Watch Dog – Learning To Do Better

I praise loudly. I blame softly.

- Catherine the Great

I hate blame.  Especially when it comes to dogs and humans trying to co-exist.  Let me tell you a little story that highlights why.

I recently acquired to adorable watches.  One is a vintage Timex from the 50′s, the other is a Lady Hamilton that’s just a bit older.  Neither one was working, and I was hoping the problem was that they each needed a new battery.  So I went to a local jeweler and explained the problem to the gentleman who worked there (and looked all of 19 years old).    He then disappeared in back with both of my watches, returning only moments later with good news.

“It looks like the Lady Hamilton does indeed need a new battery, so we put one in and it’s good to go.”

Awesome!

He then continued, “The Timex doesn’t take a battery.  It’s a wind-up watch. It, uh, just needed to be wound-up.”

I blushed right down to my pretty little danishes.

I blushed right down to my pretty little danishes.

He actually managed to get this out without any trace of sarcasm, condescension nor laughter.  I felt like an idiot already, and I truly appreciated his not adding to my embarrassment.

I personally have never owned a wind-up watch.  I have a general idea of how watches work: you look at them, take them off when showering and doing dishes, and if it stops working, you got to the jeweler to hopefully get a new battery.  Well, now I know more.  Ignorance is a very acceptable excuse in my opinion.  Determination to stay ignorant isn’t.

If I take another wind-up watch to the same jeweler and ask them to put a battery in it to fix it, I’m now a moron.  I deserve blame for not knowing better, because I have learned better.  The same goes for dogs.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

For some reason, people constantly try to blame themselves for their dog’s behavior. I hear a lot of “I tried to do such and such to fix it, but it didn’t work”, and my personal favorite, “I know I did everything wrong”.

First, kudos to you for trying.  Seriously.  You may not know what to do, but you gave it a good effort and a lot of Google searches.  It didn’t work (and maybe it did make things worse), so you called me to help.  I’d call every step of that a success.  Sometimes learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do.

My mother has a saying:

“You’re really going to wear that?

If you keep doing the same thing, and you keep getting the same result, try something different.”  

Combine that with my favorite Maya Angelou quote:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I apply Angelou’s quote to every aspect of my life, including when I’m working with dogs.  The methods I use now are a little different than what they were when I first started training dogs all this years ago – a tweak here, a different word there.  That’s because along the way, I learned a little bit more. I suspect that in another 20 years, my methods will look slightly different than they do now, too. And I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

So stop being hard on yourself.  Yes, maybe you did end up having to call someone out to help with your dog, but now you know better.  And now you’ll do better.

Keep calm and pilot on

First Do No Harm – How to Choose a Vet

“The physician must … have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm” - Hippocratic Corpus

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Clients frequently ask me for advice with regard to their dog’s health, and I will answer them honestly (the biggest of which is that yes, your dog is overweight.  Now do something about it.) However, I have a very limited knowledge base of most things having to do with a dog’s physical health.  It’s not my area, and there are plenty of well-qualified individuals who can answer questions beyond “How do I clip my dog’s nails?”.  That’s where your vet comes in.

Choosing a Vet

Choosing a doctor or vet can be a very difficult thing.  It’s almost as dramatic an undertaking as choosing a pediatrician.  You are placing the health and welfare of your dog/child in the hands of someone else, essentially asking them to Pilot your dog’s/child’s health.  It can be scary handing over control.  So take your time when choosing your dog’s doctor.

Sometimes it can take ten tries before your get the perfect doctor.

Sometimes it can take ten tries before you get the perfect doctor.

Use your resources and referrals.  Do you like your dog’s groomer?  Ask who they recommend for a vet.  Did you adopt your dog?  Ask the shelter who they like to use. Don’t forget to ask your friends, or even post on Facebook to get some recommendations.  You may notice a trend of vets whose names frequently pop up, either good or bad.  Choose wisely.

Just kidding...you can change

Just kidding…you can always change vets if you need to

So you’ve got a recommendation, and you’ve made your first appointment.  Think of it as a first date.

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Things to look for:

  • Clean offices.  No, I don’t expect the floors to be spic and span, but if there is anything other than dog/cat hair on the floor (is that dried blood?!) step away from the reception desk.  Keep stepping.  Right out the door.
  • Friendly staff.  If reception makes you feel like a jerk for just checking in for your appointment, then how do you think you’re going to feel when you call them later asking a “dumb” question about your dog’s symptoms?  Yes, they may be very, very busy, and you may have to wait to have your question answered, but you should never be made to feel stupid for caring about your dog’s health.  Expect respect, for both you and your dog.
The staff here is a joke

The staff here is a joke

  • Easy set-up.  For those of you with dog-reactive dogs, you know what I mean.  It can be difficult working with your dog’s reactivity while out on a walk and another dog is across the street.  It can be very difficult in a crowded waiting room.  If the waiting room is over-crowded, approach the staff and ask if there is another option (waiting outside, or even better, a small room where you can wait).
  • Good communication.  Ask your vet a question, you should get an answer.  Note I did not state you should get the answer you are looking for. However, you should not feel shamed or stupid for asking questions.  You and your vet are a team both working together to keep your pet happy and healthy.  So if you don’t understand a procedure, or a medication, or symptoms, ask your vet.  They should give you an answer in terms you can understand.
  • Good “dog-side” manner.  Yes, your dog is scared, and perhaps you are, too.  Your dog might not like the vet at first.  Allow for some time to get a good relationship between your dog and your vet.  Watch your vet: do they seem comfortable working with your dog?  Do they take safety precautions when necessary (such as a muzzle or another person to assist)?  Those are good signs.
  • And sometimes “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer.    If your vet knows everything, know that they don’t.  It’s okay for them to say they aren’t sure, or don’t feel qualified to make a diagnosis.  Remember, first do no harm!  Knowing your limits (even as a vet) is a good thing.

And makes for wonderful BBC mock-umentaries.

Finally, be aware that any vet can be subjected to biased reviews, undeserved slander, and malicious attacks.   The very nature of their practice unfortunately includes taking animals to the Rainbow Bridge.  Understand the difference between a poor practice and poor circumstances.

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Damnit Jim, he’s a doctor, not a time traveller!

Choosing a vet is a very personal thing. You are asking someone else to care for the health and well-being of a very important part of your life:  your pets.  It’s okay to take a pass on a vet just because you got a “strange vibe”.  Listen to your gut, don’t be afraid to speak up if you have questions, and trust your instincts.  Your pet will thank you with a long, happy, healthy life.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio