It’s an early November morning as I write this, and the final leaves still cling to mostly bare branches.

I brought out a notebook and pen to my kitchen table to write this blog post by hand. With daylight savings, I get to enjoy the sunrise again, the fog is lifting in the valley, and my cup of coffee is especially appreciated after a chilly morning walk with Mazlo!

Today’s inspiration is about tips to reduce overwhelm. It helps to choose what we focus on, instead of feeling the need to focus on everything at once.

It is so easy to lose track of what really matters. And challenging to ignore all the things that need fixing, quieting the frustrations or laughing when things did not go exactly as planned.

We are human after all!

Our minds have a way of spinning, like a lint roller, picking up all the things- big and little- that we encounter on our path.

But, with practice and intention, we can be more disciplined about sticking to our goals.

And, by taking on less, we have more time and energy to focus with clarity.

In a book I am reading, Do Less, by Kate Northrup, she encourages us to ask these three questions before we dive into a project:

  • Does this need to be done?
  • Does this need to be done by me?
  • Does this need to be done now?

The reason these questions resonate with me is because I have a chronic tendency to think I need to solve every issue I encounter, as quickly as possible…. Or (here is my brain sabotaging me…) it won’t get done!!!!

(Does your brain do this to you too? 😭)

This thought process throws us into a downward spiral of overwhelm. Let’s be honest:

We can’t do all the things, all the time, all alone!

By asking yourself these three questions, you can begin to

  • Let minor things go (doesn’t have to be done)
  • Delegate some responsibility (doesn’t have to be done BY ME)
  • Postpone for a later date (doesn’t have to be done NOW)

Let’s dive into how these questions relate to life with your dog, because, let’s face it, our dogs are here to stay! And, if we can form a deeper connection that is more satisfying, or begin to feel a bit more “in control,” we will have more energy to focus on other priorities.

1. Does this need to be done?

Well, I am assuming if you are reading this newsletter that you have a dog. And, if you have a dog, you have a responsibility to that dog.

And, no matter where your dog lies in the spectrum of “trained,”  you must deal with her behavior (good/bad) no matter what.

And there are routines and daily dog requirements that consume your time. Am I right?

If you are nodding to any of this… the answer is YES, ‘this’ must be done!

(The this’ is any area of your dog related life that you care to improve).

Working with my dog does need to get done (even though at this point it might feel messy), so let’s continue down the list to see if we can make some adjustments to improve life with your dog!

Let’s narrow down that focus even more by identifying ways to make time with our dog better, cleaner more enjoyable, more positive, more efficient and more soul satisfying (so we get more value back from this time spent).

→ Action: Identify an area for improvement 

Is there an area of dog-life that bothers me daily/often that I can begin to improve?

2. Does this need to be done by me?

This is a tricky one for me (and maybe for you too?), because I sometimes feel that it might NOT get done if I trust someone else with the responsibility…. Or it might not get done as well as I would do it.  

Let’s begin by identifying what “IT” is that needs to be done:

  • Train the dog
  • Feed the dog
  • Groom the dog
  • Walk the dog
  • Socialize the dog
  • Take the dog to the groomers
  • Give meds
  • Fill in the blank

“It must be done by me” is a story I tell myself that is simply not true! There are many things others can help me with!

By believing this story, I rob others from the satisfaction of participating, and I keep myself in the trap of overwhelm.

“I must do this myself” might mean it gets done faster, better, neater etc… (or not!), but regardless, it keeps us in the forever cycle of overwhelm. Because, my friend, if you feel this way about dog care, you probably feel it even stronger in other areas of your life too!

→ Action: Getting others to help ←

Are there areas of dog-care that others can help me with?

  • Ask the kids to feed the dog (regular chores)
  • Ask your spouse to add a dog walk after she comes home from work (or after dinner)
  • Ask the teenager across the street to dogsit one afternoon so you can visit a good friend across town
  • Hire a dog walker a few days a week so your dog gets more exercise and you can get some time back for other things

It is okay if your helpers don’t do it exactly the same way you do! And, while you might need to review some manners or dog training with your dog as a result, it is okay! You and your dog will figure this out!

3. Does this need to be done now?

Ahhh, this is my favorite question! This is where we sit down and brain dump all the things!

Go ahead and list every single thing that needs to be done, improved, reinforced, taught.

Just the act of writing it down will make you feel better! Your to-do list will leave your brain (where we hold it indefinitely) and place it safely onto a piece of paper.

There you will see that your list of what needs to get done is exhaustive and unrealistic. We can’t make all of the things on that list a TOP priority!

So, the next step after the brain dump is to sort and categorize:

  • Most important
  • Can wait until later
  • Can I get help with this

In my online course, The Puppy System, I actually do this work for my students!  I know it is impossible to train your dog ALL the correct behaviors on day 1! That would be a recipe for overwhelm!

So, each week I deliver the next set of lessons! Training is wrapped up in a nice bow and delivered to their inbox so the priorities and lessons are sequenced step by step- removing the burden of having to work on every aspect of training all at once!

How is a new puppy parent supposed to know where to start?

You can do this sorting and sequencing for yourself, whatever stage you are in with your dog. Here are some tips to help you prioritize:

1. Begin with a foundational area that needs attention sooner rather than later. Is there a behavior that is either dangerous (won’t come when called), or violent (reactive/aggressive) or a daily nuicance (barking, pulling on leash, jumping…)

2. Once you have picked a foundational behavior to work on first- prioritize it!

3. Make a game plan! How will you begin to improve this behavior?

4. Research solutions, ask friends for advice, hire a trainer!

5. Implement and stick with it!

→ Action: Pick a foundational behavior as your top priority to work on now. ←

Make a game plan for how to begin working toward improvement in this area

The game plan becomes a commitment, and you will feel a sense of relief that you know exactly what to work on first!

While there are going to be other behaviors on your list that are also important to you, they can wait until later.

Dre Nolon is the founder of My Loyal Hound, a digital space where dog parents can find tips, resources and training methods for building strong, loving relationships with their canine counterparts. Dre is also the creator of The Puppy System, an easy-to-follow virtual puppy training course that turns new puppy parents into confident leaders raising the dogs of their dreams – in just four weeks! Learn more about The Puppy System and enroll today here.