Buying The Next Tool Won't Solve The Problem

Ring Ring Ring.

(Wait does anyone even have that ring tone anymore? Well, for drama’s sake, you get the point.)

Hi Gary! I got your information from (fill in amazing referral person here).

p.s. Word of mouth and doing a great job are still the two best forms of marketing in my opinion.

Good to meet you Carol. What’s going on?

She proceeds to explain all the things she and the dog are experiencing that she dislikes. She then explains all the tools and techniques she has been trying to use that have not helped move the ball forward. (Pun intended)

If you know me by now (or have been paying attention to my other newsletters!) you may know what I am always thinking at this point...

“You can’t solve an emotional issue with a physical solution.” It’s not my opinion, it’s an observation over the years.

Cue the flashback music:

About a week ago I was chatting with my friend Sarah Von Bargen, an internet traffic and copywriting guru, about my ebook she polished up and our upcoming interview for my podcast. During our rap session (which ended up being a little about dogs of course) she shared with me a common pattern she has witnessed that made me stop dead in my tracks. Its relevance to the dog-human relationship was astonishing.

Sarah said, “Many people buy a thing (a new camera or phone for instance) or a program (i.e. for video editing) with the best intentions of making the next viral facebook live video for their business.” But what she has found over time is that some business owners never actually make the video. In her experience from running Put Your Money Where Your Happiness Is, she found that in the client's mind, buying the “thing” was as if they had actually accomplished the task. They equated the purchase with all the good feelings of actually making the video, or buying the updated desktop version of Imovie with a new completed video with 10 billion youtube views.

Holy shit I use to be guilty of that.

When Sarah shared this I remember thinking, “That’s like a real thing. I’m not alone.”

After working on my ebook for a few days, Sarah came to an interesting parallel between business ownership and dog ownership. She said, “dogs and money are mirrors of us. If you focus on tools you are just moving money around, not accomplishing anything towards your real goal.”

Now I’m not a mic drop kind of guy... but if someone did a mic drop this would have been the time.

Tools don’t fix the problem; you actually have to do the work with the tools. It’s the “be” before the “do” that gets people stuck. For some you may need to “be” more bold for your dog, for others you may have to “be" more patient... and that’s not comfortable. You have to “be” something different to get something you don’t have. There is no tool, pill, or 5 step listicle for that.

Let’s go back to that call with Carol and her continuing dilemma. The list of things the owner purchased and prioritized for her dog to get the change she was looking for was fascinating. After listening it was clear she was picking and choosing the things she was willing to change regardless of her knowledge and how it affects the outcome. The things that challenged her were avoided, the things she needed emotionally stayed, and the things that were not a big deal were easy to change or keep.


Well in my opinion owners have emotions--conscious or unconscious--that they are hiding from by focusing on the reality a tool will create for them. For instance: are you about to use a fancy new collar because, oh I don’t know, you feel unsure about your ability to control an unplanned situation when out on a walk? Address that feeling; it’ll be the cheaper option. Promise.

If you want real lasting change, I want you to think about the following points:

- You have to be willing to put the effort in. Can you not pet when you want to, but know you shouldn’t, even if you had a bad day? Can you put another ahead of yourself for the better of the group? Can you see the long term value or will you succumb to the instant gratification?

- What are you fulfilling emotionally through your dog? How could it be confusing them since they only speak dog, not “please love me” human? It’s one thing to say your dog is like your kid, but it’s another to treat it that way.

-Could you do better as an unbiased listener to your dog? Are you willing to understand that what you want and what your dog needs may be two different things? That’s something we all have to accept. Most people spend time hoping the dog makes them feel secure instead of the the other way around. Can you be what your dog needs? Because you choose him, and he can’t break up with you.

- Think about the power of familiarity: the familiarity of knowing what is going to happen-even if it is unpleasant- can be safer than a new outcome. Sticking with what we know is a biological drive for survival. Are you facing your fears or are you stopping before that feeling even happens? Many people think it’s their fears that keep them from growing. I’ve learned most people never even make it that far.

Back to dog stuff. So how do I know tools don’t fix the problem?

Well, I prove this fact with dogs day after day. I recently posted a video on Instagram of a dog walking with a harness on, two different magic collars, and two leashes.

Was it the power of the tools together, ripping the bad dog’s evil thoughts out of his soul and making them vanish into thin air? Hmmm... I like to think it was the feeling in the environment I was providing at that moment that caused the dog to think and do what I wanted. As a teacher once said to me, a pack leader makes their dogs feel the same way, at the same time, for the same reason.

I find that the more clients focus on the thing or the tool, the more they are missing out on opportunities for change. I like that there is no magic collar for life. Since I had my awakening (don’t worry, this kind didn’t involve some old guy dunking my head in a pool) I have learned so much about being a better husband, being a more positive contributor to the dog community, and being a smarter support system for the dogs I encounter every day who need me. They just want to be understood, and to feel safe. We all want that.

So look at all that junk in the basket by the front door and be honest about what those objects’ true purposes really were. Were they ways to continue to stay the same or were they the tools that elevated your confidence to take on the big scary problem?  

Don’t trade your money to stifle growth.

Next time you hear about a new method, tool, or trick to try, think about what it is trying to hide or avoid. I solve most problems with dogs by shelving what I need and giving the dog what they need, even if it’s scary for me. It’s not easy, but it’s not for me. Don’t be afraid of smart change. New feelings are scary, but if you want it bad enough grab for inner awareness instead of the next as-seen-on-TV dog training product.

Head Rubs and Belly Scratches