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Successful Puppy Training: Understanding Being vs. Thing

There are a few things in this world I really enjoy more than:

My garden

My collection of antique books:

And my truck (her name is Matilda):

Maybe not the list you're expecting, but there it is. I know I'm fortunate to have quite a few nice things, and I truly appreciate them.

A very applicable reminder for me, since today, as I was exited the grocery store, I saw a rather large semi-truck stopped right behind Matilda, effectively blocking her in the parking spot. There was a man pacing back and forth between my truck (looking very distraught) and the semi. As I got closer, he asked if that was my truck, and I indicated that it indeed was. He went to the back driver's side, and asked if that had been there before. And by that, he meant the broken tail light and the big dent in my quarter panel. He said he may have accidentally dinged my truck while maneuvering through the lot.

It most definitely had not been there.

Now before I answered his question about my girl, Matilda, my favorite truck ever, I needed to bear a few things in mind. This man was quite nervous, and upset at the situation. Definitely blaming himself, and frankly, probably convinced he was going to lose his job. There was nobody in the parking lot, so this guy could've easily just ditched the scene, leaving me to wonder what happened. And I certainly had every right to be upset about the damage, there was something I needed to bear in mind: my truck is a thing. This guy is a being.

Let me explain where I'm going.

You'll notice I never stated that I loved my truck, or my garden, or even my library. Why would I love an inanimate object that couldn't possibly return any emotions? I could call my truck ugly, or beautiful, and Matilda wouldn't care. I can't ruin her life with an unkind word because she's bereft of life. I can love driving my truck, or I can love mornings spent in my garden, but again, the verb "love" is elicited by me, a being.

This man, (whose name I came to find out was Justin) ... well, he's an actual being. A being very capable of being injured, hurt, sad, happy, afraid, joyful, and a myriad of other emotions. And just because I had the (supposed) moral high ground to be a total asshole to him for damaging my truck doesn't mean I should.

So I simply said, "Unfortunately, no, that's new damage. I'm sorry, but it sounds like you're having a rough day. Why don't you take a moment to call whomever you need to call from your company, and let's work this out together."

See how simple that was? I didn't need to abuse a living being over damage they (accidentally) did to one of my favorite (inanimate) things.

By choosing communication over power, ego and domination, I helped to effect resolution.

So what does this have to do with dog training? Everything.

By now you've met Arwen through some of my blog posts, or perhaps social media. She's my 6 month old border collie, who as of today, I've had about a month. Now, even though I'm a dog trainer, I'm still human, and capable of overlooking a few things when working with a young, energetic dog who is in the process of teething. Things such as my Birkenstocks, or my laptop cord. I have every right to be angry at her, and to get upset with her for destroying my things.

But that's just it: those are things....Arwen is an being. And the moment I care more about a thing than an being, I've lost my inner peace. Arwen is just a (great!) dog, who totally sucks at being human. And sometimes I suck at being a dog. Bridging that communication gap is integral if I want to forge any kind of meaningful bond with her.

Now should I be happy that she chewed up my favorite shoes? No, I'm not stupid. But they are just shoes, and can be replaced. There will only ever be one Arwen in this world, and she will only be a part of it for all too short of a time. Last year I had that lesson compounded, as I lost my Sparta in January, my cat Echo in March, and Orion in December. They were all seniors, but still, it wasn't enough time with them. It never could be.

How I react to these situations and negative behaviors will shape and form our relationship.

When I was a child, if I did something bad, I would be punished. But beyond the punishment, I would get The Silent Treatment. My mother would do her best to avoid me, or give simple one word responses to any questions. She would ignore me, so I could feel the entire weight of her displeasure and disappointment in me. And what did it teach me?

I learned that things are more important than beings. That the negative thing I did was bigger than her desire to be near me, interact with me, or to engage with me.

That was a tough lesson to unlearn, but it really didn't hit home until I had children of my own. I vowed no matter what they did, regardless of what consequences they needed to face as a result of their actions, that I would take extra measures to make sure they understood that my love for them was in no way impacted by their actions. Even if I needed to take a few minutes to control myself over something - hypothetically - really stupid they may have done, like, oh... tear down all of the wall paper border in the dining room because they were bored, I would still get control of myself and detach with love by saying, "I love you very much, now please go to your room so I don't kill you right now". I'd get control of myself, and only then, address the situation. Remember, God created crates and kids' bedrooms to keeping you from killing your dogs or your kids. A moment of control can save you a lifetime of regret.

And that is the basis of Piloting: control yourself, control the situation, and only then, start to address the issue at hand.

In other words, Piloting is not just for dog training, but for kids, and life in general, as well.

That's not to say that if I had caught Arwen chewing my shoes, I should ignore her behavior; that's just silly. If I had seen her silently chewing my shoe under my desk as I worked, I would have simply given her a calm, gentle, negative, and that would have been that. As I'm fond of saying, I don't believe in purgatory. Give your negative and then just let it go. Don't hold on to it.

So back to my truck, Matilda. Phone calls were made, and one of my favorite things will be fixed in no time. I'm pleased, but Matilda is still just a thing. And there is never any reason to destroy or abuse a being over something so silly as a thing. Keep the perspective, and reprioritize your goals: a long, happy relationship with your dog/puppy that is built on trust. Because things are replaceable, beings are not. Keep the right perspective of the value of things vs. beings.

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


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