Questions

Set your course by the stars, not by the light of every passing ship.  - Anon.

All that sass...

All that sass…

My daughter, River (aged almost-10), and I got into a battle of wills the other day.  I realize it’s part of growing up: expressing a difference of opinions, not readily agreeing with with everyone says, and generally breaking away a bit.  Just because it’s a normal phase (and let’s face it, necessary), doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Or even fight those battles.

Yes, you read that correctly.  I am not my daughter’s “alpha” any more than I am my dog’s “alpha”.  That term actually disgusts me.  What I’m here to do is answer questions for my daughter as long as she needs me to do so.  As she gets older, the questions get less frequent, but more intense and definitely more serious.  When she was 4, she wanted to know if she could have candy for dinner (um…no).  Now that she’s a tween, she wants to know if she can spend hours on her computer and neglect her homework.  It’s obviously not a question that is vocalized, but rather asked through her actions (or lack thereof).  Again, the answer is “no”.  Eventually, she will be at a point where she doesn’t need me to answer her questions anymore (though she still may want to seek my advice). I will hopefully have done my job as a parent, and showed her how to think for herself; how to take information and act upon it.

It’s a difficult break when the time comes, but as a human, that’s my goal:  a child who will always be my little girl. To the rest of the world however, she will be a strong, courageous woman capable of both standing up for what is right, but also apologizing when she’s wrong.

River in full bloom.

River in full bloom.

I raise my kids in a very similar way that I raise my dogs.  No, really.  I’m here to answer my kids’ and my dogs’ questions.  As far as my dogs go, Sparta’s big questions usually involve other dogs, and if they are a threat or not.  For Orion, it’s usually about a fear of being separated from me.  I’m not their “alpha”.  I’m the person who has answered all of their questions in a way that they understand, and doesn’t scare them. I don’t lose my temper…at least not in front of them.  (Hint: It’s okay to walk away.)  The difference between dogs and kids, though, is that you aren’t raising dogs to be independent.  Dogs will always require a Pilot to help them navigate our human world.  The important thing to remember, is that it is still their right to question our answers.

Let me repeat that: a dog is allowed to ask questions, and to challenge the answers you have given them. 

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The key is that you have the right to stand firm in your answer.  For instance, Sparta’s main question, as I’ve stated in an many posts, has to do with other dogs.  She perceives them as a threat.  Her question is usually, “Should I kill it before it kills me?”.

Of course my answer is “no”.  But it is her right not to immediately accept my answer.  I call it the Are You Sure.   The object of the game isn’t to bully her into accepting that my answer is valid and correct.  It’s to help her understand that I will stand firm in this answer, and that I will keep answering her questions until she accepts my answer.

Look at it from a human perspective.  I recently bought a new house, and did a 100% gut and remodel of the interior.  During the process, I was convinced that I wanted hardwood floors.  I love the look, the feel and just the vibe of hardwood.  My husband, on the other hand, suggested tile floors.

No way.

So he set about answering my concerns about it:

It will look cheap. No, there’s tiles that look exactly like hardwood floors.

We can’t refinish it like hardwood. We won’t need to refinish it; it’s so much more durable than hardwood.  

It’s cold.  We can put radiant heating under it.  

So eventually, I took the leap of faith (after many, many more rounds of Q & A). I accepted his answers to my questions.  We put in the tile.  

And I love it!

But bear in mind that my husband did not “alpha” his way into getting me to accept his answer.  He gave his answers in a calm manner.  He didn’t ignore my questions, nor did he try to distract me from my questions about the tile.  He definitely didn’t use an electric shock collar on me to get me to accept his answer (I mean, wtf?!).  He answered questions for me until I felt that his answers made more sense than mine did.   Now, I’m not going to say I can always be this cool and rational about a difference of opinion.  After all, I’m human, and so is he.  We sometimes throw emotions into it.  The really nifty thing is that dogs don’t.  They are logical, sensical beings who, once you have a higher amount of money in your Piloting Piggy Bank than they have, will acquiesce. And the more money you have in your bank, the more they trust your answers.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

I will never bully my way into being Pilot.  I want them to ask questions of me. To feel safe asking questions that I will always answer for them (to the best of my ability).  One cannot use the pain of a shock collar to establish your role as Pilot.  That role is earned, not inherited just because I have opposable thumbs and they don’t.  I answer their questions.  And most importantly, I choose my battles.  Yes, I usually answer their questions (“Can I bark at the mailman?”  ”May I please have a treat?” “Can I pull on the leash?”) but only if I feel mentally capable of doing so at time.  I need to be calm and rational when answering questions.  Not harried and frustrated.  Let’s be frank, the more I answer their questions, the more money I get in my Piloting Piggy Bank.  But sometimes, I just don’t have it in me, and that’s fine.  As I told my husband the other day, I win 100% of the battles I choose to fight with our dogs (and our kids!).

So that battle with River I had? It really wasn’t a battle of wills.  It was a battle of my being tired after working all day, along with her being a tween and trying to move her boundaries forward.  But I’m the adult.  I’m her Pilot.  I knew I wasn’t in a position to Pilot her correctly when I was tired, so I didn’t.  I told her issue was valid for discussion, and that we would address it in the morning when we were both more rational.  I stood hard and firm in that conviction, and gently, but firmly negated her attempts to discuss at that moment.  After a few “Are You Sure’s” from her, she accepted that answer, and we did end up discussing it in the morning.

And you know what?  I answered her original question (Can I have a later bedtime) with a positive.  She presented her answers why she should be allowed, and I agreed.  She was right.  Piloting isn’t always about standing firm in your convictions; it’s about being able to change your views when presented with more information.  That’s what Piloting is about: giving the correct answer, not the easiest nor the most convenient. And that’s how to win a battle correctly.

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Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

Finding the Best Dog Trainer for You

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.  -William Arthur Ward

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

So Fido chewed your new shoes.  Or maybe Fifi decided she wants to kill every dog she sees.  Perhaps you’ve stepped in a puddle on your new rug (barefoot, of course).

What do you do?  Onto Google.  Searching for “a dog trainer near me.  Local dog trainer.  Dog whisperer.  Dog shouter.  Dog guru….”  anything to help you out.  But you need to ask yourself, are you actually helping yourself, or are you stepping into an even worse pile than you just stepped in?  How do you know if the person you are hiring to help you with your dog is actually going to help or hurt your dog.  Here are some important questions to ask yourself.

1. Initial Contact. 

Perhaps a phone call, email, or even a text.  How quickly did they respond (bearing in mind weekends and evenings…dogs trainers have lives too, ya know).  But did they get back to you within a reasonable time?  The saying goes that if a professional has immediate availability, it’s usually because nobody else wants them either.  Yes, perhaps you may need to take an appointment that is a week or so out, but did they show you enough courtesy to return your call?  If they don’t return your calls with questions before they have your money, how readily do you think they’ll call you back once they’ve cashed your check?

2.  Questions.  

Did they answer the question you asked during initial contact, or did they give you some vague, one-size-fits-all answer.  Every dog trainer and dog behaviorist of course has their general speech (myself included) that goes over fees, what to expect, and our techniques.  But if you ask a specific question, are they able to answer it, or do they stumble back into the same speech?

Along these lines, make sure you ask the correct questions.  What methods do you use?  How does a training session break down?  What will we be covering?  It helps to have a list of behaviors you feel are important to address, but a good trainer will be able to spot problems without your bringing them up.  For example, I had a client mention that her dog counter-surfed and would run around like a maniac during the day.  She failed to mention that the dog was horrible when answering the door, jumping and barking, but I knew already that would be added to the list.  This ain’t my first rodeo, as I”m fond of saying.  I know what behaviors travel together, and when you mention one behavior, I know I’ll be addressing accompanying behaviors as well. Like Lannisters and, well, other Lannisters, some things just go together.

3.  Ask about follow-ups.

You aren’t going to understand every single concept your trainer presents to you.  There’s just no way.  You may think you understand what you’re doing right after your training session, but once reality hits…it may be a different story.

Yeah, you definitely worked on Rover’s dog-reactivity during your training session, but now you’ve forgotten what to do when you pass by two other dogs. Maybe you don’t remember if you’re supposed to let your dog on your bed or not.  Whatever your question is, your trainer should be available for answers.  Ask what their policy is on follow-up questions, and if they’re available for phone calls, emails, texts, etc.  after your training session.

4. Reviews.

Do a simple Google search of the trainer’s name and/or company.  What do the reviews say?  Pay attention to negative reviews, but remember to put them into context.  For example, I personally have 2 negative reviews through one source.  All the other fifty are 5 out of 5 stars.  The two negatives?  Both were people I’d never worked with before.  One was left by someone who didn’t like the fact that I stick up for pitbulls, another by another trainer.

When reading negative reviews, keep an open mind.  Same goes for the positive reviews. Did 6 out of 7 positive reviews happen within a 1 month period of time?  Odds are someone asked their friends to leave a review.  If you’re concerned about a specific review, ask about it when you contact them.  Check a few different source materials, as well.  Facebook, Thumbtack, even Google all have their own reviews.  See what’s out there.

5. Methods.

Ooooh….this is where it gets tricky.  You’re asking for help from someone about your dog because you have no idea how to deal with your dog’s behaviors.  If you knew what method was best, you wouldn’t be looking for a dog trainer/behaviorist, now would you?  How are you supposed to know which method is best?  I personally think the PAW Method is best, but I may be a little biased.  Of course I think my method is the best.  If it weren’t, I’d be using another method.  

But I’m sure other trainers think the same thing about their method.  So while I prefer using the PAW Method, there are plenty of other methods utilized to train a dog.  Shop around.  See what makes sense to you.  If you don’t feel a certain method is right for you, move on.  What’s right for one person may not be right for you.  Even my method has adapted and changed over the years.  What I did ten years ago may vary slightly from what I do now, because you learn and grow.  If a method is inflexible and immutable, it won’t work.  No method is perfect, and therefore, room to improve must be acknowledged.  Ask your trainer what they do differently now vs. when they first started.  If they say, “nothing”, move on, because they have stopped learning.

Regardless of what trainer you use, using what methods, it all comes down to one thing:  will you follow through.  Because the most frustrating thing is when a client tells you “it isn’t working”, and when you ask them which part, all they can tell you is that they aren’t sure because they haven’t really followed through. Dog trainers and dog behaviorists aren’t here to pour magic potions on your dog to make them “good”.  News flash:  your  dog is already a good dog.  He’s perfect, as a dog.  He just sucks at being a human. Always remember that when going into training.  You aren’t training your dog to be a good dog, you’re training them to be a good human.

And you’re learning how to be a good dog.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Her Name is Wendy

Nurse. Just another word to describe someone strong enough to tolerate anything and soft enough to understand anyone. – Unknown

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a very, very long time, and last night’s session reminded me why I needed to do it.  I want to talk to you about nurses and teachers.  Oh, yeah… and dogs.  Believe it or not, these three things have a lot in common.  

Last night I hit the lottery with my clients.  Woman’s name was Elsa.  Man’s name was Jack.  And then there was this cute little guy, Rally:

Alias: Get Back Here

Alias: Get Back Here

Rally is your typical No No Bad Dog. Definitely not dangerous; just really really annoying.  No No Bad Dogs tend to be between 5-12 months of age.  They jump a lot, pull on a leash, and may even do a bit of counter surfing.  Technically, they aren’t “bad” dogs, they’re perfect….dogs.  They just really suck at being human.  That’s why we’re here, to help them with that by answering their questions.  Not bullying them. Not dominating them.  You are not their alpha, any more than they are yours.  You are their Pilot.

So back to Elsa and Jack.  Both are young professionals with a brand new No No Bad Dog.  Both are eager to work with Rally and help him be the best dog human he can be.  Neither were prone to losing their temper, nor getting frustrated with Rally no matter how obnoxious he got.   Both humans showed extreme amounts of patience.  Suspiciously so.  On top of that, neither of them ever gave up.  They just kept answering Rally’s questions until he accepted their answers, learning how he communicates, so as to be the best humans dogs they can be for him.

I had to ask what they did for a living.  Elsa told me that she was a teacher (2nd grade, I found out later).  I wasn’t too surprised.  Think for a moment about what she does all day for a living.  She’s a chaos director.

 Yes, Penelope, it's a bee. No, Johnny,  you aren't going to die.

Yes, Penelope, it’s a bee. No, Johnny, you aren’t going to die.

There really isn’t too much difference between Piloting a dog and Piloting a child of that age.  Each ask really stupid questions…or do they?

When my son Eric was 3, we had a very edifying conversation.  We were in the car, on our way back from a trip to the dentist, and Eric wanted to know why we brush our teeth.

“Well,” I explained, taking the imperious, condescending tone that parents sometimes accidentally take, “Right now you have practice teeth.  If you take good care of your practice teeth, and brush them and don’t eat too many sweets, they will eventually fall out, so you can get your grown-up teeth.”

Eric was quiet for a few moments. Then a tiny voice came from the backseat, “Do we get to keep our eyeballs?”

It seems like a stupid question, “Do I get to keep my eyeballs?”, until you realize where he’s coming from.  He literally has no point of reference upon which to draw. Just as he thinks he’s go this whole “being human” thing down, what do I tell him?

Yeah, kid…body parts start falling out of your mouth.  

Second graders may have a little bit of an easier time, as they’ve been around the block a time or two compared to a toddler, but it’s still so difficult for them.  Will I be able to make friends?  What if I forget what’s 2 + 2 on the test?  I don’t care what anyone says, being a child is terribly difficult.

So what does Elsa do all day?  Manage these little humans.  She is charged with not only educating them, but she has to Pilot them through various crisis situations.  Like when little Tommy loses a tooth during spelling.  There is a terrified child with blood dripping out of their mouth and a tooth in their hand.  What do you do?  Answer his questions and calmly be there for him.

Fortunately for Elsa, these children know and trust her.  She’s been their Pilot for a little while now.  They now welcome her answers and even though sometimes she can be The Meanest Teacher in the World (seriously?  Reading homework on a weekend?) they trust her to care for them and to protect them from things like, stray teeth and bumblebees.

On to Jack.  He’s a nurse.  Not only that, he’s an ER nurse.  My favorite.  Think about what an ER nurse does all day:  answers the questions you have on the most terrifying day of your life.  They Pilot you.  Only, unlike Elsa, they don’t even know you.  They have to earn your faith and trust in a very, very short amount of time, while taking care of you, remaining safe themselves, and working as part of a larger team.  Talk about organized chaos!

And sometimes, they have to stand up for you when things get scary. They speak for you when you can’t.

 

When my son went into the hospital at 3 years old for strep, I had a nurse named Laura skillfully Pilot a situation for us.  Eric was stretched out on a hospital bed, frail and weak from dehydration.  I was terrified, as just 10 hours prior he was fine.  Then Nurse Laura informs me that they need to get an IV in him immediately.  So I inform Eric that they are going to use a needle to poke his skin to put medicine in him.  I told him that no matter what, he mustn’t move.

Obviously it hurt. Truly heroic, Eric never moves, but starts sobbing, “Mom, she’s hurting me!”.

Actual footage of my heart breaking.  I was about to start sobbing myself, watching my son crying on a gurney, desperately trying to be brave, accepting that someone was hurting him, and I had to let them.  ”Mom, she’s hurting me!”

Until Nurse Laura walked over by us, leaned down by Eric, and whispered loudly, “Her name is Wendy”.

I started laughing, and Eric got through his little ordeal.  Nurse Wendy didn’t want to hurt Eric, but she knew what needed to be done, and shut out her own emotions to do it.  In other words, trying to comfort him by telling him it didn’t hurt (it did!), or that it would only be a moment (it wasn’t) wasn’t going to make anyone feel better except for herself. She quickly did her job.  Nurse Laura didn’t give us a pep talk.  She didn’t try to convince us that it didn’t hurt.  She gave us what we needed: a bit of levity.  There’s a difference between comforting someone and Piloting them.  Wendy and Laura Piloted all of us, and thus comforted us.

Where do dogs come into all of this?  Well, whenever I’m dealing with a dog who is scared, acting aggressively, or just simply a No No Bad Dog, I always think back to Nurse Wendy and Nurse Laura. I try to act how they need to act for 12 hours straight every day.  Not lying.  Not sugar-coating anything.  Calmly answering questions.  Calmly being there, and setting the tone by their example.

So when your dog is scared going to the vet, or is anxiously barking at another dog during a walk, remember, dogs suck at being human.  It’s not a situation they were meant to be in.  You have to Pilot your dog through the situation.  Not with saccharine words nor with phony falsetto words rapidly thrown at them.  Don’t mix your wanting to placate them with what they actually need. They need calm. They need rational.  They need you to act completely normal.  They need a Pilot.

They need Wendy.

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