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.

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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 Difference Between “Wait” Command and “No”

Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.

Joyce Meyer

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

I hate the “wait” command that some people teach their dogs.  In a world full of useless commands, this has to be the most useless.  I see it play out all the time while I’m training.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Perhaps some background is necessary. Let’s set this story up properly, perhaps using the typical training session as an example.  So I present to you, Wait For It, an original play written by Kerry Stack.

Cast:

Kerry Stack:  Dog Trainer  Beautiful, graceful, always well-dressed with a witty comment on the tip of her tongue (hey, it’s my  play….I can be whomever I want to in it).

Angelina Jolie can play me in the movie adaption of my play.  Our resemblance is uncanny.

Angelina Jolie can play me in the movie adaption of my play. Our resemblance is uncanny.

SophieDog Owner.  Super-wonderful owner, but having some issues with her dog knocking people over at the door, as well as some mild dog reactivity.

Ajax: Handsome mix roughly a year old.  Big boy, weighing in at roughly 100 lbs. Typical No No Bad Dog.

ACT I, Scene I
Sophie’s House

Kerry has been called to meet with and work with Ajax.  Upon meeting Ajax, he immediately rushes up to Kerry, jumping on her before she’s even through the entranceway.  Kerry, knowing full well she can’t Pilot a dog who doesn’t know her yet, simply pushes him off of her, stands up straight, and allows the dog to smell her until he’s a bit more comfortable with her presence.  Now they are ready to begin the training session. 

Kerry begins to describe the things a dog needs:  Piloting, Activity and Work, stressing the importance of each. They discuss Activity, and various ways to make sure Ajax is getting enough (hint: it doesn’t have to be walking non-stop), Kerry also addresses issues with Ajax being bored, meaning he needs more Work.  Now they are ready to tackle the big problem:  Piloting.  

Kerry:  Piloting is the big issue you are having here.  The reason I refer to it as Piloting is this – imagine you are on an airplane, and there’s only one Pilot.  Mid-flight the Pilot dies.  What are you going to do?

Sophie:  Panic?  I don’t know…try to fly the plane!

Kerry:  Exactly.  And how do you feel flying that plane?  Nervous, excited, desperate, overwhelmed and overstimulated.  All because you’ve been put in charge of a crisis situation that you don’t understand and you can’t control.  Who does that sound like?  Ajax.  Each and every time someone rings your doorbell, that’s a potential crisis situation for Ajax.  Is it a threat?  Is it a friend?  By the time he gets to the door, he’s so worked up over the situation he literally can’t control himself, nor the situation.

Sophie:  So how do I handle it, and let him know it’s not a threat?  That I can answer the door without his help?

Kerry:  By answering his questions.  Dogs have a lot of questions.  Most of them are pretty stupid…”Can I eat this?”  ”Can I eat this after the cat ate it?”  Regardless of how stupid you think the questions are, you still have to answer them.  And some of his questions are pretty important.  ”Is the person at the door a threat?”  ”Do you need help?”  Those questions need to be answered, and in a way that Ajax understands.  Dogs are not based upon vocality or language.  Dog’s first language is body language. They have no second language.  Sure, you can spoon-feed them a few words in English….sit, come, etc., but the most precise way to communicate with your dog is with their native language.  So we’re going to respect them enough to use their language in their presence: body language.

Dogs happen to be binary creatures, though. This means that every question they ever ask you will be a “yes” “no” question, and every answer you give them will be a “yes” or “no”.  It’s like a giant game of “Hot or Cold”.  The questions Ajax asks (“Do you need me to answer the door?”) are answered with a “no”.  Just remember, Ajax isn’t bad, he’s merely asking a question, and the answer happens to be “no”.   So let’s practice the body language involved first.

I’m going to take these treats in my hand, put them on the floor, and tell Ajax (using body language) that he’s not allowed to have them.  What do you think Ajax is going to do?

Sophie:  Well, we have been working on the “wait” command.  He’s not allowed to have his food, any treats, etc., until we release him from that command.

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Kerry:  But remember, I’m not telling him “wait”, I’m telling him “no”.  There’s a huge difference.

(Kerry puts the food on the floor, and answers Ajax’s question, “Can I have the treat?” by using body language.  Ajax sits on the floor and looks to Kerry to see what to do next)

Kerry:  So he’s no longer engaged with the food.  Here’s my question: when does he get the treat?

Sophie: When he’s good?

Kerry:  My answer is “never”.  This isn’t a trick. I’m not teaching him “wait” and you can have what you want.  The problem is that you’re teaching him “wait”, which then ends with his getting whatever it is he wants.  Yes, he has to be a little patient, but he always gets what he wants in the end.  So when you’re trying to tell him “wait” at the door, what you really mean is “no”.  As in never.  You never need his help at the door.  Unfortunately, up until now, he’s never been taught to understand that some things are “no”…he’s been learning to wait to get what he wants.  But what if that was a baby wrapped in bacon on the floor?  If he’s polite and patiently waited for a few moments, does he then get the baby?   Or even better, have you ever tipped a waitress for not stealing your purse?  No, because that’s yours.  You don’t reward someone for not taking what’s yours.  The same concept applies to Ajax. The door is yours.  Whomever is behind the door is yours.  

(Kerry works a little bit with Sophie to make sure she understands the body language involved. Within a few minutes, Sophie is able to answer the door without drama, a first for her and Ajax.  For a more detailed description on how to answer “no” for you dog, check out this blog post)

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As you can see, “wait” means nothing to a dog, because it’s difficult for a dog to understand that concept appropriately.  In dog world, either they can have something (human, food, door, etc.) or they can’t.

When feeding my dogs, I don’t use the “wait” command.  I get their food ready, and they “ask” if they can have it yet.  My answer is “no”.

Boot and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boot and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

When I’m ready, I call them to their enrichment toys so they can eat.

When someone rings the doorbell, they ask if I need help at the door.  My answer is no.

Sometimes I put food on the ground, and they ask if they can have it.  Sometimes my answer is no, and they never get it.  Sometimes my answer is yes.

“Wait” involves a mindset that I think we need to change as humans.  We use that word as a place filler, for when we don’t want to come across as “mean”.  But since when is claiming what is yours “mean”?  My job as a Pilot/dog owner isn’t to make sure my dogs get everything they want, it’s to make sure they get what the need.  In some instances, that’s a definite “no”.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio