There is more to life than increasing its speed.
I just spent the day at a local elementary school with one of my favorite dogs, Stan, who is a registered therapy dog. I love going into the school, the enthusiasm the children show, how “Stan Time” can be earned by good behavior, and how Stan Time can also be used for helping children with stress or anxiety. Stan Time includes children who have special needs. He gives sensory therapy to those dealing with sensory issues, or encourages behaviors, such as using verbal communication to get a reward (getting to play fetch). He also helps a typical child who may be doing very well in school and therefore earns a reward of Stan Time (children are able to save up points for good behavior, and then spend them like money on various rewards, such as lunch with the principal, or Stan Time). Other children just need some time to reboot, and the mundane pleasure of throwing a ball for a big, goofy Golden Retriever can help melt stress prior to taking a test.
So in almost every sense of the word, Stan is a therapy dog. He gives all he can to these children (as well as their teachers). It’s my job to make sure he is set up to be utilized to his full potential. For example a child with sensory issues may not want to touch that slobbery tennis ball, and definitely does not want to have added stimuli of Stan running back and forth to fetch it, but they break out in smiles when simply allowed to lay their head on Stan’s side and snuggle with him. Other children need an outlet, and would be far too energetic for snuggle time. I took those children and showed them the basics of agility, which they then taught Stan to do.
It’s always a wonderful experience for me when I’m at the school, and it’s nice to feel as if we’re making a difference, but let’s face it. It can be grueling for Stan sometimes. It’s exhausting for me, too.
That’s why every hour I give him a little bit of a break. Are we done? Not necessarily. Just a bit of time to take breather. To reboot, if you will.
No matter what he’s been doing, when he needs a reboot, he needs a reboot. There’s only so much he has to give, and sometimes he needs some time to regain his composure. The steps to working with a dog are:
1) Control yourself;
2) Control the situation;
3) Answer your dog’s questions, or as we refer to it, Piloting your dog.
By pushing forward when Stan’s mentally exhausted, I’m not adhering to Step 2. I’m not controlling the situation, I’m merely adding more stimulation. That never ends well. So rather than pushing forward, I’ll take a step back and let
him both of us relax for a moment.
I apply this concept to every aspect of my life. I apply it during a walk with Sparta, who is notoriously dog-reactive. She does very well with being Piloted past another dog, but two in a row? On retractable leashes? I’ll Pilot her, and then give her the Three Finger Salute, and let her reboot a bit after that one. I simply answer her questions about the other dogs, get her past the situation in a calm manner, and since I know it was a mental struggle for her, I give her a moment to compose herself again. Sit her down, scratch her gently behind her ears, and calmly praise her. She literally shakes the incident off after a few seconds, and then is ready to go again, ready for the next dog I may need to Pilot her past. In other words, I never run my dog down to empty. I always let them refuel mentally.
Rebooting the dogs has become a natural and normal part of my life over the years. I automatically do it because I know I get better results from the dogs, and not pushing them to their limits earns more trust between us, allowing us to accomplish greater and greater feats. Sparta now only requires very minimal Piloting when going past another dog. Orion hasn’t had any stress-elimination in a very long time.
There is one aspect I keep neglecting, though. Me. So, while I had fun with Stan today, I came home exhausted. I sat in my chair with my phone in one hand, a coffee in the other, and my computer on my lap, all ready to return the days phone calls and set up next week’s training sessions.
But I was tired. I needed a Three Finger Salute. I needed a reboot. Sometimes I forget to give myself the same considerations I give to my dogs. The same considerations that the students give themselves. They recognize when they need to cuddle Stan and just decompress. I could learn a lot from those kids.
So for once, phone calls weren’t returned immediately. For once, I didn’t set up appointments as soon as I came home. For once, I immediately took care of myself. Took a leisurely cup of coffee with a dog on my lap instead of a computer.
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio