Choosing Communication Over Anger When Dog Training
"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." - Yoda
So many aspects of our lives seem to correspond with other parts of our lives, even though they may seem to have no connection, and have to relevancy to each other. This often happens in my own life. While this blog is devoted to working with dogs, and learning to communicate with them, there is plenty of overlap between working with dogs and working with people.
I recently inherited quite a bit of items from my grandmother's and aunt's estates. Being a minimalist, I kept only what was dear to my heart, and have been finding homes for the rest. A woman, we'll call her Anne, recently inquired regarding an item I had placed on Facebook marketplace. We corresponded through messenger, and she asked for a date when she could pick up the item. I informed her that the next day, at any time, would be fine, except between 2:45 and 3:45, as I needed to pick up my spawn from school. She agreed to the timing.
As I was driving to pick up my son at 3:00 that day, I received a nasty message from Anne asking where I was, as she had knocked at my door and nobody was home. I responded to her that I had sent in my previous message that I was unable during this time, but I could get back home in about 10 minutes. I sent her a pic of our conversation from the previous day. She sent me a series of awful messages:
"Great, you sent it while I was driving. That was not nice. You said you would meet me between 2 and 3. I drive 45 miles and you are not here. I was in the hospital. Thanks bunches for wasting my time when I am sick."
I reminded her that she was there outside of our agreed-to time, and that I would still be able to be there in ten minutes. She said she would wait.
Believe me, it took all of my willpower not to call her out about her mistake then and there. She was costing me time, as I had just pulled up to the gas station, thinking I had plenty of time prior to our appointment. After all, I had the higher ground! While I chose to ignore her messages for the moment, I was ready to be chilly and full of righteous anger when I met her. She was wrong. And I had every right to be an imperious asshole about it. I was going to play my Trump card.
Then I saw who was sitting in my driveway awaiting me.
I saw she was indeed very sickly, and actually needed help into my house. She mentioned she doesn't drive very much, and was a little lost, her being from the East Side of Cleveland. I'm in the West Side. And as all Clevelanders know, you stay on your own side.
Further, she was mumbling about how she had a low charge on her phone, her only navigational tool. In other words, she was overwhelmed and lashed out. She was afraid, sick, and overwhelmed, which made her aggressive.
And I felt like an idiot. Isn't this what do for a living? Work with dogs who are so terrified and overwhelmed that they lash out and become aggressive? There is no difference between how an overwhelmed human acts and an overwhelmed dog: with aggression. I knew I could handle this if I choose to do what was right, rather than what was just. So I put on my big girl pants and sucked it up. And then I used the PAW Method on her. Yup. The same method I use on the dogs I train.
The one or more of the core points of the PAW Method (Piloting, Activity, and Work) will get you past any situation with your dog. Sometimes your dog is bored, so you need to ratchet up the mental Work. Sometimes your dog is a Border Collie, so you are always looking for ways to incorporate more Activity.
And sometimes your dog just needs some Piloting. Answers. Someone to fly the plane for them. So rather than choosing righteous anger, I chose to Pilot her.
There are two very important steps you must always remember when Piloting:
1. Control yourself.
All things considered, I did a rather good job of this already. I hadn't lost it on her via messenger, and I lost the attitude to see if I could fix the situation, rather than wallow in being right. I made sure my body language was calm, and relaxed.
2. Control the situation.
Yeah, it may look like a shituation at the moment, so let's sort this out. You can not add stimulation to a situation to gain control of it, be it with dogs or humans. In other words, before me I had an aggressive, scared, sick woman who was lashing out at me. I could either escalate the situation by feeding negative energy to the shituation,
or I could remove energy and stimulation. So I helped her into my house, and made her tea while she sat and recharged her phone. She was anxious, but was giddily excited when she saw my ducks on my back porch (long story there). So I got her some duck treats, and she had fun hand feeding my ducks (which they loved). We brought her cell phone charge up to 50%. She was calmer now, and thanked my son and me for taking care of her. We sent her on her way with both of us in a much happier state of mind than the situation would have seemed to allow.
The same thing with your dog. If your dog is overwhelmed, reacting on a leash, barking at your door, or just giving off energy, don't add to that energy yourself. Remember, your dog isn't against you, they are for themselves. They are perceiving the situation in a much different way that you are, that's all.
So slowly diffuse the situation you are in with your dog. If they are barking at the door, don't rush to open the door while trying to hold your dog back. Pilot them away from the door (learn how to do that here). If your dog is dragging you on a leash, don't just try to hold them back, Pilot them (for tips on Piloting on a leash, check this post out). If your dog is out of control, it's even more important that you stay in control.
As I stated previously, I'm a minimalist. I only hold on to what I truly love, and what makes me happy or is effective in my life. Anger isn't one of them. And anger is like glitter: once you open the bottle, you never fully get rid of it.
We do stupid things when we hang choose to act in anger. We act impulsively instead of with purpose. We don’t think through our actions and irreparably damage what could have been simply fixed. And anger is baggage anyway. Get rid of it. Anne and I both parted feeling good about our interaction, perhaps even better because of it, and that is a feeling I choose to hang on to.
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio