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

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

A few days ago, Danika posted a wonderful article about her day when nothing seemed to be going right with Porter.  Glad she posted that, because oh, boy, did I have a doozy with my day today.  Only mine involved a severely dog-reactive dog, and this:

*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, this evening:

My daughter (River, aged 8) decided she wanted to be vegetarian. We agreed, but we informed her that meant she needs to eat everything we cook for her, because she’s growing, and nutrition is important.  Fine.  Well, today she didn’t like what I cooked.  I told her that she didn’t have to eat it, but that I would not be making anything else, and reminded her that she needed to stay healthy.  ”I choose death instead”, was the response I got from her.

What I felt like

What I felt like

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 that if she chose death, there was nothing I could do about it, as I already tried to feed her, and could she could go ahead and starve to death upstairs in her room.  She quietly 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…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 (mostly) walk her at night, especially if I’d had a rough day already.  Today was no different.

mostlySo we went for our walk.  Me, not thinking about how keyed up I still was about River trying to commit hari kari by not eating dinner.  Sparta obviously felt it.  We usually go for about 2 miles, and she did mostly well during those two miles, without a lot of Piloting that was 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.  In other words, the owner was Piloting their dog (which kinda surprised me, which in a way is sad).  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. As they were walking away, I heard the owner say something to the effect of, “Calm down Sheila”, at which point I said, “It totally wasn’t Sheila’s fault.”

Now, a word about the other owner.  He never lost his cool.  He was calm, and bored, and 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.  Beautiful.

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 has 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.

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 on