Today Gracie-the-chocolate-labradoodle and I wandered over to the irrigation ditch behind our house. We are working to expose her to new experiences, while also trusting her sense of timing in exploring each new encounter that is just beyond her comfort zone. Rather than push or rush her, or try to solve her problems for her, we simply invite her to explore the wilderness on the other side of her confidence threshold.
It was a gorgeous sunny day, and once at the ditch, I gave her plenty of leeway on her leash, but not so much that she could turn tail and run from the challenge before her. The bank is grass covered and a bit steep, so I went first. Stepping into the water, I simply stood there and let her get her bearings. She was clearly cautious and curious all at the same time, but curiosity eventually won out. Offering her a treat that coaxed her a few inches closer, she nervously snatched it up, dipped one foot into the water, didn’t like the feeling, and retreated. But not quite as far away as before.
Climbing up the other bank, I continued to leave enough slack in the leash for her to explore her surroundings but not escape. The distance between us was still a bit too far for her, so I returned back into the water, this time holding the treat a bit farther away. Grabbing it, she made a mad dash back up the bank, but by then I was standing on the other side again, with a firm hold on the leash.
Making her way down the bank one more time, she was obviously gauging the distance across the ditch. Clearly, she wanted to get to the other side, she just didn’t want to get her oversized puppy feet wet. Suddenly, with a daring leap, she cleared it, her feet never touching the water.
We strolled along the path heading back to the house, still on the far side of the ditch, which meant she had another little stretch of water to negotiate. Finding a new place to cross, we repeated the same basic process, only much quicker as a result of her growing confidence. Wanting to see if she had it in her to stretch herself even further, I continued to step from one side to the other, inviting her to follow. By the end, of our outing, she was splashing her way right through that water to the other side of the ditch.
Anytime we challenge ourselves to “cross the ditch”, to stretch the boundaries that have become comfortable and familiar, we are a lot like Gracie.
We don’t like being pushed or rushed as we explore the wilderness on the other side of our confidence threshold.
We need enough room to navigate but not run away from a new challenge.
We need time to get our bearings.
We will probably feel cautious and curious all at once, but given a little time, curiosity has a chance to win out.
We might not like the feeling when we first dip our toe into new water.
We may find ourselves taking a sudden daring leap to the other side, but still not get our feet wet.
And, if we stretch ourselves just a little further, we will eventually find ourselves splashing our way straight through the water to the other side of the ditch.