There is more to life than increasing its speed.
- Mahatma Gandhi
Of all the things I've ever done, all the dogs I've ever trained, the most fulfilling thing has definitely been working with the (now retired) Stan, the therapy dog. . I loved going into the school, the enthusiasm the children showed, for their “Stan Time” which would 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 or "Stan Ball").
Stan Ball: Stand behind the line, and try to get the ball into the basket before Stan can catch it. One of the dumbest games I ever invented, but the kids couldn't get enough of it.
He also helped 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 was a therapy dog. He always gave his all to these children (as well as their teachers). It was my job to make sure he was 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 was at the school, and it was encouraging and uplifting to feel as if we've made a difference, but let’s face it. It could get grueling for Stan sometimes, and exhausting for me, too.
That’s why every hour I gave 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.
There’s only so much your dog has to give, and sometimes they just need some time to regain their composure.
If you've read about my PAW Method of training a dog, you're familiar with my mantra:
1) Control yourself;
2) Control the situation;
3) Answer your dog’s questions, or as I refer to it, Piloting your dog.
By pushing forward when Stan was 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 applied it during a walks with my Sparta, who was notoriously dog-reactive. She did very well with being Piloted past another dog, but two in a row? On retractable leashes? I'd Pilot her, and then give her the Three Finger Salute (ctrl + alt + del), and let her reboot a bit after that one. I simply answered her questions about the other dogs, and got her past the situation in a calm manner.
Since I knew it was a mental struggle for her, I'd 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 mentally reboot.
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 By not pushing them to their limits earns more trust between us, I'm allowing us to accomplish greater and greater feats. Decreased leashed reactivity from Sparta. Less anxiety from Orion. Ellis actually chilled out instead of zooming around the house.
So while I had a very fulfilling day today, Piloting three separate families through some very difficult behaviors (separation anxiety, dog reactivity and resource guarding, respectively), I came home pretty late today. I'm exhausted, both physically and mentally.
There is one aspect I'd keep neglecting: me.
As usual, though, 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 clients' phone calls and set up next week’s training sessions.
But I am tired. I'm the one who needs a Three Finger Salute. I need a reboot. Sometimes I forget to give myself the same considerations I give to my dogs. The same considerations that the students Stan works with give themselves. Those kids recognized when they need to cuddle Stan and just decompress. I could learn a lot from those kids.
So for today, phone calls won't be returned immediately. For once, I won't set up appointments as soon as I came home. For once, I immediately took care of myself. I took a leisurely cup of coffee, and have a dog on my lap instead of a computer.
Darwin Dogs Dog Training in Cleveland