Once I was told if I was not comfortable doing something to “Fake it until I make it.” This meant I was constantly putting myself in situations I wasn’t comfortable with to complete a end goal. In the end it turned into a taught behaviour to myself- I literally put on a show for those around me, even though inside I really just wanted to step back, and get out.
In the long run did it help me with my social anxiety? I will say Yes and No- I was still uncomfortable but I was coping due to doing behaviours that were reinforced by those around me over and over again. My lines were rehearsed so I wouldn’t trip and fumble, my laughter really wasn’t genuine because it was nervous laughter, and even things I did were done because they were more socially acceptable. Its funny how when you need to, you can create a whole new you in order to cope with your surroundings.
Now when I think about doing things that make me uncomfortable it can be hard to still the rising tide of panic that I can feel starting in my gut and working up to my throat. I can feel strings tighten around my neck as I gasp for air and mentally try to wrap my head around what I need to do.
I often thing; if I didn’t force myself into uncomfortable situations in the past would I still have this panic of the unknown? Or would I be SO panicked that I wouldn’t try anything new or unknown?
For example, recently I went to a scent trial with Kingston and Sheldon- only Kingston competed. Up until 2 days before leaving, I thought I had either my mom or my best friend tagging along but it worked out that neither could come due to other responsibilities- this I understood and I held no ill will against them. But now I was traveling alone (a almost 2 hour trip one way) to a destination I had never been before, around people I had never met before. The day and night before were riddled with panic attacks at the thought of the unknown.
Day of we traveled without a hitch- we got to the venue a whole hour in advance. I was the first to arrive other than the judge and the one hosting the competition. Although it was comforting being so early and gave me time to walk and work my boys it also gave me time to think, and overthink what needed to be done.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about the world of scent detection. I am basically self taught other than YouTube tutorials and a awesome class with Good Dogs Gone Bad. I don’t understand what it means to teach your dog to search in a certain pattern or how to direct your dog. Honestly, I tell my dog to “Find it” and let their nose do the job without much direction. When they do find the odor, Kingston gets his favourite food (he isn’t much for play although we are working to change that) and Sheldon gets access to play. I don’t direct to areas they have missed, I don’t have them search in a certain way, I just let them do what their noses are meant to do best- which is smell and I follow along .
The competition was very well run, but I can’t help to think about how nervous I was and how shut down I was with people around me. I didn’t say much, I watched silently with nervous smiles here and there, and when it came to bringing King to the different search areas, my nerves played a huge role in how I rewarded my dog at the end- okay I’ll be honest. I called “ALERT!” and then basically high tailed it out of the area- if I had a tail it would have been between my legs nervously wagging with uncertainty. I didn’t feed at the odor source, I didn’t celebrate, I just wanted out as quickly as possible.
Kingston found all three odors without much hesitancy- although I missed the alert on the last find and he ended up peeing on it in excitement; hey it is a change of behaviour, just not the behaviour I wanted.
I left the competition with 2 out of three legs (Container and interior, we failed exterior due to his pee). I was SO happy with how King performed, even lugging his owner around who was pretty much useless.
I was NOT happy with how I performed (Okay, lets be serious, I have a very hard self critic and nothing I do usually impresses me) but when I look at my performance, had I not been so nervous and worked up I know we would have had a much better day.
So I need new ways to prep myself for stressful situations; obviously faking it until I made it isn’t actually a good coping mechanism. I need ways to calm my nerves so I can THINK all the way through working situations with my dogs.
If anyone has any helpful coping mechanism I’d love to hear them!
Until then, happy training!