You can’t stop progress!

“You can’t stop progress” was said to me once when I was younger. I don’t remember what it was about at all, but I do remember the feeling of helplessness I was left with.

It was a different context but it means the same thing. We can’t stop progress. And I hate feeling helpless. So instead of feeling helpless against it, learn to identify it. It so often happens without our noticing — when you’re living something every day, it is hard to see any change. And sometimes the direction of the progress is not what we expected or wanted. But,

“there is no such thing as bad progress” ~Chad Mackin

We need to be able to identify progress in order to see it and influence it. This means looking at the elements of what’s going on, in context. The elements, as identified for me by Chad*, are frequency, intensity, distance, and duration/recovery. The context depends on whether you are working on a problem behaviour or building a wanted behaviour.

  • Frequency: how often does the behaviour occur, or not?
  • Intensity: how strongly is the behaviour demonstrated?
  • Distance: how far away or close are you to to the trigger or target?
  • Duration/Recovery: how long does the dog stay in behaviour, or how quickly do they return to normal?

And note, sometimes there will be progress in only one or two of these elements at a time, which can make it much harder to identify. Maybe you’re seeing the same intensity, so missing that your dog recovered more quickly. Maybe you’re missing the change in intensity of the bark, because the bark is still happening (and that’s embarrassing!).

  • If your dog was reacting 10 times out of 10 and now reacts 9 times out of 10, that’s progress!
  • If there is more enthusiasm to follow you into a game of tug, that’s progress!
  • If your cat is getting closer to the litter box to toilet, that’s progress!
  • If your dog recovers composure faster than they used to, that’s progress!

Once you identify it, celebrate it! It is so easy to downplay it, say it’s only one less time, only a little less intense, only half a metre closer, only went for a minute less… It’s progress, and it’s all significant.

As you get better at identifying it, you will also find you’re more able to influence it… make things happen… and feel less helpless!

We can’t stop progress, so what if we tune in, find it, and celebrate it?

Celebrate progress and try not to be too hard on yourself, eh?


*I originally made notes about this topic in 2019, very inspired by Chad Mackin in Episode 18 of his Something to Bark About podcast and in a Facebook post. Recovering from major surgery brought the elements back to mind as I couldn’t see my progress, and inspired me to get writing.

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