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Training Cornerstone: Failing Your Dog by Failing Yourself



So ... I had two dog training sessions scheduled for today. Session one was a pair of Yorkie mixes who just couldn’t stop trying to kill each other. Second two consisted of a new Husky. Awesome lineup! Both clients sounded wonderful on the phone, and I love the feeling of accomplishment after a session. Both sessions were later in the day, so I had most of my morning off. Plus...Husky!


Husky dog

The problem arose about 3/4 through my first session. I started to get that sparkly vision in the periphery of my vision. That can only mean one thing: a migraine.

I tend to get migraines when the barometer changes, but also when I’m stressed and not taking care of myself. Over the past few months, the number of dog training sessions has picked up dramatically for me. January through March is usually my slow(er) time; yet this year I’ve had more sessions than I typically do in my busier 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.

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's behaviors. Everything from the come command to aggressive dog behaviors.

1) Control Yourself -

Your Dog's Behavior Mimic's Our Own


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:

2) Control the Situation -

More Energy Doesn't Help You or Your Dog


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 two steps are mandatory when training dogs.

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 head out to train dogs for the day, I stop, close my eyes and breathe deeply before mentally running through my day and making sure I have everything.

- Before writing a blog post, I make a cup of tea, and play specific music to calm down and focus after a day full of raucous dogs.

Back to my migraine and rescheduling the remaining dog session.

I was about to do the dumbest thing.


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 while in my current state? 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, physically or mentally.

So I texted my client client, asking if they could reschedule. And you know what?

It was fine. They were gracious and understanding. The world didn't end. My career as a dog behaviorist didn't end. It was just....fine.


“You need to give yourself permission to be human. - Joyce Brothers

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 in the pot, I stop, control the situation, and turn down the heat.


Unfortunately, I didn’t do that, and continued slogging along at a double workload.


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 by an aggressive dog.

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.


Bad dog on leash

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.

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?

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.

Stubborn dog leash walking

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!


Back to my migraine.

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 scheduled to train dogs. The session 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.

Dog Training vs. Dog Life


By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.



But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.



Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.



Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.



Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?



border collie dog

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio

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1 Comment


Guest
Mar 06, 2023

Do you train puppies

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