Dogs Don’t Like Perfectionism Either!

This piece by Nancy Tanner on how impatience ruins dog training is brilliant:

When I am asked what is the biggest problem I see in dog training today, it is the same problem I saw fourteen years ago, and thirty years ago, it is the misunderstanding of time.

It takes time to learn how to be a teacher to another species.
It takes time to learn how to learn from another species.
It takes time to build understanding.
It takes time to learn how to observe and how to apply what you observe.
It takes time to build a relationship with trust.

Dogs are naturally nonperfectionist! Note how Billy takes his time with the crucial task of preparing this peanut butter jar for recycling.

It’s not just dog training! Ask teachers of any craft or skill what their #1 challenge is with students, and the answer will inevitably be, “getting them to slow down.” While (speaking generally) you want to do your work at a steady clip and not get bogged down on any one detail, you also don’t want to rush through the important details–and they can take way longer to get right than many of us think (or want).

Even now, after decades of serious writing, I’m constantly amazed at how long it takes to do quality work. The other morning, two brief thank you notes took an hour. A blog post even on a subject I know well–like this one!–can take many hours.

Perfectionists, however, are impatient. They need their success NOW because they overidentify with their work, and their self-esteem rises and falls based on how well they think they’ve done.

Perfectionists also grandiosely expect their work to go easily–even work others struggle with. And they expect to soar effortlessly past all barriers and challenges. This causes them to skimp on planning and preparation, as well as on the details of the work itself.

All of which leads to bad outcomes.

Unfortunately, perfectionist narratives–including those of the superfast or supereasy success–abound, especially in our media. We’re constantly being told about youthful or overnight successes in business, the arts, activism, and other realms. (Including dog training!) These stories inevitably omit crucial information such as the person’s wealth or connections, or the twenty years they spent working toward their “overnight” success, or the fact that for every dog who is “easily” trainable, there are others–and perhaps many others–who require more time and patience.

All perfectionist narratives are lies.

Meanwhile, when we encounter a truly NONperfectionist narrative or piece of advice, we should cherish it like the true golden wisdom it is. Which brings us back to Tanner:

You cannot rush a relationship.

You cannot rush the teaching or learning process, on either end of the leash.

You cannot rush maturity or the lack there of.

You cannot rush your skills, or your dog’s understanding of your skills.

My advice to new dog owners, seasoned dog owners, and want to be dog owners – learn how to settle in, learn that nothing will happen overnight. Learn that if you try to take short cuts and try to make it all happen to fit your schedule, or your desires, or your needs, it will come back to bite you in the ass, figuratively or literally.

Thankfully, most of us don’t have to worry about being bitten in the course of doing our work! But once you understand that perfectionism never helps–that it’s always a dead end, and apparently not just for our species–you’ve taken an important step on the road toward joyful productivity.

Read more about perfectionism and its solutions in my book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific.

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