Managing challenges: What I learned from my new dog

This week I have been thinking about the importance of challenging myself. You might think that enrolling in a postgraduate laws programme is a sufficient challenge, but it really runs deeper than that, especially in self-directed study in a discipline that is rather new, at least for me.  Challenge can represent different perspectives. Goal setting and obstacles can both be viewed as challenges. Over the last few weeks, we have had some changes in our family, which really started me thinking about challenges and how we manage them.

Jelly Bean on a happy day

Jelly Bean on a happy day

First, I must share some sad news with all of the wonderful friends of Jelly Bean who so warmly embraced my canine study buddy.  In March our sweet Jelly Bean died after a brief but severe illness.  A very good friend who manages an animal shelter happened to be visiting on that gloomy day. She told me about a young dog who had been at her shelter for over a year. His story is much like Jelly Bean’s in that respect.

While grieving my little friend, it occurred that, since we had space in our home, the right thing to do is to welcome a new little friend in need of a family.  Happily, Jaeger Mister arrived a few weeks ago.  While he is a very sweet dog, highly engaging and incredibly intelligent, losing his family and spending over a year and a half in a shelter environment created some challenges.  Some things are frightening for him. Experts say it can take a a few months or longer for a dog to adjust to a new home. Jelly Bean needed about two years to adjust fully even though I knew her for several weeks before bringing her home. It is a bit more challenging to move in with perfect strangers. Adjusting to life at the shelter was difficult, and now he has to learn how to fit into a completely new community.

New companion Jaeger Mister

Our new companion Jaeger Mister

Now, as Jaeger Mister and I are training together to manage his adjustment to his new home and neighborhood, it occurred to me that his experience is very similar to my efforts adjusting to postgraduate studies. We both have been working hard to figure out what is expected of us and how to succeed facing new, complex challenges.  The key to helping a shelter dog adjust to a new home is patience and structuring their experience of various challenges to help them build confidence.  I decided to apply that training technique to my challenges as a new law student.

Several years ago, I taught a professional development program in negotiation techniques. You might be surprised at how important negotiation skills are and how many professionals cringe at the idea.  My team found some comfort in this diagram:

Coaching Triangle - confidence, coaching, challengeAs Jaeger Mister and I work to succeed at our challenges, I thought that changing an obstacle into a goal is a wonderful way to re-frame the experience and set both of us up for success.  It is much easier to coach to success if viewing a challenge with a positive outcome in mind. A few weeks ago, Jaeger Mister was quite afraid of cars and people passing by as we walked. Today, he has friends in the neighborhood that he rushes to hug and we enjoy long daily walks to our favorite place, now affectionately known as Squirrel Hollow.   He is sitting on my feet as I write, anxious for our expedition!

Next week I will share the wonderful discoveries I made about how to approach my studies and work toward the outcomes I want to achieve personally and professionally, all thanks to Jaeger Mister.  The combination of identifying challenges, turning them into goals, and coaching our way through them truly builds the confidence necessary to be happy and successful, for my new dog and this first year law student.

Caowrites is enrolled in the Postgraduate Laws Programme. She previously earned a BA English degree and blogged regularly about her experience. She studies by distance learning in the United States.

One thought on “Managing challenges: What I learned from my new dog

  1. Lovely to see a photo of quietly inspirational Jelly Bean and all best adventures with your new study companion Jaeger Mister.


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