Things Our Dogs Taught Me: Alternate Routes

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Things Our Dogs Taught Me: Alternate Routes

Our dogs are more than pets —​ they're also great teachers of humans.

We have 3 dogs, meaning the canines outnumber the humans in our household. We adopted them from our local dog shelter in 2009 and 2010. They’re all 8 years old, or thereabouts, and have sorted out among themselves the hierarchy of the pack.

For the most part, it’s a peaceful kingdom.

But it takes only one dog’s reaction to something to elicit a similar response from the other two.

At times, it’s beneficial, like when someone enters the front gate. At other times, it’s a problem, like when dog-that-doesn’t-like-all-other-dogs spies other canines while I’m walking them.

That’s where the value of alternate routes has shown itself.

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I generally keep our morning walk short in the summer because I want to get them and myself home before the pavement heats up. And I have a route that I typically follow because it keeps the dogs in a consistent routine and me on schedule to start my day no later than 8:30.

I’ve learned that the best way to keep dog-that-doesn’t-like-all-other-dogs in a happy state is to constantly scan the area for other dogs and be ready to take any one of several alternate routes home so he can remain unexcited.

I don’t like changing paths on short notice because it sometimes means more walking time or changing paths, again and again, to return the pack home in the same happy state they were in when we left.

But, I find it’s worth the extra effort because it also keeps me in a calm, happy state if I’m not wrangling three excited dogs before I’ve had a sip of coffee.

So it is with some of my coaching clients. I love learning about new goals and new ideas they want to realize. I ask how we’re going to get there to hear what they have in mind for our path forward.

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When I hear very detailed and thorough responses, I nod and get excited with them. What I keep to myself is that this very detailed path will likely need an alternate route...or two...or three.

To use a travel metaphor, I consider myself my clients’ navigator. I hear where they want to go and what route they want to take, and I immediately look at our journey from a very high perspective to see what obstacles, road construction, traffic, or weather might have an impact on our travel.

I begin to identify alternate routes for us to consider in the event of the unexpected, which I expect to occur.

Knowing there likely will be changes to our route doesn’t bother me, but it sometimes troubles a client. Our natural, human response to difficulty is negative talk about ourselves, others, or situations that help us soothe the burn of what we perceive as failure.

When the difficult things occur, I am the calm voice to counter the destructive dialogue going on in my client’s head. The magic happens when my clients see the alternate paths to our destination and we resume our journey.

At the time we adopted our dogs, I didn't know they would be excellent teachers about humanity nor did I know I would be a coach. What I knew then was that we wanted to have the unbridled happiness of a dog in our home, and we have it, times 3.

They’ve also allowed us to learn something of great value: alternate routes lead us to the same home the planned routes do.

Are you ready to find your alternate routes?

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is Principal Coach and Consultant at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

Watch Dr. Gregory Berns' TED Talk about how our dogs love us, based on MRI findings.

This article was originally published at The Mission Coach Blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.