Murphy is Forgiving

I remember when someone pointed out to me that Murphy is forgiving. At the time, it was meant in the context of him being forgiving of my mistakes – my poor timing and errors I made in agility practice. But that forgiveness that Murphy possesses goes deeper than excusing communication mistakes. He forgives me when I am emotional. He is the first being I’ve known to not only accept when I am being a certain way (call it irritated, call it over tired, call it on edge), but he empathizes with me. It appears to me that he can feel empathetic toward me when I am struggling, and Murphy definitely knows me well enough to know when I just need a break and a hug. 

What a vulnerable emotion, frustration is. It implies a lack of self control, a sense of incompetence, a possibility for disappointment, even embarrassment. Why does frustration feel so aversive? Why does it feel like control is slipping away, even when it isn’t? Why does it make us feel like whatever it is that is challenging us needs to be fixed, now… right now? What is the bad thing that will happen if something doesn’t happen the way you envisioned, immediately? I was going through my KPA-CTP certification course when I became aware of how frustration played a role in my communication with animals, and that role was bigger than I wanted it to be. If I didn’t get it right away and well, I was frustrated. If Murphy didn’t get it right away and well, I was frustrated. But on the positive side, that self awareness helped me replace frustration with emotions like calm, peace, joy, satisfaction, understanding and empathy. It didn’t happen overnight. It took time, forgiveness and a willingness to change that turned my relationship with Murphy from a one-sided forgiving one, to a wholesome, loving and patient one. 

Frustration feels like a zap going through my body. That zap tells me: you are wrong, you are not doing enough, do it again but better this time. It feels icky, but it motivated me to keep pursuing a behavior. Now that I better understand this emotion, I see that being motivated by frustration is not a healthy way to interact. Instead, pausing, reassessing my training plan and environment, breaking things down into baby steps to find the error in communication and changing my own behavior are truly the only ways to produce better results. That zap you feel when your dog isn’t doing the thing you want them to do provides information, it is what you do with that information and with your behavior that makes you a cooperative teacher.

Not only was I able to replace frustration with more positive emotions, but I was able to do so by replacing my ignorance with knowledge and skills that helped me be a better trainer. Once I became a better trainer, my mistakes disappeared, and therefore so did Murphy’s. My timing was quicker, my cues were clearer, my body language was organized and strategic and my intentions were to provide as much clarity as possible for my learner so he would be successful – not for myself to be successful. 

I like to say that Murphy is my mirror. When I am sad, he looks sad. When I am happy, his whole body wiggles. He does not allow an emotion of mine to go unnoticed. This is of course because he gets valuable information from my emotions. Nowadays, if I feel frustrated, the last thing I do is pick up my treat pouch to teach something to a dog. If I think I am going to snap at someone by even raising my tone or giving a hard stare, it is the wrong time to train. The only time I train is if I am in a good mood, feeling positive and excited for the potential outcomes of a session. I want my learner to be successful, and no one is successful under a frustrated teacher.

Growth can come from frustration. I have also seen behavior go in the opposite direction, feeding into the frustration, justifying it, labeling it, acting on it, even using it. I chose not to suppress anger, but to identify its core, address that core, fix and change what I could, and heal what I couldn’t. I believe I have not only become a better trainer as a result, but a better person. I feel happier, more aware that I cannot always change others or their behaviors, but I can manage and work to modify them to the best of my ability. 

I have also committed to doing so kindly, with forgiveness and grace for mistakes and emotions, just like Murphy taught me.