At 50, I’ve put in 30 years now as a professional, and in every one of those years, I’ve managed to make unique mistakes that I hadn’t made before. I’m working hard on natural horsemanship trainer Pat Parelli’s theory that to be a real trainer, you have to make at least 3000 mistakes. Each one of them different. And then, maybe, just maybe, you know enough to call yourself a trainer.
Assuming you make just one mistake a day, that’s 8 plus solid full time years of working at it every day. (Another reason professional trainers should live with dogs – how the hell else are you going to squash in the sufficient number of mistakes if all you see are clients’ dogs??? Personal dogs help us up our daily mistake quotas!).
And here’s what I find endlessly humbling – it’s that after 30 years spent in the company of animals, I have yet to run out of ways to make mistakes. Without even trying hard, I can think of 6 mistakes I made just today, and sad to report, all of them were ones I’ve made before. Slow learner…
What sets the professionals apart from the “I’ve always wanted to be a trainer!” dreamers is the willingness to swallow hard on rough days where mistakes are big ones. It’s okay, I think, to do what often soothes me on such days: put the pillow over my head and lay there having a long discussion with myself regarding the merits of raising African violets vs. being involved with dogs.
But then I get up, and look myself in the mirror, ask the animals to forgive me and could they please continue to try to teach me, and once again I realize that the dogs will forgive me, and I can keep learning, and life goes on.
While reviewing the countless mistakes of my career, what I see are the eyes of every dog that I failed or hurt or misunderstood. And there are so many. At some times, I think that continuing to work as I do as a professional is the only suitable penance for those eyes.