Finding the Rainbow Bridge

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If tomorrow starts without me, and I’m not there to see,
If the sun should rise and find your eyes all filled with tears for me;
I wish so much you wouldn’t cry the way you did today,
while thinking of the many things we didn’t get to say.
I know how much you care for me, and how much I care for you,
and each time that you think of me I know you’ll miss me too;

But when tomorrow starts without me, please try to understand,
that an angel came and called my name and took me by the hand,
and said my place was ready in heaven far above,
and that I’d have to leave behind all those I dearly love.

But as I turned to walk away, a tear fell from my eye,
for all life, I’d always thought I didn’t want to die.
I had so much to live for and so much yet to do.
it seemed almost impossible that I was leaving you.
I thought of all the love we shared and all the fun we had.
If I could relive yesterday, I thought, just for a while,
I’d say goodbye and hug you and maybe see you smile.

Darwin circa 2005

Darwin circa 2005

I recently had a client ask me how they would know when it’s time to help their dog Buddy cross the Rainbow Bridge.  As you know, I’m always preaching the PAW Method. The biggest part of that is Piloting. You are Buddy’s pilot to the very end. You will be strong and help Buddy when the time comes. He is relying on you to make a decision, but remember, he doesn’t need a perfect decision. He doesn’t expect you to be infallible. So the answer is, there is no correct time. You are trying to balance your need for Buddy with Buddy’s quality of life. There is no precise moment when the scales tip, and suddenly Buddy’s life is too painful to justify not leading him to the Rainbow Bridge.Points to consider:

-You may find that everyone feels free to tell you what to do, but the responsibility for this choice is yours. This can be more difficult when a couple disagrees, but it can still weigh heavily on a single person.

-Your veterinarian is trained to save lives. That’s what they do, and that’s why you go to them. But all they can do is delay, not prevent. No veterinarian should make you feel guilty for choosing not to pursue treatment, even if you can afford it.

-If your veterinarian is advising euthanasia and you’re reluctant, closely examine your own motives and see if they’re for your benefit or the dog’s.

-People often say, “You’ll know when it’s time.” In many cases that’s true, but not always.  I say this from personal experience.

-Choosing euthanasia is not “playing God” any more than providing medical treatment to save a life is.

-Euthanasia ensures that you’ll be able to be with your dog at the moment he passes so he’s not alone. However, you don’t have to be there with him. If you feel you cannot remain calm, it’s sometimes best for your dog that you not be there.  It’s okay to say your goodbyes at home and have a someone who isn’t as emotionally distraught take Buddy for the final vet visit.  Remember, he’s going to mirror your emotions, and if you are having a hard time controlling your emotions in a scary place like the vet’s office, he’s going to feel that.  Don’t let anyone judge if you should or should not be present:  that’s up to you.-Most people believe it’s better to euthanize your dog a day too early rather than a day too late.

I went through all of this with Darwin many years ago. I wish I could say something to make it all better, but the truth is, I can’t. If you are already at this stage where you are asking me when you know it’s time to put down a dog, it’s most likely that you are already there. You are only now trying to cope with the acceptance aspect. Don’t deny Buddy his right to a dignified ending. He’ll still be there for you until the day you are reunited at that Rainbow Bridge.

So take a picture with him (you’ll want it later). Compare it with the pictures of him from a year ago, and you’ll see the difference and how much help he is requiring from you. Give it to him that help. You know he would love you enough to do the same for you. That’s what dogs do…put their humans before their own needs. Now be a dog, and put his needs before yours. At that point, he will give you his final gift: his gratitude for being the best Pilot you could have been for him.

This is the last picture I have of Darwin (2009).  We said goodbye a few days later.  I still miss my boy to this day.

This is the last picture I have of Darwin (2009). We said goodbye a few days later. I still miss my boy to this day.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry 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