Watch Dog – Learning To Do Better

I praise loudly. I blame softly.

- Catherine the Great

I hate blame.  Especially when it comes to dogs and humans trying to co-exist.  Let me tell you a little story that highlights why.

I recently acquired to adorable watches.  One is a vintage Timex from the 50′s, the other is a Lady Hamilton that’s just a bit older.  Neither one was working, and I was hoping the problem was that they each needed a new battery.  So I went to a local jeweler and explained the problem to the gentleman who worked there (and looked all of 19 years old).    He then disappeared in back with both of my watches, returning only moments later with good news.

“It looks like the Lady Hamilton does indeed need a new battery, so we put one in and it’s good to go.”

Awesome!

He then continued, “The Timex doesn’t take a battery.  It’s a wind-up watch. It, uh, just needed to be wound-up.”

I blushed right down to my pretty little danishes.

I blushed right down to my pretty little danishes.

He actually managed to get this out without any trace of sarcasm, condescension nor laughter.  I felt like an idiot already, and I truly appreciated his not adding to my embarrassment.

I personally have never owned a wind-up watch.  I have a general idea of how watches work: you look at them, take them off when showering and doing dishes, and if it stops working, you got to the jeweler to hopefully get a new battery.  Well, now I know more.  Ignorance is a very acceptable excuse in my opinion.  Determination to stay ignorant isn’t.

If I take another wind-up watch to the same jeweler and ask them to put a battery in it to fix it, I’m now a moron.  I deserve blame for not knowing better, because I have learned better.  The same goes for dogs.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

For some reason, people constantly try to blame themselves for their dog’s behavior. I hear a lot of “I tried to do such and such to fix it, but it didn’t work”, and my personal favorite, “I know I did everything wrong”.

First, kudos to you for trying.  Seriously.  You may not know what to do, but you gave it a good effort and a lot of Google searches.  It didn’t work (and maybe it did make things worse), so you called me to help.  I’d call every step of that a success.  Sometimes learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do.

My mother has a saying:

“You’re really going to wear that?

If you keep doing the same thing, and you keep getting the same result, try something different.”  

Combine that with my favorite Maya Angelou quote:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I apply Angelou’s quote to every aspect of my life, including when I’m working with dogs.  The methods I use now are a little different than what they were when I first started training dogs all this years ago – a tweak here, a different word there.  That’s because along the way, I learned a little bit more. I suspect that in another 20 years, my methods will look slightly different than they do now, too. And I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

So stop being hard on yourself.  Yes, maybe you did end up having to call someone out to help with your dog, but now you know better.  And now you’ll do better.

Keep calm and pilot on

Knowing Your Limits as Pilot

Men must know their limitations.  – Clint Eastwood

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Two sessions today.  One was a pair of Yorkie mixes who just couldn’t stop trying to kill each other.  Second session is a new Husky.  Awesome lineup, in my opinion.  People sounded wonderful on the phone, and I love the feeling of accomplishment after a session. Both were later sessions, so I had most of my morning off.

Problem arises about 3/4 through my first session.  I start to get that sparkly vision in my peripheral.

It can only mean one thing: migraine.

I tend to get migraines when the barometer changes, but also when I’m stressed and not taking care of myself properly.  Over the past few months, business has picked up dramatically for me.  January through March is usually my slower time; yet this year I’ve had more sessions than I typically do in my busy season!  Rather than booking out a bit farther, I decided to double my workload so my clients wouldn’t have to book out so far.  Hence the stress migraine today.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with migraines calling them headaches is like referring to childbirth as some mild cramping.   Fortunately, I usually get plenty of time to take some meds before the actual headache kicks in.  Too bad they only work 70% of the time.

So I have about an hour to get to my next session, and I can’t see out of my left eye, and my brain feels like it’s trying to squeeze through my eyeballs.

 

Actual footage of my brain right now.

What to do?  Apparently, if you’re me, the answer is to beat yourself up mentally for the next 20 minutes, vacillating about whether you should contact your upcoming client or just yuck it up and do the session.

So let’s pause this narrative for a moment. How does this relate to dogs?  In every way possible.

Think about the two steps involved when you’re working with your dog. Everything from the come command  to aggressive  behaviors.

1) Control yourself.   If you’re angry, rushed, hyper or out of sorts, it’s not gonna work.  There is nothing so urgent that you can’t take a moment to collect yourself, even if it’s just a deep breath before you engage.  Calm yourself.  Walk into another room if necessary.  Or take Liz’s advice:

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2) Control the situation.  You can’t add energy nor stimuli to a situation in order to control it.  One of my favorite quotes is an African proverb:  Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.  Control this moment before you add the next moment.  Sometimes that means waiting for energy to subside.  Sometimes that means taking a dog for a run before I try to work on commands.  Most of the time it just means something as simple as not opening the front door to let your guest in while your dogs are still going ballistic!

Now, as I mentioned, these are the two steps you must adhere to if you want to accomplish anything with your dog.

But I also use this as a mantra for my life.  When I address behavior from my kids.  I ask myself if I’m calm, and then survey the situation before acting or speaking.  When I leave to train for the day, I stop, close my eyes and breathe deeply before mentally running through my day and making sure I have everything.

I apparently I’m not so good at doing that when I’m sick or not feeling well.

I was about to do the dumbest thing yet.  I couldn’t see out of my one eye, and my headache, while finally subsiding a little bit, was still definitely there.  But I was so worried about letting my client down that I forgot that my showing up in that condition would actually let my client down.  Could I possibly give them my best performance like that?  Would I be able to remain safe and think critically in a dangerous situation with a dog?  Resounding no!

We are so busy taking care of everyone else, concerned with not letting someone down, be it dogs, kids, spouses or clients, that we end up letting everyone down, including ourselves.   You can’t help anyone if you are (momentarily) helpless.

So I texted my client.  And they texted back.  And you know what?

It was fine.  They were gracious and understanding.

My first mistake was doubling my workload, as I mentioned earlier.  There’s an ancient story about how you can boil a frog alive because if you slowly raise the temperature of the pot, the frog never knows when it’s too hot, and it needs to get out.  A very true, if not revolting, parable.  My mental rule is usually the moment I feel any heat, I stop, control the situation, and turn down the heat.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do that, and continued slogging along at a double workload.

via GIPHY

Fortunately, I got a migraine. I never though I’d say that.  But that migraine reminded to me to control both myself and the situation.  If I had not rescheduled that appointment, I could have very easily misread a situation and been bit.

So think about all the times, just working with our dogs, that we muddle our way through a situation without really even addressing it or controlling it.

- Answering the door.  Doorbell rings and it’s Bedlam.  Rather than allowing your guest to be pummeled by your dog jumping when they come in, stop for a moment to control yourself as well as the situation.  Are you calm?  Good body language?  Are you actively answering your dog’s question, “Can I bark and be hyper?”.  If you don’t know how, give this post a read for how to Pilot your dog and answer their questions.

- Feeding time.  Does your dog barge right into the bowl after badgering you while you try to measure out their food?  Or do you answer their question (“Can I bully you into moving faster with that food?”) and put them into a calmer state before serenely putting the food down and then calling them over to their bowl?

- The walk.  Is your dog in front of you doing what I call The Minesweeper?

 

Swinging back and forth in front of you like a pendulum.  Or even worse, dragging you where ever they want.  Rather than taking even another step, control the current one.  Shorten that leash, and answer your dog’s question!  Learn how here.  Start slowly, and remember, you have no destination, merely focus on calm.  If you make it to the end of your driveway and back, and you have answered questions to maintain calm, you did it!

By taking on a double workload, ignoring my own body’s warning signals, and eschewing my own needs, I didn’t realize that I was failing everyone; exactly what I was looking to avoid.  The amazing thing was that about 20 minutes after I contacted my client, my headache started to subside.  I still couldn’t see properly out of my one eye (I’m having my husband thoroughly check this post for typos!) Stress started to melt away, and I was able to focus on something more important.  My own health.  My own sanity.  And taking care of the ones I love.

Because in failing myself, I failed them, too.  My daughter had a school play today.  Just a minor part, but she was excited.  All of our family was going to attend, but I had to tell her I wasn’t able to go because I was training.  A session that had been set up a while ago.  I had been beating myself up over not being able to go, but still, I take my sessions and my work very seriously.  After taking a moment to control myself and the situation by taking a quick rest, I was able to attend her play.

Granted, I only saw half of it due to the migraine vision. But I felt relieved.  Better.  Accomplished and in control of myself and what may come ahead.

And now I can’t wait to meet that husky when we reschedule.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio