We must make a mistake to learn.
Lance is a tall, dark, confident guy….who’s favorite hobby is watching the world pass by while he awaits his favorite meal served to him by his stubborn, good hearted, white haired, handsome butler. His loving family has left Lance in my capable care with the additional request to teach him some boundaries. Sounds simple enough!
Teaching a dog to not bolt through the door is a basic essential. It gets a lot easier to understand the importance of this lesson when you have a 150lb German Shepard pushing his weight against a solid door that’s slamming into your face. After making the mistake of expecting this beautiful creature to instinctually respect my personal space, I inch the door open slowly with only a nose to control instead of the entire beast. Surprising for his intense presence, Lance is instantaneously from one side of the room to the other before my brain can process the situation. I must act instinctually, and quickly!
The problem with my instincts is that if I don’t think it through, my emotions take over. My brain is quietly coaching me to breathe and focus. I instinctually position my body to control Lance’s movement. Lance takes this step towards him as a challenge. It is in this moment my emotions creep into my brain like an old rocky creek bed that accepts a trickle of clear spring water, silently weaving around and under before the churning wave hits with an all consuming rush.
Lance has won. We both know it. I try to regain my calm confidence as he puts his head down and strategizes at incredible speeds a hundred ways he can get rid of me. My stubbornness gives a cheerleaders “ho-rah” as I corner him, furthering the challenge. It is at this point he could easily take me down for the imposter that I am. He remembers that he has a loving family butler returning for him and he chooses to smartly bite my hand in warning. I concede.
It is at this point my good sense of reasoning takes over. Lance chooses to go and see what’s happening through his short doggy door, out into the play yard. He totally disregards this lump of pathetic human who opens the door for him with a curtsy and a bowl of food. I shamefully latch the door behind him with an insignificant shiny metal clip. Now to find the words to tell his “butler” that I cannot train this lap dog to respect me. I simply lack the tools to control my emotions in the face of danger. Yep! I’m a girl!!
Silas on the other hand…a spoiled, entitled, fluff ball of absolute perfection has made leaps and bounds. His manners at doorways have him sitting and looking at me with those deep brown respectful eyes for permission. You can see his little body shaking as he copes with the stress of self control which (in time) will become a mindless habit IF I can keep reminding him consistently. His self control in his kennel at night is improving. The tantrums have narrowed the destruction to simple nesting behaviour to deal with his anxiety. I am able to go into the kennel in the morning and let all the big dogs out…saving him for last…while he patiently and quietly waits his turn. He even waits at the open door of his nighttime prison as his bladder screams to be emptied. He looks up at me proudly and respectfully watches for that tiny gesture of release.
The release comes with an adorable skid around the corner that almost knocks his legs out from underneath him as he beats me to the next door and sits his furry butt on the step. I praise him and resist the urge to gather him into my arms and take in his goodness as I know it will result in my snow boots covered in warm exploding pee.
I contemplate the issue of his sporadic aggression. How can I teach him appropriate behaviour without creating a situation in which he fails? I know that I have to set him up to fail, to teach him. Setting him up in this situation means putting a child at risk. I can teach him self control, good manners and respectful behaviour. I can give him enough exercise, discipline and structure so he achieves and soars beyond his potential. But what is next for him? Does he return to his family? How does Silas look at the small angelic face that he split open with his teeth and promise to never do it again? How does that angelic child’s face forgive the trauma of a wild animal so close to his eye that Silas must have looked like a monster bearing down on him? A life changing trauma that will certainly follow the humans that love Silas, not only in physical scars but in emotional scars as well. A life changing moment that will surely restrict the love a human boy has for his dog…and perhaps, the love that his boys, after him, will have for a simple dog. How can I teach the family what changes need to be made without assigning blame? How can they possibly forgive?
Lance has yet to hurt a human. But this moment is coming. When this German Shepard releases his frustration, pent-up energy and disrespect on a human being…he will be euthanized and pay the ultimate price for human stubbornness. Silas has hurt a human, a child, the most precious of us all. Because he is small and fluffy and cute he gets to keep his life. He gets another chance to learn new things and become a productive member of society. These two families may or may not make good choices. But the decisions they make will come from good hearts and well meaning intentions. That in itself is the right choice, if not a good one.
Teaching simple boundaries is so complicated! Lance is a young adult who was neutered late in life. He has the instinct of a working dog and the power to support his almost every wish. As a trainer I lack the emotional resolve, and physical presence to challenge Lance into a corner and win. He is a disrespectful, entitled, millennial. Silas is a teenager who was neutered early. He has the fun loving instinct to live in the moment. As a trainer I have the confidence and knowledge to be consistent and challenge him without fear. He is a disrespectful, entitled, millennial. Fair? NOPE! If only life was fair.
I must concentrate on the things I have control over. I can control Silas as an individual and be useful to his life’s progress with his human’s. I cannot control the humans in his life. I cannot help or advise in Lance’s situation…I must simply walk away. I made a mistake in thinking that I could help Lance. My lesson in that is to concentrate my efforts on where I can help. Concentrated help is more powerful than half hearted help.
Next mission: How to inspire the human’s in Silas’ life…to be consistent, ignore Silas and change how the children interact with him at a fundamental level. Yep! Easy! Anyone know how to teach humans? (sigh)