one of the above scenarios? It’s okay. We’ve all had similar experiences; now’s not the time to beat yourself up. Think about your experience and be honest with yourself as to what went wrong. Which category speaks most to your situation?
- If you’ve identified that you need a break before continuing your behavior modification journey, make sure to let your consultant know and ask what management strategies you should be doing in the meantime to keep everyone safe and to lessen the chances of the behavior worsening as much as possible. We understand that life gets in the way sometimes and will be here for you when you’re ready to resume.
- If you’ve identified that you are ready to continue the behavior modification journey, talk with your consultant about how they can better help you to do so. Or, you may choose to find a new consultant altogether. Search for and speak up for what you know you need. Don’t be afraid to seek help from a consultant offering remote services if you can’t find someone who fits the bill in your area. We have loads of testimonials of people who’ve been able to overcome serious behavior challenges with their pets who we’ve never met in person. Email us at [email protected] if you’d like to set up a session with one of our consultants.