Knowing Your Limits as Pilot

Men must know their limitations.  – Clint Eastwood

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Two sessions today.  One was a pair of Yorkie mixes who just couldn’t stop trying to kill each other.  Second session is a new Husky.  Awesome lineup, in my opinion.  People sounded wonderful on the phone, and I love the feeling of accomplishment after a session. Both were later sessions, so I had most of my morning off.

Problem arises about 3/4 through my first session.  I start to get that sparkly vision in my peripheral.

It can only mean one thing: migraine.

I tend to get migraines when the barometer changes, but also when I’m stressed and not taking care of myself properly.  Over the past few months, business has picked up dramatically for me.  January through March is usually my slower time; yet this year I’ve had more sessions than I typically do in my busy season!  Rather than booking out a bit farther, I decided to double my workload so my clients wouldn’t have to book out so far.  Hence the stress migraine today.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with migraines calling them headaches is like referring to childbirth as some mild cramping.   Fortunately, I usually get plenty of time to take some meds before the actual headache kicks in.  Too bad they only work 70% of the time.

So I have about an hour to get to my next session, and I can’t see out of my left eye, and my brain feels like it’s trying to squeeze through my eyeballs.

 

Actual footage of my brain right now.

What to do?  Apparently, if you’re me, the answer is to beat yourself up mentally for the next 20 minutes, vacillating about whether you should contact your upcoming client or just yuck it up and do the session.

So let’s pause this narrative for a moment. How does this relate to dogs?  In every way possible.

Think about the two steps involved when you’re working with your dog. Everything from the come command  to aggressive  behaviors.

1) Control yourself.   If you’re angry, rushed, hyper or out of sorts, it’s not gonna work.  There is nothing so urgent that you can’t take a moment to collect yourself, even if it’s just a deep breath before you engage.  Calm yourself.  Walk into another room if necessary.  Or take Liz’s advice:

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2) Control the situation.  You can’t add energy nor stimuli to a situation in order to control it.  One of my favorite quotes is an African proverb:  Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.  Control this moment before you add the next moment.  Sometimes that means waiting for energy to subside.  Sometimes that means taking a dog for a run before I try to work on commands.  Most of the time it just means something as simple as not opening the front door to let your guest in while your dogs are still going ballistic!

Now, as I mentioned, these are the two steps you must adhere to if you want to accomplish anything with your dog.

But I also use this as a mantra for my life.  When I address behavior from my kids.  I ask myself if I’m calm, and then survey the situation before acting or speaking.  When I leave to train for the day, I stop, close my eyes and breathe deeply before mentally running through my day and making sure I have everything.

I apparently I’m not so good at doing that when I’m sick or not feeling well.

I was about to do the dumbest thing yet.  I couldn’t see out of my one eye, and my headache, while finally subsiding a little bit, was still definitely there.  But I was so worried about letting my client down that I forgot that my showing up in that condition would actually let my client down.  Could I possibly give them my best performance like that?  Would I be able to remain safe and think critically in a dangerous situation with a dog?  Resounding no!

We are so busy taking care of everyone else, concerned with not letting someone down, be it dogs, kids, spouses or clients, that we end up letting everyone down, including ourselves.   You can’t help anyone if you are (momentarily) helpless.

So I texted my client.  And they texted back.  And you know what?

It was fine.  They were gracious and understanding.

My first mistake was doubling my workload, as I mentioned earlier.  There’s an ancient story about how you can boil a frog alive because if you slowly raise the temperature of the pot, the frog never knows when it’s too hot, and it needs to get out.  A very true, if not revolting, parable.  My mental rule is usually the moment I feel any heat, I stop, control the situation, and turn down the heat.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do that, and continued slogging along at a double workload.

via GIPHY

Fortunately, I got a migraine. I never though I’d say that.  But that migraine reminded to me to control both myself and the situation.  If I had not rescheduled that appointment, I could have very easily misread a situation and been bit.

So think about all the times, just working with our dogs, that we muddle our way through a situation without really even addressing it or controlling it.

- Answering the door.  Doorbell rings and it’s Bedlam.  Rather than allowing your guest to be pummeled by your dog jumping when they come in, stop for a moment to control yourself as well as the situation.  Are you calm?  Good body language?  Are you actively answering your dog’s question, “Can I bark and be hyper?”.  If you don’t know how, give this post a read for how to Pilot your dog and answer their questions.

- Feeding time.  Does your dog barge right into the bowl after badgering you while you try to measure out their food?  Or do you answer their question (“Can I bully you into moving faster with that food?”) and put them into a calmer state before serenely putting the food down and then calling them over to their bowl?

- The walk.  Is your dog in front of you doing what I call The Minesweeper?

 

Swinging back and forth in front of you like a pendulum.  Or even worse, dragging you where ever they want.  Rather than taking even another step, control the current one.  Shorten that leash, and answer your dog’s question!  Learn how here.  Start slowly, and remember, you have no destination, merely focus on calm.  If you make it to the end of your driveway and back, and you have answered questions to maintain calm, you did it!

By taking on a double workload, ignoring my own body’s warning signals, and eschewing my own needs, I didn’t realize that I was failing everyone; exactly what I was looking to avoid.  The amazing thing was that about 20 minutes after I contacted my client, my headache started to subside.  I still couldn’t see properly out of my one eye (I’m having my husband thoroughly check this post for typos!) Stress started to melt away, and I was able to focus on something more important.  My own health.  My own sanity.  And taking care of the ones I love.

Because in failing myself, I failed them, too.  My daughter had a school play today.  Just a minor part, but she was excited.  All of our family was going to attend, but I had to tell her I wasn’t able to go because I was training.  A session that had been set up a while ago.  I had been beating myself up over not being able to go, but still, I take my sessions and my work very seriously.  After taking a moment to control myself and the situation by taking a quick rest, I was able to attend her play.

Granted, I only saw half of it due to the migraine vision. But I felt relieved.  Better.  Accomplished and in control of myself and what may come ahead.

And now I can’t wait to meet that husky when we reschedule.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

The Beauty of Failure

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“Grow up!” – Me, to my son Eric, aged 12

A few weeks ago, my son did something pretty immature.  Not End-Of-The-World immature, but I had been having a rough day, it was late, and I was cranky.  I finally lost it and told him to grow up.

“Mom, I’m 12″, was his response.

Yeah, thanks kid.  I needed that. Along with the medicinal pint of Ben & Jerry’s, which Eric and I shared.

Problem is, Eric is the most well-behaved, mature, responsible kid I’ve ever met.  I seriously doubt that’s because of my DNA.

No regrets

No regrets

Regardless, I know I don’t deserve that kid.  He’s amazing.  But he’s a kid.  No matter how “good” he is, he’s still going to be just a kid at the end of a (long, frustrating) day. I allow him to make mistakes, and we laugh it off.  I allow him to grow in spite of because of those mistakes. The more I allow for him to be a kid and to fail occasionally, the less he fails, and the stronger he emerges from his rare failures.  But sometimes I do need to remind myself that he’s just a kid (or at least have him remind me).

And I’m still just a grown up.  I may be the adult, but I need to cut myself some slack.  I’m not here to set an example of how to manage a perfect, non-frustrating day.  I’m here to model how to manage in a perfectly imperfect world.  My children need a mom, not a messiah.

I can see it so easily with my clients.   One of my favorite clients called me the other day.  June* had adopted a beautiful dog who almost immediately bit a child on the head(!).  Rather than instantly returning the dog to the shelter to be euthanized, she called me.  She stated the circumstances: a neighbor kid had been playing tag with their preschool aged child, which can easily be misconstrued by a dog as attacking.  The dog tackled the neighbor child and essentially put them in a headlock.  Terrifying to witness, but the dog did no damage beyond a scratch to the “offending” child.

Still, it can be a traumatizing thing to any parent to witness.  June firmly believed that the dog, Ladybug, was not actually aggressive, but was trying to protect her child.  I agreed.  We worked together, and discussed Piloting Ladybug.  Piloting involves answering Ladybug’s questions so she would never be put in a situation like that again.  Questions like:

“Is that kid going to hurt my little girl?”

No, Ladybug, they’re only playing.

“Is my little girl going to die?! Do I need to save her?!”

No, Ladybug, it’s called a swing.  She’s fine.  

June noticed the more she answered Ladybug’s questions, two things happened:  Ladybug started accepting answers a lot more quickly, and she stopped asking questions so frequently.  In short, Ladybug allowed herself to be Piloted.  She learned that June would not only answer all of her questions, but would let Ladybug know if she needed help.  Result: Ladybug didn’t feel the need to monitor every single situation.  Ladybug was free to relax.

 

Happy ending to Ladybug’s story…until I got a phone call from June.  Ladybug had gotten loose.  Simple mistake.  See, Ladybug also had separation anxiety, and while it was being managed pretty well, she still wasn’t too thrilled with being left home alone.  Busy, hectic morning for June, trying to get a herd of kids ready for school, carpooling, etc., and suddenly Ladybug decided she wanted to join the fun. She got out of the house and ended up in the car with the kids some how.

Not the end of the world, right?  But as June put it, the kids saw her lose her temper.  No, she didn’t hit Ladybug.  She didn’t do anything terrible.  She just happened to yell at her a little bit.  June was upset, though.  She claimed she didn’t want her kids to see her like that.

“Like what, a human being?”, I responded to her during our phone call. I reminded June that it was precisely because she had allowed a dog to make a mistake (tackling the neighbor kid) that Ladybug still had a home.  She saw through the situation to realize that the behavior was not because Ladybug was aggressive, but because she was overwhelmed by the circumstances.  A dog had done the best she could…in a human situation.  And had failed miserably. Fortunately June had realized that Ladybug tackling a “threatening” child was merely the culmination of a perfect storm of events, and gave her the chance to do better (which she did).  Yet June couldn’t cut herself 1/100th of the slack she had allowed for Ladybug.  I guarantee that Ladybug had already forgiven June for the slip-up.

I will never be the perfect mom.  I will never be the perfect dog owner.  All I can do is the best I can with what I have.  Some days that’s more than others.  Some days I’m hanging on by a stash of Milano cookies and a glass of Pinot.

Don’t strive for perfect to be the normal that you show your dog.  Strive for best you can do to be the normal for your dog.  Sometimes the Pilot crashes.  Sometimes it’s just a rough day.  Striving for perfection only has negative consequences:  1) you burn out; and 2) your dog panics.  You broke character.  It’s okay.  I promise.  You’ll do better next time. Don’t fail at failing.  You’re going to fail; accept it.  Now either you can dwell on it or you can utilize that failure and grow from it.

Now, as Oprah said, “Think like a queen.  A queen is not afraid to fail.  Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.”

Long live the Queen.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

 

 

*Names have been changed for privacy