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

 

 

The Most Aggressive Breed?

You’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.  - Benjamin Hoff

Credit: Angelina Litvin

Credit: Angelina Litvin

I posted a photo on the Darwin Dogs Facebook page recently.  I found it excessively humorous.  What do you think?

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

So many veterinarians, vet techs, dog lovers, etc. responded with laughter and a knowing nod of their heads.  Some even countered with “Dachshunds”.  One idiot tried to claim that Pitbulls were on the top of that list.  As usual with anything I post on Facebook, I had a PM sent to me offering dissent:

I would like to ask that you take down and/or address this post. I really don’t find it fair to perpetuate stereotypes about any breed of dog, particularly as someone people look to for advice on these sorts of things.

At first blush,  it would appear that the author is correct.  But what they are confusing is three separate issues, or as I like to put it, Why I Have A Career Dog Training.  Because let’s face it, if it weren’t for these three issues, nobody would need help with their dog’s behaviors. So let’s tease this out:  are Chihuahuas inherently aggressive?

 

ISSUE 1:
YOU HAVE A PUREBRED, BUT UNDERESTIMATED BREED STANDARDS

The dissenter was annoyed that I was perpetuating  a stereotype of a breed standard.  But as I have stated many times, I’m not against breed profiling; I’m against inaccurate breed profiling.  Let’s face it, if I wanted a dog to herd cattle, I wouldn’t be looking at a poodle. If I wanted a dog to clean out all the vermin in my farm, I wouldn’t want a Staffie (honestly, most pitbulls would count them as their new friends).

dec15c

So obviously this is profiling breeds.  So is the fact that I will NEVER get another Shepherd mix from the shelter…

I love my Sparta so much, but I long to wear white clothes again without fur.  Or any clothes without fur. Or coffee without fur...or PB&J.

I currently own two Roomba vacuums in addition to my upright vac.

Of course you can state that how much a breed sheds is only a profile of their physical attributes, but let’s delve deeper.

- If I were to mention a dog that likes is obsessed with water, would you be able to come up with a breed off the top of your head? Maybe a Lab or a Golden.

- If I asked what dog is good at guarding flocks, Great Pyrenees immediately come to mind for me.

- What about dogs who tend to have a very high prey drive?  Jack Russells, and Irish Terriers immediately come to mind.

Now, does that mean all Labs love water?  No.  Only the vast majority.  Are they the only dog who likes water?  Obviously not.  But love of the water is what they were bred to have. Pyrenees were bred to be, according to the AKC:

“In nature, the Great Pyrenees is confident, gentle, and affectionate. While territorial and protective of his flock or family when necessary, his general demeanor is one of quiet composure, both patient and tolerant. He is strong willed, independent”

And while I have no use for the AKC due to their love of registering dogs, but disdain for actually stepping  up for animal welfare (**cough cough** PUPPY MILLS **cough cough), they do have a rather succinct description for each  breed’s general temperament.  And honestly, I’ve found most of these to be spot on. Side note:  I love that when describing Pyrenees, they used the word “independent” rather than “stubborn”.  I hate the word stubborn.

So when someone calls me and asks me for help with their Border Collie who is destroying everything in their house, I know to start by discussing Activity and Work.  Are you giving your Border Collie enough exercise to equal herding sheep for 8 hours a day? Are you using the right dog for the right job?  Didn’t think so. What kind of mind games are you giving to your Border Collie, the dogs I call the Hermione Grangers of the dog world?  None?  Well, there’s your problem.

So don’t get a Jack Russell if you enjoy squirrels in your yard.  Or do…just realize you will be spending a lot of time Piloting them (unless you enjoy the sound of squirrels screaming, you twisted monster).  Which leads me to the second, bigger reason why people need help with their dog’s behaviors.

ISSUE 2:
YOU TREAT YOUR DOG AS A BREED RATHER THAN AN INDIVIDUAL

Wait, didn’t I just state that breed standards are important?  Yes, they are.  Especially for purebred dogs that you didn’t get from a puppy mill (sorry, if you got your dog in “Amish Country” or from a pet store, it’s a puppy mill dog). Reputable breeders strive to maintain healthy breed standards.   But there are always outliers.  The Border Collie who is terrified of sheep.  The Lab who hates water (haven’t met one yet, though).  It’s like the kid whose parents are forcing him to major in medicine because he comes from a long line of doctors.  They failed to notice that the child has no brains in their fingers, and will therefore never make a great surgeon.  Plus the fact the poor kid faints at the sight of blood.  But no child of mine will be a writer!  Med school for you, boy!

This is a big reason why I love shelter dogs.  Most of the time they are Frankenmutts.  It’s exceptionally difficult to determine their breed(s) without DNA tests.  And even then, they tend to look like a Pollock painting of different breeds, with no single breed comprising more than 8% of said dog.

 

His owner stated:Boxer/pit/husky??? That's our best guess anyway. He is the #3leggedwonderdog. He runs agility with me and amazes everyone that meets him

His owner stated: Boxer/pit/husky??? That’s our best guess anyway. He is the #3leggedwonderdog. He runs agility with me and amazes everyone that meets him

ISSUE 3:
YOU AREN’T PILOTING  YOUR DOG ENOUGH

Your dog doesn't want to be Pilot.

Your dog doesn’t want to be Pilot.

Lack of Piloting is the huge issue my clients have.  What is Piloting?  Essentially answering your dog’s questions.  For example, my Sparta:

Sparta:  Can I kill our new cat?

Me: Um….no.

Ta-da!  I answer her question.  Now, the more you Pilot, the easier it gets.  When I first got our cat Echo many, many years ago, Sparta did want to kill him.  So I took things easy, and answered every single one of her questions.  Years later, they are kindred spirits and often hang out together.  But it took a while before I felt I had Piloted Sparta enough to start to trust (let alone anticipate) my answers.  Because that is the ultimate goal of Piloting:  to help them anticipate the answer.

About 3 years ago I brought in another kitten.  While I still had to Pilot Sparta around the newbie, it wasn’t nearly as arduous as when I got Echo.  Not only had Sparta and I been through the whole ordeal previously, but there was another three years worth of random questions I had answered for Sparta in between getting those two cats.  Can I eat out of the litter box?  No, Sparta.  Can I play rope toy roughly? Not right now, Sparta.  Is the postman a threat? No, Sparta.  Do  you want me to be calm when I see a squirrel in the yard?  Yes Sparta!  Nice job!

So each question I answer for her is “money” out of her Piloting Piggy Bank.  It goes into my Piloting Piggy Bank.  And remember, whoever has the most money wins.  Let’s also bear in mind what the definition of “anxiety” is:

Anxiety: noun
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

In other words, fear of the unknown…unanswered questions. Start Piloting your dog.  Most people don’t understand that their dogs need to have Piloting.  Or if they have an idea, they don’t understand how to tell their dog that the mailman isn’t going to kill them.  But if your dog actively shirks from new people, or they are inherently suspicious of other dogs, I don’t care what breed of dog they are, or what the breed standard says they should be: don’t force Wally the Golden Retriever to be a therapy dog just because a lot of therapy dogs are Golden Retrievers! Work with the dog you have, not the breed you bought.

Photo: Alice Dote

Photo: Alice Dote

Those are the three reasons why a dog owner parent may call me for help with their dogs behaviors.  So let’s apply that to the original issue:  that meme.

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

Why Chihuahuas? Why did so many people share this, and laugh and agree?  Because it’s true.  There were some of you who voted for Dachshunds, too…for the same reasons I’m about to write about below.

ISSUE 1:
YOU HAVE A PUREBRED, BUT UNDERESTIMATED BREED STANDARDS

What does the AKC have to say about Chihuahuas?

General Appearance: A graceful, alert, swift-moving compact little dog with saucy expression, and with terrier-like qualities of temperament.

Temperament: Alert, projecting the ‘terrier-like’ attitudes of self importance, confidence, selfreliance [sic]

Meaning, they won’t accept an answer from you Because You Said So. Remember, you need to have a good reason why your answer is better than theirs.  And “I’m The Human” doesn’t cut it.

ISSUE 2:
YOU TREAT YOUR DOG AS A BREED RATHER THAN AN INDIVIDUAL

Fifi is a Chihuahua.  Not a doll. Not the child you always wanted. She is a full grown dog.  Maybe she’s more frightened of loud noises than most Chihuahuas you’ve known.  Maybe she’s not as “terrier like” as the AKC describes Chihuahuas.  That shouldn’t matter.  You aren’t Piloting a breed standard.  You are Piloting Fifi.  Now do your job.  The job you have.  Not the job you want.  I never wanted a dog-reactive dog.  But Sparta has always had a lot of questions about other dogs.  Does that make her bad or aggressive?  No.  It means she has a question that as her Pilot, I’m accountable to answer.  And I do.

ISSUE 3:
YOU AREN’T PILOTING  YOUR DOG ENOUGH

As seen from the general breed standard description above, Chihuahuas don’t need your help.  Fortunately, though, like all dogs, they are logical.  If you have a better answer, they are more than willing to hear it and act upon it…if it seems logical to them.  The beauty of a dog is that they are able to change their minds based upon new information, just like  Facebook arguments no human ever.  So your Chihuahua, Fifi, is asking you if  you need to be protected from your 5 year old grandchild who just came over for a hug.

What you see:

What Fifi sees:

You didn’t answer Fifi’s question, namely, “Is Reagan/Demon Child going to kills us?”, and the absence of “no” is “yes”.  Therefore Fifi is protecting you.  Sure you yelled at Fifi. You ranted at Fifi.  But all you did was prove that you are not in control of yourself enough to answer anybody’s questions.  By default you asked Fifi to protect you, so she did.  Is Fifi aggressive?  Resoundingly no! Fifi merely handled the situation as appropriately as she could, based upon the information she was given.   Learn to Pilot your dog, so poor Fifi doesn’t have to be The Destroyer of Ankles. 

Learn the Piloting position.  If you have Fifi in a position to protect you, on your lap, facing said stranger, then she will protect you.  Don’t ask for protection via body language, because Fifi will indeed protect you.  And she’ll do a good job of it!

Less of this:

Please don't do The Pretzel.

Please don’t do The Pretzel.

More of this:

RuPaul knows: posture counts!

RuPaul knows: posture counts!

But *never* do this:

You look stupid, Riker.

True Piloting from a seated position.


So your posture is truly important, especially in a seated position with a dog on your lap. I have a friend who is a vet.  She introduced me to the term “Lap Shark”.  We all know them.  They aren’t exclusive to Chihuahuas by any means, but are almost entirely comprised of dogs who weigh less than 7 pounds who are always perched jauntily upon their owners laps.  Now, I love hanging with my dogs, and more often than not, that includes lap-time.  But there’s a difference between hanging out for cuddles and a dog who is staking a claim upon me, and letting others know that I’m their human.

Unfortunately, it seems as if Chihuahuas bear the brunt of this.  Are they aggressive by nature?  As a breed, no!  No more so than any other dog.  But if they don’t have answers to their questions about your/their safety, of course they are going to react!

So please, stop asking your dog to protect you!  I’ve never actually met a truly aggressive dog.  There is no such thing.  All there are is dogs who have never been Piloted for the situation they have been thrust in. Dogs who have accidentally asked to Pilot and protect.   A dog who is doing the best they can, and sometimes that means teeth.  Believe me, I’ve been bitten many times, but never by what I’d determine an “aggressive dog”.

If a dog tells you they are going to bite, they are going to bite. The beauty of dogs is that they never lie.  So when little Fifi is sitting on Grandma’s lap snarling, she is telling you that if you come closer, she will be forced to bite you. But since she’s such a small dog, nobody takes her seriously, and the human forces the issue.  Nobody would do this with a larger dog.  Poor Fifi is a victim of her size.

So the bottom line:  are Chihuahuas more likely to bite than other dogs?  Possibly.  I’ve been bit by more Chihuahuas than any other breed of dog.  I work with more Chihuahuas than I do Sharpeis or Borzois, simply because of the popularity of Chihuahuas. However, as far as dog breeds go, who is set up for failure more than any other dogs?  Arguably Chihuahuas.  The numbers alone are against them:  born in a puppy mill.  Sent to a home where they want The Perfect Little Dog, but aren’t willing to Pilot their little Fifi.  Treated like trinkets and dolls rather than capable, independent beings.  Not given activity, mental work.  Never given credit for having minds of their own. And worst of all, being asked to protect themselves from all forms of danger, most of it on an order of magnitude, 50 times their size!!!! So why are Chihuahuas No. 1 on that list? 

Because we put them there.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training In Cleveland, Ohio