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

 

Total Recall

“I’ll be back.”  – Schwarzenegger  

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

The other day, a client and I both decided to do some work with our dog-reactive dogs.  We were in the Metroparks walking a lovely path, both our dogs on leashes.  Across the field I suddenly saw a black lab running towards us.  I shouted out to the owner (who was standing idly by with noting less than a bovine look on his face) that our dogs weren’t friendly.  He commenced trying to call his dog back, to no avail.  She charged us (obviously only wanting to play).  She headed straight towards Sparta, who was in no mood for her form of play.

 

Fortunately, I was able to control Sparta, and Pilot  her through her questions. Not how I wanted to start my morning, though.  Eventually I had enough control of the situation that I could Pilot the errant dog enough to pick of their leash, and calmly walk both Sparta and the Lab over to the Lab’s owner.  I brusquely handed him his dog’s leash, stating firmly that that was the part one holds.

As the owner of a dog-reactive dog, I have no patience for for the ill-trained beasts running mindlessly around the Metroparks… and their dogs are not much better.  Ultimately, it’s my responsibility to control my dog.  However, if Sparta is on a leash, walking nicely with me, and we are suddenly charged by a dog, even a friendly dog, who is off-leash…there isn’t much to be done.  I Pilot as best I can in that situation, as described here.  Damage control is more like it.

Now, back to the Lab who charged us.  Her name was Abby.  I know this because her owner was incessantly calling it to no avail.

Obviously there was quite a bit of recall issues going on.  The dog had no idea what the “come” command meant.  Abby knew  that she was the Pilot, not the human, and therefore “come” was merely a suggestion.  Which was promptly ignored. It was pretty much a “Stop or I’ll Say ‘Stop’ Again” situation from the human.

So what should have been done in this situation?  Prep work.  One doesn’t just let a dog off leash without working towards total recall first.  How to do it?

Start in a very boring, low-key situation.  The dog park is not the place to start working on the come command.  Your house works best, beginning with the dog a few feet from you. Squat down, and while patting your hand against your leg the entire time, simply repeat the word “come” over and over, in your normal voice.  Yes, this is a command, but barking “come” at your dog will have the opposite effect desired.  Utilize Touch, Talk, Treat (calm petting, gentle praise and a treat) when your dog arrives to you. The object is to look non-threatening when you call your dog, so save the strong, dominant body language for other uses.

If your dog doesn’t come to you, stop calling them, silently stand up and walk towards them, take them gently by the collar and tug, tug, tug them back to where you had initially called them, repeating the word come, come, come the entire time you are tugging them.  (NOTE:  tugging is essential.  Do not drag your dog.)  Practice over and over, gradually adding distance between you and the dog.

To work on recall outside, start with an enclosed area:  your backyard, if possible.  Repeat the steps above, but remember, we’ve not added more stimuli.  There are birds, squirrels, noises… you may lose your dog’s focus and they may not come at all.  Instead of getting angry, shouting or yelling, instead calmly stalk your dog.  Silently walk directly towards them.  They will dart in another direction.  Simply change your course and continue to stalk them from location to location.  This takes time and patience, but what you are doing is setting up the stage for future confrontations such as these.  Your dog’s question is: Can I ignore your request?  The answer is “no”.  You must follow through with this answer.

Eventually you will be able to catch your dog.  Resist the urge to punish: it is the worst thing you can do at this point.  Simply tug your dog back to where you first called them, and offer Touch Talk Treat.

An easy way to help with this is to attach a long, cotton rope (like a clothesline) to their collar.  Tie a few good sized knots throughout the rope.  Let your dog wander around, dragging the rope with the knots behind them.  When you call them, and they don’t come, you have an easy way to catch them: simply step on the rope (a knot will catch at your foot) and reel them in like a fish, repeating the word “come”.  Touch Talk Treat when they arrive. Once they get good at recall, gradually start cutting the rope into smaller and smaller pieces, until it’s no longer there.  That way your dog will never realize that suddenly they are no longer attached to it.

This is an important command; maybe even a life or death command.  Practice, practice, practice.

I still work on this command with Sparta and Orion.  I will work on it until the day they are no longer mobile.  Both have wonderful recall, but…

I will never let Sparta off leash.  She is a lovely, well-behaved, obedient girl, but she is still a dog; one who has dog reactivity.  She is not a machine.  She was bred to protect (or so she thinks), and protect she does.  She isn’t perfect, and the one time she decides to ignore my command could end with tragedy.  So why do I do all this practice and prep work?  Because I’m not a machine either. I’m not perfect.  I may slip up, drop the leash, or fall down.  She may find a hole in our fence that never existed before.  I work on it because I love her and want her safe.  That’s what it means to be Pilot.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

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