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Thinking outside the box

Posted on Aug 28, 2013 by in Current events, My Story & Ideas

outside the box

I’ve written before about my most useful skill – working with dogs – a way in which I can help people and dogs. It is also like therapy for me – I am always filled with a sense of fulfilment when I’ve spent an hour or so with one of my clients. Some days I feel a bit like Cesar Milan, but other days there are challenges too. Most of all, I’ve discovered, it really teaches you to think… and not just to “think like a dog” as the folks who taught me were fond of saying, but to really think and solve problems in a way that I’ve never done before.

Whenever I am confronted by anyone who wondered why I wanted to study the English language (to get that supposedly “useless” BA degree), I am always fond of recounting the anecdote of how I sat in a class during an orientation week at the University of Cape Town trying to make up my mind (like everyone around me) on which stream/subjects to ‘major’ in. One of the youngish English Department lecturers was speaking to us to try and convince us to take English studies as our stream of choice. He was very charismatic and spoke well, but he had a facial tick, which I would remember him for for the rest of my life. One of the things he said was that if we study English we will be able to write better and read better than anyone else. And, as a result, we will be able to think better than other people too… influence them by our words because we can’t just read between the lines, but also write between the lines, as it were. In that moment, I was sold. Seems a silly thing to you perhaps to have made a decision like that on a ‘whim’ or an overstatement of the facts by a teacher (especially since I knew that would not prove true of all the students. Many BA students do just coast. It doesn’t have a bad reputation for nothing)… I wanted to study astrophysics, mathematics, biology, foreign languages and I’d been weighing up for months the pros and cons… what I could do… which electives I could take over and above what I had to do for my degree… and yet, in that moment, I made my mind up definitively. And three years later, after much hard work and dedication, self-discovery and developing myself, my skills with language, a bunch of marvellous subjects I did just out of interest and hours and hours spent honing my ability to think critically, I graduated with a “BA degree in Cultural and Literary Studies in the special field of English Studies”.  It was a wonderful and a terrible time, but what I learned as a student, from a technical perspective, did for me what that lecturer promised me that day or as close to it as I could come by the time I was 21 with no real ‘life experience’…

It was not just a formative time in my life then, it gave me a vast set of skills that have stood me in good stead regardless of the work I’ve done and the positions I’ve held over the past 10 years. I did some other smaller qualifications in between, but my 2nd great, GREAT learning curve was with the South African Dog Training College earlier this year to become a Certified Dog Training Instructor. It was an extremely intense 2 weeks in Johannesburg and I learned a staggering amount, soaking it up like a sponge. But it is one thing to learn a thing and quite something else to do it in practice with no-one looking over your shoulder to tell you what to do. I am also now busy studying Dog Behaviour through the Ethology Academy, first qualification will be completed at the end of this year and then advanced level next year.

I have been blessed to work with all sorts of dogs since I qualified. Many of them were pups just in need of basic home obedience, then there was Rocco the rescued pitbull (who made me feel like Cesar Milan), and then this past weekend, I came up against my first real challenge. A married couple with two grown Rottweilers said they were having issues with the dogs having adverse reactions to people and other dogs and they were so dependent on each other that it made it extremely difficult to work with them alone, but they were often too difficult to handle together as well. Anyway, I don’t want to go into the problems… the point is that for the first time I came up against a situation there was no answer for in my books (behaviour or training) and no-one had ever told me what you would do to remedy these problems. I could explain to the owners some of the behaviours, but not everything, and I had no idea how to even begin to solve the dependence issue. So I told them I would ask my teachers (who had more than 30 years of experience) and then we could take it from there. This I did on Tuesday, but not before I sat for a while to think how I would solve the problems if I had no one to give me advice. I came up with a few ideas and when I sent them to my teacher, Christine, at SADTC, she blew me away when she said it was spot on! I had had to think really outside the box for the first time in my life… not to just think creatively, but to pull together everything familiar to me to come up with a solution for something that was absolutely unfamiliar. I felt so incredibly blessed when I received Christine’s feedback, not just because I now knew with more certainty how to solve the issues in question, but because she validated that this qualification was not just a piece of paper that said I could get a dog to sit and teach other people how to do it with their own dogs… somewhere along the way, the methods and principles of what is needed to work with dogs effectively, had found root in my ordinary thinking processes. For that I am immensely thankful and feel a bit more confident as I go about saving the world in my own small way, one dog at a time.