Behavior Tolerated

Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Brittany Graham Photography

There’s a story my husband likes to tell about our son, Eric. When Eric was about 2 1/2, he decided to try a little experiment on me.  Now, I should point out that Eric has always been an easy child.  Decadently so.  We never had the “terrible two’s” with him.  I can count on one hand how many tantrums that child has thrown in his 9 years on this planet.  However, from the very beginning, Eric has been a very analytical child, always asking questions and silently filing away the answers for future reference.  So, like all other children, it was only natural that he start experimenting and testing How Things Worked.

My husband and I were in the kitchen where Eric toddled up to me. He called my name, and I looked down at him.  ”Momma, we-cree peas?”, which was Eric-speak at the time for “May I please have some whipped cream?”.  I answered him in the negative, whereupon I returned my attention to the groceries I was putting away.  According to Michael, who was watching this exchange, Eric looked pensive for a moment, and then had an idea light across his face.  Eric then whacked me on my derriere and immediately looked up with a smile on his face, as if to say, “That should do the trick”.  Without a pause, I spun around, snatched is arm and pirouetted him around so I could give him a thwack on his diaper-clad bum, and then sent him on his way.  He essentially shrugged as if to say, “Well, apparently that’s not how I’m supposed to do it”, and toddled off to go play with his Megablocks.  The incident was never repeated.

Michael and I met when Eric was almost a year old, and were married six months later.  Michael had never been around small any children growing up.  He said it was at that moment he realized that even though Eric couldn’t communicate very well verbally, he was still “pulling levers” and “flipping switches” to find out how his world worked, and that day Eric discovered that smacking Mommy will not get you what you want.


Eric teaching his sister to read.  Seriously, how do I deserve that boy?

Why do I bring this up?  What does an anecdote about my son have to do with anything?  Well, let me give you another story, and I’ll bet you can make the correlation.

I don’t have a lot of them, but over the years I have collected a handful of clients who I refer to as The Walking Dead.  From the moment I walk in the door, I know that they won’t follow through with The PAW Method which I show them.  I know they won’t call me with questions afterwards, and for the most part, appear as ancillary accessories to the training session, their body language just screaming “do I really have to be here?”.  And of course they fail miserably before they even start.  So what do these people all of in common?

Horrid children.  For example (identifying details have been changed to protect privacy):

- The clients whose 4-year old child felt the need to scream at the top of his lungs the entire session and throw things the entire time.   The parents kept saying, “What did you say?” because they couldn’t even hear me speak over his screaming, yet never once did anything to stop him.

- The mother of 5 whose youngest daughter (aged 3) looked like Cousin It, because, in the mom’s words, “She won’t let me comb her hair, ever!  Just watch this!”.  The mother then proceeded to grab a brush and try to wield it towards her daughter’s extensively tangled locks, whereupon the daughter shrieked at the mother, “GET AWAY FROM ME! DON’T TOUCH ME!!!!!!” all the while slapping her mother.  ”See, what did I tell you.  She won’t let me brush it.”, said the mom.

- Another family of four with two kids under 3, who were completely ruled by their older son. We actually had to pause our training session for 25 minutes so mom could find a missing Candyland game piece, and then finish up their game all because “she didn’t want to make him sad by not finishing their game before we started our training session”.

These are just some examples.  Interestingly enough, these families all had one thing in common with regard to their dog: the main complaint about their dog is that their dog Just Won’t Listen.  Unruly behavior.  Biting and nipping. Jumping so hard on family members that bruises were left behind.  In general bullying behavior.  Kinda like what their kids were doing to them as well. I make a lot of comparisons between kids and dogs, such as in this article. That’s because there really isn’t too much of a difference.

Essentially, if I walk into your house, and you have atrocious brats, I know you will have an atrocious dog.  Let’s face it:   a kid is the same species!  At least you can communicate precisely with a child verbally!  If you can’t Pilot a child of your own species, how do you expect to Pilot another species entirely?!

Now, before you get all angry and indignant, I do realize the difference between circumstances and accept behavior.  For instance, I did have a toddler last week who mid-session threw a tantrum. The mother deftly apologized, excused herself, addressed the situation, and then we continued.  Color me impressed.  That is what Piloting is all about.  Accept that negative behavior will happen.  Your kids aren’t perfect.  You aren’t perfect.  Things happen.  It’s how, or sometimes if, you address these situations that matter.  The negative behavior isn’t the thing that can be labeled “good” or “bad” in these situations…it’s your reactions to these situations that’s all-important.

When Eric tried to thwap me on the behind to get some whipped cream, I didn’t blame him for that at all!  It was his right to find out what is allowed and what is not; what works and what doesn’t. Just as it’s my right to give him the answer: no.  I wasn’t angry (personally, I actually was impressed). I didn’t create drama. I simply answered his question.  He wasn’t a bad child (I hate that notion!) he just asked a question that required a negative answer.  The same goes for your dog: your dog is not bad.  End of story. 

Obviously it’s not always easy.  With Eric it is.  Now, let me introduce you to my 7-year old daughter, River.

 Is this the face of a traumatized, recently-inoculated almost-kindergartner?

This pic sums up River

River keeps me on my toes.  Whereas Eric is content to be Piloted simply because someone wants to Pilot him, River is not. She wants to know what makes you a better Pilot of a situation than her, and that’s her right  Eric is a German Shepherd.  Amazingly stoic. Obedient. He wants to prove he can do anything you tell him to do.  Perfectly.  Thrives on a job well done.  He’s completely Type A, and I love him for it.  River is a Pittie.  Fun-loving. Extremely sensitive.  Not necessarily looking for trouble, but doesn’t run away from it either.  She’s completely Type B, and I love her for it.  Is either bad?  Of course not.  They each have their individual natures.  But it’s still up to me to Pilot them. Is it easy? No.  But it’s totally worth it.

So when I walk into a house and there is chaos going on with the children, I do my best to manage the situation.  I figure that these people called me for help with their dog, and I’m damn well going to give them everything I’ve got to help them.  Unfortunately, that usually includes Piloting their kids for them.  I usually hear, “Do you train kids as well?”  I just smile.  Once I leave, their kids are none of my business. That’s up to them how if they want to Pilot their children.

Dogs and children are the same.  They are both just looking for someone to help them get through this crazy world safely.  They are looking for someone to give them answers to both the easy questions and the harder questions.  You’re not always going to do it perfectly, or gracefully, but someone’s got to do it, and, well, you’re the adult with opposable thumbs.

Last summer I had what turned out to be one of my favorite clients ever.  (Fortunately, my favorite clients tend to drastically outnumber The Walking Dead).  This was a family of four; three girls and one boy, all roughly 8-14 years old.  They were loud.  They were rambunctious.  They were fun!  I understand that kids are called kids because, well, they aren’t mature enough to be adults.  So did their parents.  When things got a little overboard, the parents corrected the kids.  They also encouraged them, and worked together as a team with two Pilots (mom and dad). And guess what?  Neither of the Pilots were underage!  The adults were in control of the situation, and the children thrived because of it.

Now, this family had called me because of a rambunctious dog. Again, I understand.  Just because you are absolutely nailing the parenting thing doesn’t mean it’s easy to understand dogs.  So we did our training session.  I live within a mile of that family, and frequently see the kids walking the dog.  Yes, they aren’t doing it perfectly. But here’s the thing:  they are doing it.  I have personally witnessed the middle daughter walking the dog with a Herculean Piloting effort.  The dog is young, and was being, well, …young.  A 10-year old Piloted the dog, answering questions over and over.  The girl stopped for a moment, took a deep breath, and then continued. She answered the same question the dog was asking a few more times, until the dog accepted the answer, and then continued on her way.  She may have been angry or frustrated, but she didn’t show it.  She never lost her composure.

All I could think of was that girl was going to make a great parent some day.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

2 thoughts on “Behavior Tolerated

  1. Excellent article Kerry, after working with you today with your “Sparta” I totally get it. Now does that mean I will be a perfect animal trainer/ handler, no quite the contrary.I’ve learned and have accepted that I am NOT perfect, nor will I ever be. As long as I continue to strive to be better than I was or be a better handler/trainer, pet owner I am giving not only myself the best chance of success, I am doing a world of good for my “four-legged” friends. They say a dog is “A mans best friend” well I learned today that can only happen if I answer those questions that are asked. Thanks again for trusting me with “Sparta” , and by the way she’s a sweetie. I know she didn’t ask ALL of her questions, but she asked enough to give me some humility.

    • I was grateful to work with you as well! And honestly, having someone else work with Sparta is a great lesson in humility for me as well. As Elsa said, sometimes I have to let it go. You did an awesome job with her, to the point where I could lesson my focus on how you were answering her questions, and focus more on how flippin’ cold I was :)

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