Another No Good, Very Bad (Rotten) Day

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
-Winnie the Pooh

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

It seems to me that one of the biggest problems my client have is their lack of perfection.  They didn’t do such-and-such perfectly (first try, nonetheless) so therefore they are awful dog owners.  Perfection is over rated and somewhat silly.  Why would you burden yourself with such a load?  Focus on progress, not perfection.  And being wrong, or making mistakes?  Well without those mistakes, we’d be like hamsters on a wheel, going fast, always facing the same direction, but getting nowhere.

 

 

But I digress from the purpose of this post. A story from a few years ago.   Essentially, I fucked up. I’m not only unashamed to say this, but proud, because making mistakes and recognizing that I have made a mistake, leads me to growth.  Here is a photo of some growth that I achieved a few years ago.

*cue dramatic music*

*cue dramatic music*

But we’ll get back to that in a moment.

I know I’m not perfect.  Actually, I’m glad I’m not perfect, because that’s such a high expectation to live up to.  A pretty big job that I certainly don’t want.  However, that doesn’t mean I can’t do the best with what I have.  Sometimes I don’t have a lot, either.  So let’s start with my frame of mind when I first started to go for a walk with Sparta, my dog reactive dog, on the evening of The Incident:

My daughter (River, then aged 8) decided she wanted to be vegetarian.  River has problems eating to begin with, as she has some sensory issues.  I informed her that if she was going to be vegetarian, she had to eat everything we made, because she could get sick, and possibly end up on the hospital.

Everything was going very well, until that fateful day.  I had made something that she usually likes, but she was only picking at it.  I told her that she had made a promise to eat everything, other wise she could end up very sick and in the hospital.

River looked me squarely in the eye, shoved her plate away, and announced “I choose death”.

What I felt like

Actual footage of me during the incident.

Apparently part of “being the adult” includes not getting to smash things when you’re angry.  So I used the PAW Method (as I so often do) on my darling little child.  In other words, I followed the three most important steps to Piloting your demon child:

1) Control yourself.

I didn’t immediately respond to River’s demand for death (which she was this close to getting).  Instead, I took a deep breath and controlled myself.

Because, like, "adulting" and stuff...

Because, like, “adulting” and stuff…

2) Control the situation.

There was no way I was going to be able to make her eat her food without a long, drawn out battle. I knew she was going to try to push my buttons, so rather than fight with her, I moved the fight to my desired location.  Meaning, I told River I loved her, but that if she chose death, there was nothing I could do about it, as I already tried to feed her.  I then told her to starve to death quietly in her room.  She went upstairs as she was told.  In other words, I diffused the situation.  I didn’t fuel it.  Gasoline and Fire went to their respective corners.

3) Answer the question/correct the behavior.

I wasn’t there yet; remember, I had to send River to her room to keep from squishing her like a grape.  It’s okay to get angry, but you are responsible for how you act upon your anger.  In other words, I had control of the present situation (with River in her room)…but if I had added even an ounce of stimulation (say…an eye roll), I knew I could lose it.  And once words are said, they can never be taken back.  So I left River to stew in her room.

Now.  Back to that first picture.

Sparta, as you may already know, is very dog reactive.  That’s why I choose to f walk her at night f I’d had a rough day already.

mostlySo we went for our walk.  I was not paying attention to how keyed up I still was about River trying to commit hari kari by not eating dinner.  Sparta obviously felt the tension and energy I had.

We usually go for about 2 miles, and she did mostly well during those two miles, without a lot of Piloting needed.  However, the wind was blowing pretty badly, and of course it’s garbage day tomorrow, and debris was blowing everywhere, including right at us.  So now Sparta was on her toes, getting a little jumpy (to be honest, so was I – it was pretty bad).

When I was young, I used to think this was my 3rd grade teacher. Now I know better.  It was.

When I was young, I used to think this was my 3rd grade teacher. Now I know better. It was.

Now for the dramatic twist.  Another dog.  I spotted the dog before Sparta sensed it.  It was about 1/4 block away from us, headed in our direction.  The owner seemed to be doing well with the dog, who appeared to have already caught a whiff of Sparta.   The owner was taking their time, and just looked calm and relaxed, helping their dog relax.  I answered Sparta’s question (“Is that dog a threat?”) about the dog when she spotted it, and once she accepted my answer (“No”), I took her across the street so as to control the situation better.  Considering the high energy we both had going into the situation, she did pretty well.  When she’d ask the question again, I’d answer, and because I was too keyed up myself to go right back to walking, I’d turn her around the other way to calmly take a few steps, almost like getting a running start before hitting the gauntlet, before starting again.  She was doing fine, until…..I tugged on the leash, which suddenly wasn’t attached to my dog anymore.  The clasp had completely come undone, broken from the main part of the leash.  Sparta immediately went running across the street after the dog.

Now, I had a few choices:  I could either panic and start yelling and shouting frantically at my dog, but that would only add energy to a situation I didn’t have control of.  So I chose a different path.

Thanks for the reminder, Liz.

Thanks for the reminder, Liz.

I took a deep breath, and speed walked my way across the street. I called Sparta’s name repeatedly, but not in a panicked fashion.  At this point, she had already gotten to the other dog, where she had started to bark at it, and essentially try to chase it away.  I grabbed Sparta, looped what’s left of the leash around her neck, and controlled the situation as best I could given the circumstances. In other words, she calmed down, and the other owner (#OhMyGodImSoSorryAboutThat), was able to safely take their dog away.

Now, a word about the other owner.  He never lost his cool.  He was calm, and looked almost bored, He was essentially an amazing Pilot, especially given the circumstances.  Quite frankly, he was the reason the situation was resolved so quickly: he added no energy, and just diffused his dog, and ignored mine. To make matters worse, he didn’t lob (deserved) blame on me, nor did he verbally try to berate me.  He just took it as a situation that passed, and moved the fuck on.  Which made me feel even worse somehow.

So, he continued on his way, and I took Sparta back home. I sat down in a chair, whereupon Sparta curled up at my feet, just like she always does.  The incident already out of her mind.  Yeah, it was scary, but either we could dwell upon it, or move on. And honestly, part of Step 2 (control the situation) is knowing when the situation is over.  Just let it go. Nobody was hurt. Nobody got hit by a car. I was able to Pilot Sparta pretty quickly, and we got home safely with 1/2 a leash.  I couldn’t be angry for Sparta for being who she was (fearful of other dogs), but I could be proud of her for trying so hard to move past her fears.  She’s an incredible dog who had come a very long way.  She’s not perfect, but I don’t want her to be.  That’s such a difficult thing to be: perfect.  She did the best she could with what she had.

As I was sitting there, my daughter came back downstairs.  She said she decided she wanted to live, and that she loved me.  I told her I was very proud of her, and that no matter what, she’s always My Favorite Little Girl in the Whole Wide World.  We hugged it out, and I knew that I needed to control the previous situation: by letting it go. I didn’t lob blame at her for the situation (just as the dog’s owner never berated me for The Incident).  We just let it go.

So there I was.  Another No Good, Very Bad (Rotten) Day that ended with my two girls, Sparta and River, both doing the best they could with what they had, just as I had tried to do.  Not perfect, but who wants to be perfect anyway.    After all, it’s about progress, not perfection.

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

 

The Art of Not Panicking

Me: River, are you nervous about your first day of school?
River (age 9):  I’ll wait until something happens to be nervous.  No sense wasting it on nothing.

River

A photo came up in my Facebook memories a few days ago.  It’s of River starting her first day of school just after we moved, so she didn’t know anyone.  I’ve long stated that my daughter is the most emotionally healthy person I’ve ever met in my life.  This statement is just another profoundly logical quip from my girl.  Interestingly enough, that statement played out for me today in a completely different capacity.

I’ve long stated that there is no difference between how I raise my kids and how I Pilot my dogs.  Each is in a world that they aren’t quite equipped to handle on their own, and each ask a lot of questions.  If you don’t answer the questions, well…

 

 

 

The good thing is that the more you Pilot your dogs/kids, the easier it is to Pilot them.  In other words, you followed through with your answer this time, it’s more likely you’re will follow through the next time.  It doesn’t matter what the question is:

River: “Mom, can I stay up all night and play video games?”
“No, and if you do, you will lose your computer for a week.”

Guess who lost their computer for a week, and guess who now knows I will follow through with that answer.

or

Sparta: “Mom, is that other dog going to kill us?”
“No, I will protect you and make sure you are safe.”

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

We don’t die on the walk, so guess who believes me next time we see another dog on a walk.

Each little question we answer for your dogs/children is worth a certain amount of money in our Piloting Piggy Bank.  It starts to add up.  So the next time my son asks a question worth a dime, it’s easier to answer because I’ve already got the quarter to spend from the last question he asked (and I followed through on). Now that total is $.35!  Cha-ching!i  

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

And saving money is So Very Important, because eventually, you know that rainy day is going to come, and you’re going to need it.

That day came for me today.

“Hi Ms. Stack, this is Jody from River’s school.  River is having a seizure.  We’ve called 911.  Please come up to the school immediately.”

Yeah, not the call I was expecting this morning.  So I went into my usual crisis mode.  In other words, the PAW Method I constantly preach.  It’s not for working with your dog: it’s for working with your life.

1) Control Yourself.  I’ve had a lot of practice with this one over the years.  Panicking is a luxury, and is very selfish in the end.  You are either robbing energy that can be used towards resolving a situation, or you are forcing others to use theirs to calm you down.  Take a deep breath, and FFS, Put on your big girl pants and deal!  As I like to tell my clients, this isn’t about you, this is about the situation, and the situation ain’t luxurious, it’s crisis.  Wallow in luxury later when you have time to unpack the day’s events.  It’s okay to get upset… just not now.  Put on your Piloting uniform. You have a job to do, so put on on lipstick, pour yourself a drink, and pull yourself together.

2) Control the Situation.  When I got the call, I was on the road with friend about to go on a road trip.  Controlling the situation in that moment meant not adding stimulation to the situation.  Can I drive on a 4 lane road, about to hit a traffic circle while taking a phone call about my daughter’s condition?  Nope.  I pulled off onto a side-street to take the call.  Don’t let panic dictate your timeline.  Control the present situation as much as you can.  Sometimes it means crossing the road when you see another dog coming, or sometimes something as little as making sure you have backed Fido up a few extra feet before answering your front door.  Situations are on my terms, or at least as close to my terms as I can get them.  Once you get the situation under control, let it go.
Could I do anything else from the car while I was driving to my kid’s school?  No.  So didn’t attempt to.  As River said previously about being nervous, “I’ll wait until something happens to be nervous.  No sense wasting it on nothing.”  Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but the more you accept that, at least for the moment, you’ve done everything you can to control the situation, stop.  You’re done.
3. Add More Stimuli.  In this case, getting to the school just as they loaded my daughter into the ambulance provided me with more stimuli.  She was still unconscious, but I could still Pilot myself.  How did I do that?  By allowing others to Pilot me.  You know how I always say Piloting is a big piggy bank, and whomever has the most money wins?  Guess what?  At that moment, surrounded by the school nurse, principal, and 3 EMT’s, I had the least amount of money.  So I had to look to them to answer my questions:
- What’s her current condition?
- Can I see her?
- What hospital is closest?
- Is her current state typical for a seizure?
The more questions that were answered logically by someone who had already controlled themselves and the situation, the more I trusted in their answers.  In less than 15 seconds I had faith that these strangers could indeed save my child.  All based on how their Piloting skills.
A lot of people are amazed by how quickly I can get a frightened dog under control, and feeling calmer and safer. It’s the same principle:
helpers
Seeing scary things, being in a scary situation, it’s all the same.  You are looking for a Pilot. The EMT’s were helping to Pilot me and answer my questions, so that I could in turn answer River’s questions. Act the same way nurses do. After all, this wasn’t my first hospital run with my kids.  Read about why the best Pilots are always nurses here.
During our ride to the hospital, I had to Pilot River while they put an IV in her (“It will hurt, you will cry, and then we will go out for McDonalds.”) I had enough money in my bank to tell her she had to hold still.  To tell her to look at me in the eye, not the EMT’s as they did it.  And guess what:  she survived the ordeal of the IV.
River finally came around at the hospital.  More questions, but again, I had the money in the bank.  CAT scan (“It will take about 5 minutes, it doesn’t hurt.”).  IV coming out (an honest “I don’t know if it will hurt.”). And finally, after many hours, we were home.
So now she’s resting, and we have a slew of tests ahead of us.  She’s got a diagnosis of epilepsy.  More questions, starting with, “What’s a seizure?”.  Honest answers, including “I don’t know” when I truly don’t know.  But Piloting isn’t about coddling, nor is it about being a domineering authoritarian:  it’s about recognizing that unanswered questions lead to anxiety and fear. It’s about respecting an individual (dog or human) enough to answer their questions with honesty and confidence, and not trying to circumvent difficult answers with easy lies (“This won’t hurt at all”), or high-pitched baby talk (“It’s okay honey you’re fine”).  Hint:  If someone says “you’re fine, it’s okay” you know that it’s not.  Don’t lie, no matter how much you don’t like giving the answer.  Most of us are made of sterner stuff, and can handle the truth.
River: Why am I here? Where am I?
Me: You had a seizure.  You’re in the hospital.  Do you know what epilepsy is?
River: The shot my cousin has to get if she eats peanut butter?
Me: No, that’s an epi-pen. Let’s talk about seizures and epilepsy.  And then you can ask the doctor or me any questions you have.
River: Can I get McDonald’s?
That’s my girl.
Keep calm and pilot on
Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio