How to use the ‘inner treadmill’?

By Fiona Taylor

During a conversation with a Dog Trainer recently, I brought up the subject of an episode of The Dog Whisperer (with Cesar Milan) that I saw years ago.

The episode was all about ‘fearful dogs’; and amongst other things I found inspirational during that episode was a statement that Cesar made;
“It is easier to cure a dog that suffers with aggression than it is to cure one that is fearful.”

What has all this got to do with Driver Training you may well wonder? … well let me relay where my mental journey led.

I made massive connections during the TV program all about fearful drivers and similar ‘treadmill exercises’ we have engaged in. Cesar’s TV Program focused on a dog that was terrified of noises; especially loud ones. The program made brilliant use of a treadmill to keep a dog ‘in motion’ while they played the triggering noises through a sound system. Initially, the dog cowered and halted because the fear was overwhelming but the treadmill meant that it ‘had’ to keep moving… after only a couple of seconds the dog continued to walk, though you could tell that is was distressed momentarily, but not overwhelmed as we had seem previously.

My dog trainer friend was saying that is is a brilliant technique because while the dog was moving; it wasn’t able to focus on the ‘scary thing’ for too long… it had to concentrate on one foot in front of the other. Keeping them moving is how to literally ‘get them moving forwards’ to overcoming the problem!

The reason that the dog was taken to Cesar was because it was suffering a great deal and needed help. It would sit and cower in terror, and refuse to move! Over some repeated sessions on the treadmill, the dog was desensitised to most noises, and was able to function and enjoy doggy life and walks with its owners. It was a joyful TV episode for me!

I found it fascinating to realise this is a principle I had used on many occasions with both full licence holders and new drivers. Once the Driver has explained during detailed ‘Coaching Conversations’ what happens, before during and after they drive we both have a clearly defined understanding. Sometimes the solution has been a simple one – and exactly the same principle as for the fearful dog… “just keep moving”!

Exactly HOW that Driver decides to ‘mentally keep moving forwards’ can be where the fun begins! Some have found that doing a hazard spotting [ultra simple commentary drive] has been the solution. They found that relaying the hazards to me helped them feel like they were in control. Others that ‘telling themselves’ what hazard was next helped them keep moving forwards. It helped them look much further ahead so that their mouths could keep up with their brains! It seemed to interrupt one ‘fearful thing’ becoming the overwhelming, halting focus; because the next ‘hazard’ was already there to be acknowledged and dealt with.

The process seemed to reinforce the fact that the Driver had already mastered basic car control and that anticipating real hazards was easy as long as they keep their eyes and brains moving to integrate action. They were dealing in a paced manner, everything that had previously overwhelmed them.
It seemed to ‘slow their world down’!
They were no longer overwhelmed.
Everything became predictable.
Predictable is manageable.
Ultimately it soothed their ‘inner-fear reactions’ to the driving environment.
Even unforeseen emergencies were effortlessly dealt with. The great part of that was stopping at the side of the road to reflect… and watching the dawning realisation that they had dealt with it all independently.

The ‘inner treadmill principle’ is a really useful technique to apply to Driver training… to recognise that a ‘fear’ can often be a cyclical issue where a Driver goes over and over and around and around the same thing! It means that we, as a team, can break the cycle into forward, purposeful motion. The fun is to work out together, what form the ‘inner-treadmill’ comes in.

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