Silk & Shadows
Currently working on: Revisions read-throughs
We adopted our current dog, Talullah, as a puppy, and you know those cute puppy videos you see on YouTube? Yeah, we never got any of those.
From the very beginning, she was an absolute monster. Hence her nickname, Monster Girl. She was a biter, a runner, a not-listening-to-anything-you-sayer. She fought the leash. She fought bedtime. She fought other puppies. She was the worst puppy in puppy school. For months, she made me swear and/or cry on a daily basis.
What made the situation particularly bad was that our previous dog, Hannah, was The World’s Best Dog ™ so in comparison Talullah suffered. Not as much as she made us suffer, of course.
While reading a gazillion dog manuals — from positive-only reinforcement to shock collars, Cesar Milan psychology to Schutzhund training — I stumbled across a concept used with hunting dogs. The trainer suggested there are hard/soft dogs and fast/slow dogs that (and I’m paraphrasing a bit here) combine into four dog learning styles: hard-fast dogs and hard-slow dogs, soft-fast dogs and soft-slow dogs. Any of those dogs could become good hunters, but each require a different training style.
Something clicked for me. (See? I too can be clicker trained.) Hannah had been a soft-fast dog. She was incredibly attentive and interested in pleasing, and quick to pick up on anything we wanted. She made us think we were awesome dog owners because she was so easy.
Talullah is a hard-slow dog. Corrections that would have crushed a soft dog like Hannah (scowls made Hannah slink away, even scowls not directed at her) didn’t make a dent on Talullah. And though both dogs would set similar get-to-the-tennis-ball racing speeds, Hannah was quicker to master a task. Which is not to say that Talullah is a dumb dog, but she likes to work through problems herself, given the opportunity. It was me that was dumb!
Once I realized that T had her own style — a style completely opposite from her predecessor — we started making progress. T was a slower learner, but we could also work a little longer, where Hannah would have been bored and causing trouble in half the time. Getting through to Talullah had me and her knocking heads a few times, but as a hard dog, she doesn’t give up, and neither did I.
I had a soft-slow dog writer friend. Harsh critiques could shut her down for weeks, and she couldn’t stand to have other people mess with her words on the page. She wanted feedback, but it had to be presented in a certain way, and she wanted to apply the feedback herself. Once she’d made her needs clear, our critique group was fine, but we had a few rough sessions before we learned our styles.
I have a hard-fast dog writing style. Given too long a line, I will run to the end and choke myself. Gentle criticism like “you might want to think about” or “have you considered” won’t stop me; I need to hear feedback like I just received recently: “You can’t do this because you are going to scare the editor.” Huh, okay then.
The trick, of course, is not just knowing what kind of dog we are, but getting other people to give us what we need to thrive. You can’t always get people to play along, so sometimes it helps to reimagine them yourself .
For example, I always take apart the revision letters my editor sends me and make it what I need it to be. My editor is great about giving me praise, but I’m a hard-fast dog 🙂 A pat on the head is fabulous, no doubt, but I do my best with quick, firm directions. I read the praise, bask in the glow a moment… and then I delete it, so all I have left are the problems that need action steps. I am happy when I have a nice, stark list without warm fuzzies getting in the way.
Whatever dreams we’re after, it helps to know ourselves first. I think we can all be good hunters once we know what we need to succeed.
What kind of dog are you? Do you have tricks to make the world give you the treats you need?