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

 

Raising Both Dogs and Kids

Stubbornness is just determination in an opposite direction. –

Me to my daughter  River (age 8) after her Grandma called her “stubborn”

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Here we go.  A combination post, if you will.  A few years ago, I had a friend tease me about my blog.  They tried to tell me that all my blog posts are is a bunch of Star Wars memes.  I was indignant.  They are most definitely not 100% Star Wars memes.  However, challenge accepted. Which brings me to my post for today.  I recently had a comment left on one of my posts.

I love reading your posts! Can you please write more about your approach to parenting? As a dog mom and toddler mom I need to learn your wisdom, because they all can be a$$holes sometimes and I know it’s bc they suck at being (adult) humans. – Hanna

 

“Learn my wisdom”?  Wisdom…well, that comes from experience.  Experience comes from mistakes. Lots of them.  I’m always more than willing to share my mistakes, experience and wisdom, but it’s definitely a trifecta.  So where we go: insights on what I do with my dogs and my kids.  Only, to keep things interesting (and geeky), let’s see what Indian Jones has to say about this.

"Hang on lady, we going for ride." - Short Round

“Hang on lady, we going for ride.” – Short Round

With regard to my blog, I constantly stress the PAW Method for working with your dog i.e., “Dog Training”, although I hate that phrase.  We don’t train kids; why would we train our dogs?  So let’s jump in to how the PAW Method works, and how I apply it to both dogs and my own children. The PAW Method stands for Piloting, Activity and Work.

  • Piloting: Answering your dog’s/kid’s questions
  • Activity:  Exercise Exorcise the demons
  • Work:  Bored dogs/kids are a scary thing. Keep them mentally sated.

This is a tri-pod, folks. You can’t remove a let and expect it to work.  You must make sure you engage in all three aspects every day.  Now, let’s go over what that means…starting with Activity.

ACTIVITY

 

There are plenty of ways to give your dog the activity they need.  Follow this link for some tips. Flirt poles are a wonderful addition to your repertoire. No, I guarantee it’s not what you think.  Give this post a read, and make your own dog toy guaranteed to exhaust them.    Treadmill training, agility (homemade course with just 2 simple jumps), dog parks, play dates, doggie backpacks….those are all great ways to get rid of your dog’s energy.  And the less energy they have, the less they can direct your way.

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The same goes for children, especially toddlers and preschoolers.  They are naturally geared towards movement.  When my kids, Eric and River were toddlers/preschoolers, first thing we did every weekend morning was plan out the Exhaustion Factor.  How were we going to get these two maniacs into a state of calm?  Exercise.  First thing we’d do in the wintertime was a 45 minutes at the indoor mall playground.  Sometimes just hiking around the mall would work.  Membership to the Cleveland Zoo’s Rain Forest was a great way to tire them out without having to freeze their tiny tushes.   We even sprung for a tiny trampoline for the kids when they were little.  The object was to make sure it was never the same thing every day.  The trampoline wasn’t out all the time.  It was a privilege, not a right.  Therefore, whenever I brought it out (roughly once a week), the kids were excited about it enough to play with it till they dropped.  We didn’t go to the mall every day, because then it’s just a routine.  We needed to keep it fresh. Summertime and nice days, it was hikes.  Sometimes just around the neighborhood, up for ice cream.  Or a walk to the local playground.  But it was key that,while yes, we brought a wagon with us just in case the kids got tired, they always started by walking.  The wagon was for a rest break, not for transportation.  It was always expected they would be walking as soon as they had their break.  The object of the activity was to make sure they were pleasantly tired, but not physically stressed out.  So yes, they walked everywhere if the weather was conducive. So dogs and kids have always had their activity early in the day, setting the tone for the rest of the day. I’ve set them up for success.

WORK

Everyone needs a job.  Mental work, if you will.

I have always made sure my dogs and my kids had plenty of the right kinds of mental stress.  For the dogs: agility, silly tricks, enrichment feeders, or scent detection (it’s easier than you think!) are all greats ways to get rid of their need for mental work.  At the very least, every day, my dogs eat their meals out of an enrichment toy.  Most days we go above and beyond that. They always had toys out to play with, especially when they were young, but only 1/3 of the total amount I own were left out at any given time.  In other words, swap out your dog’s toys frequently.  Most likely your dog doesn’t need new toys: he needs to be separated from most of his toys for a spell.  And then, like magic, what’s old is new again.  With dogs under a year, I typically switch out available toys at least 2x a day.  This helps to keep them engaged with appropriate items, rather than chewing the chair leg.

The same principle has always been applied towards my children. Chores are a big one in my house.  My kids have been doing dishes since they were about 3 years old.  Not well.  I knew I was re-washing all those dishes afterwards, but the expectation of doing a job to the best of their ability has always been ingrained into my children.  I simply will not accept less than the best they can do.  Weekends my kids were expected to really pitch in:  by 4 years old, assigned jobs tended to be vacuuming, cleaning the baseboards, laundry, etc.  In other words, these are all age-appropriate jobs for preschoolers, and they did the job, albeit not as well as I would.  But this isn’t a sprint: it’s a marathon.  So yes, doing dishes with my 3-year old could be tedious sometimes, but by 5 they could be relied on to do a good job.

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Nowadays, my kids are 12 and 14.  I can have dog training sessions all day on a Saturday, and come home to vacuumed and mopped floors, and all the laundry done in the house.  These things have been expected for so many years now, it’s about as normal a part of the day as having dinner together.

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Of course, I don’t rely on just chores for mental work. Books were a huge factor.  Playing games with them, but also making sure they understood that I was not their sole source of entertainment.  Occupy yourself, or if you can’t, here’s another chore you can help me with so I have more time to play with you.  Most of the time, they chose to learn to occupy themselves to avoid extra chores.

Doing the dishes

Doing the dishes

And while we didn’t have a tv in our house until the kids were about 9 and 11, they did watch shows.  Specific shows, not just idly switching channels.  We had a specific time we’d look up Wonder Pets episodes on YouTube, or play the favorite Little Einstein dvd.  Sometimes it was a treat for an extra-great job doing dishes.  Sometimes it was so I didn’t lose my mind.  Because Mommy needs a break!

Come up with a recipe box of mentally engaging activities for both your dogs and your kids.  Bonus points for things they can do together (like agility – great for kids and dogs).  Pretty soon when your kids state they’re bored, you can direct them to the box of activities.  Read a Dr. Suess book from back to front, write your alphabet using different colored crayon for each letter, etc. were all a part of my “enrichment” recipe box for my kids when they were bored.  They’d be directed towards the box to find something to do.  If they couldn’t find something there to satisfy them, there was always the chores recipe box.  Usually my kids would self-entertain from the enrichment recipe box ;)

 

Your dog doesn't want to be Pilot.

Your dog doesn’t want to be Pilot.

PILOTING

Okay, I’ve saved the best for last.  Piloting is merely answering your dog’s/kid’s questions.  Dogs and kids ask a lot of questions, but not all of them are vocalized.

  • Your dog stealing food from the counter: “Can I eat this?”
  • Fido pulling on the leash: “Can I lead on this walk?”
  • Your spawn kids tearing around inside the house: “Is this acceptable in the house?”
  • Little Jimmy hits his sister: “Is this how I get the toy I wanted?”

Obviously these are questions that need to be answered. I guarantee this is the part where you are all struggling with both your dogs and your kids.  I see it all the time: I come into a training session to work with an unruly dog, but the parents can’t even work with their own kids.  Kids yelling, shouting, interrupting, and being openly hostile to their parents.

Mom: Sarah, but your toys away.
Sarah:  I don’t want to!
Mom: Sarah, we have a guest here to work with Fido, so please put away your toys.
Sarah: *continues playing with toys*
Mom:  Sarah, please put your toys away, otherwise the nice dog trainer can’t work with Fido.
Sarah: *continues playing with toys*
Mom:  I guess we can train Fido in the other room.

Ouch. So many unanswered, unaddressed questions in this one.  And at no time did Mom Pilot little Sarah.  Mostly because Mom doesn’t want to be “mean”.  So let’s break down Piloting. Essentially, nobody’s flying the plane.   Piloting is a contest, but we all truly want whomever is best to win.  I call that money in your “Piloting Piggy Bank”.  How much money do you have to spend answering your child/dog’s specific question.  From dogs barking to your kid asking for a later bedtime, each question you asked is worth a certain dollar amount. Some questions cost more to answer than others, but essentially whomever has the most money in their Piloting Piggy Bank for that question wins the right to answer that question.

Hint: You won’t always have the most money for that question. For example:
Me to Sparta during a hike: Hey, Sparta, did I get us lost?
Sparta:  Yes, you did.
Me: Can you get us home?
Sparta: Yes, I can.  Follow me.

. ^ ^ ^ True Story: we did get lost.  I definitely didn’t have enough Piloting money to get us home, but Sparta did.  So I let her Pilot me.

But for the most part, you as an adult human, navigating an adult human world, will have the best answers.  So give them.  You aren’t being mean, you’re being a parent to your fur-kid and your crotch fruit child.  And let’s face it:  just like our dogs, some of our human kids have more money in their Piloting Piggy bank than others.  Prime example is my daughter, River. With her, a “because I told you so” isn’t acceptable.  She was constantly trying to figure out if I had enough money in my Piloting Piggy bank to enforce the answers I was giving. And I love and respect her for it.

The most recent bout we had was with her grades.  River is extremely intelligent, witty and very capable.  I consider her above-average.  Therefore, I expect above-average grades from her.  In other words, nothing below a B- is acceptable.

River also happens to be lazy.  If she personally can’t rationalize why something is important enough to put effort into it, then she doesn’t see the logic of why she should.  But here’s the thing:  she’s 12.  By definition, 12 year olds are still children, not adults.  There’s no reason why she should be able to see everything as a logical adult.  So while River is currently writing a book on WWII, and has most of Patton’s speeches memorized (she’s definitely one-of-a-kind), unless it has to do with history or cats, she sees no reason to spend time on it.

That includes math.

Fortunately, her school grants access to kids’ grades parents in real-time.  Meaning, I can see my kids’ current GPAs, test results, and whether they turned in their homework in real time.  So I enforced a rule that if you ever fell below and 80% grade in a class, you lost all electronic devises until that grade was above c-level again.

Meanest. Mom.  Ever.

 

So, River slipped to a 78% in math.  I enacted my rule, and she was without her laptop, phone, video games, etc. I’ll be honest, it broke my heart.  Every day she’d come home from school asking to me to check her grades to see if it had gone up.  But if nothing was graded, then there wasn’t anything I could do.  It took over a week for a grade to be entered that brought River’s average for the class above 80%.  But I’ll be damned, she handled the entire ordeal very gracefully, because it wasn’t the first time she’d be subjected to the consequences of her own actions.  She didn’t balk, nor did she cry foul.  I didn’t make up punishments on the fly.  She knew in advance what the consequences of her (in)actions in math class would be, so there were no surprises.

And of course I wanted to give in.  But again, this is a marathon, not a sprint.  I’m not selfish enough to coddle her or give in simply because I don’t like to be the “bad guy”.  I’m not going to claim it’s always been this easy allowing her to experience consequences, but I realize that the consequences she experiences now will never be this easy for her again.  In other words, holding her accountable now sets her up to have integrity in the future. Plus, I could let her know just how damn proud I was of how she handled herself while she experienced those consequences, as well as how thrilled I was once she brought her grades back up.  Her report card was magnificent, and she was rewarded heavily.

It’s not much different with your dog.  Your dog is sentient, not some dumb beast.  Set your boundaries, and then adhere to them.  You’re not bad, and you’re not mean.  You’re simply the Pilot.  Discourage behaviors you don’t like with a negative, and encourage behaviors/actions you like with positives

Now, the difference between dogs and kids is actually a little bittersweet to me.  My dogs will always require a human Pilot, as they live in a human world.  I’ll always be there to answer their questions.  Our children, on the other hand?  If we raise them well, and do our best, hopefully one day they will soar on their own, able to Pilot themselves.  Our job as parents is to make sure help them learn to soar under their own strength by letting them borrow ours until they can fly on their own.

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio