Mountaineering, or scaling high peaks and mountains, is a sport, a discipline, and a way of life I find deeply fascinating, partly because I know it’s something I would never do myself. Between a mild fear of heights, a love for warm weather, a homebody attitude, and the desire to be around my animals, I am simply not suited to the mountaineering lifestyle. Still, I find the courage and tenacity of mountaineers inspiring and, as an avid hiker, I can relate to the peace and presence that comes with difficult physical activity.
Sometimes You Need to Go Backward to Move Forward
I’ve watched countless documentaries on mountaineering, most recently 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible featuring the intrepid Nepalese climber Nimsdai Purja. Purja scaled all 14 8,000-meter peaks in under a year. Why is that feat remarkable? Because it can take months to scale just one mountain. Mountains, it turns out, cannot be climbed quickly for many reasons, including unpredictable weather conditions and adjusting to altitude changes. Often, climbers progress part way up to a peak and then climb back down to rest at base camp, sometimes for weeks, before climbing up again to (hopefully) reach the summit.
This practice is core to mountaineering and can make the difference as to whether the climb to the top is successful. And yet, in many aspects of life, we might be inclined to see this backtracking as a setback: a delay in our progression toward our goal.
Setbacks in Dog Behavior Are Not Failures
Whether in mountaineering or raising dogs that are sound, strong, and spirited—which, as you know by now, is the aim of the Way of Life Method—we need to accept that progress doesn’t happen in a straight line. Returning to base camp so that we can climb higher the next day doesn’t indicate that we’re not progressing correctly; it simply means that we know the pace at which we can make progress.
Often, when people start working with me and making significant changes in their way of life, we see rapid improvements in the dogs’ behavior. This alone confirms just how much dogs reflect their way of life. But then my clients will often let their guard down, thinking that the change is permanent, and we have an unfortunate incident or regression, which can feel like a setback.And yet, “setbacks” like these are full of learning opportunities that make subsequent progress stronger and faster. They are part of our rearing journey and ought to be celebrated for the learning they provide. Without this journey we could not enjoy our successes. Setbacks are like getting some rest at base camp, reflecting on how much we’ve progressed, and getting back up again—rested, wiser, and ready.