The Art of Not Panicking

Me: River, are you nervous about your first day of school?
River (age 9):  I’ll wait until something happens to be nervous.  No sense wasting it on nothing.

River

A photo came up in my Facebook memories a few days ago.  It’s of River starting her first day of school just after we moved, so she didn’t know anyone.  I’ve long stated that my daughter is the most emotionally healthy person I’ve ever met in my life.  This statement is just another profoundly logical quip from my girl.  Interestingly enough, that statement played out for me today in a completely different capacity.

I’ve long stated that there is no difference between how I raise my kids and how I Pilot my dogs.  Each is in a world that they aren’t quite equipped to handle on their own, and each ask a lot of questions.  If you don’t answer the questions, well…

 

 

 

The good thing is that the more you Pilot your dogs/kids, the easier it is to Pilot them.  In other words, you followed through with your answer this time, it’s more likely you’re will follow through the next time.  It doesn’t matter what the question is:

River: “Mom, can I stay up all night and play video games?”
“No, and if you do, you will lose your computer for a week.”

Guess who lost their computer for a week, and guess who now knows I will follow through with that answer.

or

Sparta: “Mom, is that other dog going to kill us?”
“No, I will protect you and make sure you are safe.”

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

We don’t die on the walk, so guess who believes me next time we see another dog on a walk.

Each little question we answer for your dogs/children is worth a certain amount of money in our Piloting Piggy Bank.  It starts to add up.  So the next time my son asks a question worth a dime, it’s easier to answer because I’ve already got the quarter to spend from the last question he asked (and I followed through on). Now that total is $.35!  Cha-ching!i  

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

And saving money is So Very Important, because eventually, you know that rainy day is going to come, and you’re going to need it.

That day came for me today.

“Hi Ms. Stack, this is Jody from River’s school.  River is having a seizure.  We’ve called 911.  Please come up to the school immediately.”

Yeah, not the call I was expecting this morning.  So I went into my usual crisis mode.  In other words, the PAW Method I constantly preach.  It’s not for working with your dog: it’s for working with your life.

1) Control Yourself.  I’ve had a lot of practice with this one over the years.  Panicking is a luxury, and is very selfish in the end.  You are either robbing energy that can be used towards resolving a situation, or you are forcing others to use theirs to calm you down.  Take a deep breath, and FFS, Put on your big girl pants and deal!  As I like to tell my clients, this isn’t about you, this is about the situation, and the situation ain’t luxurious, it’s crisis.  Wallow in luxury later when you have time to unpack the day’s events.  It’s okay to get upset… just not now.  Put on your Piloting uniform. You have a job to do, so put on on lipstick, pour yourself a drink, and pull yourself together.

2) Control the Situation.  When I got the call, I was on the road with friend about to go on a road trip.  Controlling the situation in that moment meant not adding stimulation to the situation.  Can I drive on a 4 lane road, about to hit a traffic circle while taking a phone call about my daughter’s condition?  Nope.  I pulled off onto a side-street to take the call.  Don’t let panic dictate your timeline.  Control the present situation as much as you can.  Sometimes it means crossing the road when you see another dog coming, or sometimes something as little as making sure you have backed Fido up a few extra feet before answering your front door.  Situations are on my terms, or at least as close to my terms as I can get them.  Once you get the situation under control, let it go.
Could I do anything else from the car while I was driving to my kid’s school?  No.  So didn’t attempt to.  As River said previously about being nervous, “I’ll wait until something happens to be nervous.  No sense wasting it on nothing.”  Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but the more you accept that, at least for the moment, you’ve done everything you can to control the situation, stop.  You’re done.
3. Add More Stimuli.  In this case, getting to the school just as they loaded my daughter into the ambulance provided me with more stimuli.  She was still unconscious, but I could still Pilot myself.  How did I do that?  By allowing others to Pilot me.  You know how I always say Piloting is a big piggy bank, and whomever has the most money wins?  Guess what?  At that moment, surrounded by the school nurse, principal, and 3 EMT’s, I had the least amount of money.  So I had to look to them to answer my questions:
- What’s her current condition?
- Can I see her?
- What hospital is closest?
- Is her current state typical for a seizure?
The more questions that were answered logically by someone who had already controlled themselves and the situation, the more I trusted in their answers.  In less than 15 seconds I had faith that these strangers could indeed save my child.  All based on how their Piloting skills.
A lot of people are amazed by how quickly I can get a frightened dog under control, and feeling calmer and safer. It’s the same principle:
helpers
Seeing scary things, being in a scary situation, it’s all the same.  You are looking for a Pilot. The EMT’s were helping to Pilot me and answer my questions, so that I could in turn answer River’s questions. Act the same way nurses do. After all, this wasn’t my first hospital run with my kids.  Read about why the best Pilots are always nurses here.
During our ride to the hospital, I had to Pilot River while they put an IV in her (“It will hurt, you will cry, and then we will go out for McDonalds.”) I had enough money in my bank to tell her she had to hold still.  To tell her to look at me in the eye, not the EMT’s as they did it.  And guess what:  she survived the ordeal of the IV.
River finally came around at the hospital.  More questions, but again, I had the money in the bank.  CAT scan (“It will take about 5 minutes, it doesn’t hurt.”).  IV coming out (an honest “I don’t know if it will hurt.”). And finally, after many hours, we were home.
So now she’s resting, and we have a slew of tests ahead of us.  She’s got a diagnosis of epilepsy.  More questions, starting with, “What’s a seizure?”.  Honest answers, including “I don’t know” when I truly don’t know.  But Piloting isn’t about coddling, nor is it about being a domineering authoritarian:  it’s about recognizing that unanswered questions lead to anxiety and fear. It’s about respecting an individual (dog or human) enough to answer their questions with honesty and confidence, and not trying to circumvent difficult answers with easy lies (“This won’t hurt at all”), or high-pitched baby talk (“It’s okay honey you’re fine”).  Hint:  If someone says “you’re fine, it’s okay” you know that it’s not.  Don’t lie, no matter how much you don’t like giving the answer.  Most of us are made of sterner stuff, and can handle the truth.
River: Why am I here? Where am I?
Me: You had a seizure.  You’re in the hospital.  Do you know what epilepsy is?
River: The shot my cousin has to get if she eats peanut butter?
Me: No, that’s an epi-pen. Let’s talk about seizures and epilepsy.  And then you can ask the doctor or me any questions you have.
River: Can I get McDonald’s?
That’s my girl.
Keep calm and pilot on
Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

Two Steps to Working with your Dog, or Why You Need More RuPaul

“The ego urges you to accomplish, while the soul merely asks you to enjoy the process.”

— Doreen Virtue
Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham
Photography – By Brittany Graham

I got pulled over by the police yesterday.  I was going X amount of mph in a x mph zone.  I never speed, either!  First time in 20 years (maybe more) that I’ve gotten a ticket. So what happened?

I didn’t follow my mandatory three steps for everything in the whole wide world.

 No, that wasn’t me; not my style.  However, I did ask the officer if I got bonus points for not ugly crying.

Step 1 – Control Yourself

I had a lot to do yesterday before my evening training session.  And to be honest, business has been booming.  It’s been difficult to keep up with everything sometimes.  I tried to squeeze in working on a blog post, straightening up my office, walking my dogs and returning phone calls all within the 2 hours between sessions.

I was like a cyclone of energy.  Meaning I was pretty keyed up by the time I had to leave.  I also meant that I didn’t keep track of time very well.

Now, if you know me, I’m am punctual.  To a fault. Typically I arrive 10 minutes early to each session (to everything, really), and kill time on a side street until it’s actually your appointment time.  So running late is not something that is normal for me.  But I hadn’t controlled myself, and had whipped myself up into a frenzy. So from the beginning, I was destined to fail.

Every now and then I fall apart.

Every now and then I fall apart.

Step 2 – Control the Situation

I never add energy or stimuli to a situation until I have control of the current situation.  So what happened?  When I suddenly realized that I was going to be 10 minutes late, rather than controlling the situation by calling my client and letter her know, I was going to make up the time.  Problem was, she was pretty far, actually outside my normal travel area.  So there we go; doomed to fail.  Which I did.

 

How does this apply to your dog?  Well, let’s start at the beginning.  Your dog does something you don’t like, say…barking, jumping, dragging you on a leash, etc.  For this instance, we’ll say the doorbell just rang.  That’s your dog’s cue.

Step 1 – Control Yourself

Fido goes nuts!  Barking, howling, jumping at the door.  It’s time for action.  But before you do anything, as yourself: are you angry?  Frantic? Yelling?  Then it’s not going to work.   Take a deep breath, organize yourself, and make sure you’ve got it together.  Remember, you can handle this.  Keep calm, and pull yourself together.

Don’t forget to watch your body language, too!  Put on your Piloting uniform.  Stand up as straight as you can.  I always tell my clients, pretend you rubbed Viagra all over your body.

Stand tall. Hand either beside you or behind your back.  Don’t feel the need to get down to your dog’s level; aim your belly button either at them or directly over them. I call this stance your Piloting  uniform. It’s the uniform you wear whenever you’re about to answer your dog’s questions, such as, “Can I bark at the door?” or “Can I jump all over our guest?”.  And do you know who wears this uniform best?

Drag queens.  Yes, you read that right.

Perfect body language, as usual, from RuPaul.  She  looks confident.  In control of herself.  She doesn’t look aggressive, but she looks as if she could handle just about any opposition without breaking a sweat. Is that what she (or any drag queen) looks like all the time?  Not necessarily, but it’s part of the job, so they put on their uniform. Their armor.  And they wear it proudly.

Step 2 – Control the Situation

Okay, you’ve released your inner drag queen.  You have your armor on, or your Piloting uniform, as I like to call it.  Now it’s time to control the situation.  Your dog is most likely misbehaving at the door already.  That’s fine.  You’re about to control that by claiming the door.  Simply walk up to the door, get between your dog and the door (stomach facing your dog still, RuPaul style) and back him off the door.  Pretend you’re a snowplow and gently, but firmly, use your legs to plow him back from the door like snow.

Now you’ve got a few feet to operate.  As soon as Fido is backed off the door, I want you to start backing up towards the door while pointing at him like your finger is a squirt gun and you’re going to shoot him between the eyes.  Nail him to that spot with your eyes and your finger as you move towards the door.

If he starts to move towards you, simply start over.  Snow plow him back, and then RuPaul him by pointing at him and nailing him to his spot with your finger and eyeballs.  Each time you are doing this, you are giving him a negative.  His question is, “Do you need help at the door?”.  This is how you give a dog a negative.  It may take a few times, but as you do it, you’re getting more and more money from his Piloting Piggy Bank into yours, and whoever has the most money wins.  Only once you have enough money in your Piloting Piggy Bank will you be able to s-l-o-w-l-y open the door (keeping your back to your door and your front towards your dog as much as possible).

Continue to control the situation.  If you lose control (your dog comes running up again), simply stop and reboot.  Close the door again even if you need to.  Your guest would rather wait outside a few more moments rather than be mauled and jumped on when they come in.

Once you let your guest in, you’re going to make a sandwich.  Your dog is bread, you’re guest is bread, and you’re the cheese.  Bread doesn’t touch bread.  You will be the cheese between them, answering your dog’s questions about your guest, even as they come through your house and sit down. Continue answering your dog’s questions using the same body language.

Congratulations, you’ve just answered your door without all the drama.  And the best part is, each time it gets easier and easier!

RuPaul would be proud.

Remember, these two steps are integral for any time you are Piloting your dog.  Dogs don’t require training in these circumstances, they require answers.  Think of dog training as tricks. Or something one dog wouldn’t teach another to do.  We train dogs to sit (teaching them English), to come on command (English again).  We may train them to go outside to go to the bathroom, or even to walk on a leash.  Those are commands we give them.  Piloting is when you are answering a dog’s questions: Can I jump on you?  Can I steal food from the counter?  Can I bark?

Usually I’m very good at Piloting myself, but like every other human, I’m not perfect.  Sometimes I flub things.  Hence my ticket.  But here’s the interesting thing:  I know that speeding is not acceptable.  However, I hadn’t controlled myself nor the situation. In other words, I didn’t Pilot myself.  A cop actually had to do that.  Piloting is simply giving negatives and positives.  My question was, “Can I speed?”.  It was preempted by my lack of controlling myself and the situation.  Cops answer: no.

Funny thing is, after the ticket, I actually felt better.  Rebooted, if you will.  While I was waiting for my ticket, I texted my client and informed her of the delay.  She was very understanding. I was only 15 minutes late. Not the end of the world, but now I was rebooted.  Calmer, even. I realized that I was going about everything wrong.  My unwillingness to control myself and my situation had cost me both time and money.  That’s a negative.

So I took a deep breath, pulled away with a fresh ticket in my hand, and calmly drove to my next session, singing along with Robert Plant and enjoying the ride rather than focusing on the destination.  Once arriving, I rebooted again, taking a deep breath, focusing on how lucky I am to have such a wonderful career that I work with dogs all day!  And then proceeded to have a wonderful session with amazing people and three incredible dogs.

Thank you RuPaul.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack & Special Guest: RuPaul
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio