Training your reactive dog is the same as training your reactive spouse.
Herding Lesson #3: No herding. The farm and field were unsafe to walk on for both people and animals. It was covered with snow that had been compressed and melted into ice.
I have been thinking about this all week, I broke one of my rules in my last blog. I realized it at the end, but I decided to leave it and address it next time. Jedi and I have not made it past dogs the way we did last week, in almost a year. I did have one trainer who had him walking next to other dogs, but he was so shut down by her. It didn’t really count, not until he is recovered and can make decisions for himself.
At the same time, I won’t lie, there were some tears after the last herding session. They emerged from a place of frustration. I was thinking about what I was going to do the next week. How tall I would stand and how commanding I would be, but I am pretty sure I did all of that a week ago Sunday.
My husband happened to be out and about, you know when you have those quiet moments where you think too much. It seems ridiculous how many tears I have shed over silly dog stuff. When I look back, I think maybe it happens when I hit bottom. Afterwards we seem to gain the most ground. I am going to think that now, because it gives me hope that we will start to rise up from here. Start clicking, start moving forward as a team. Maybe the tears have helped cleared my vision. I don’t believe there was any teamwork in what I did last week.
Jedi came over to comfort me in my sadness. He put his head in my hand and stared into my eyes. His beautiful brown almond shaped eyes. They were just quiet tears, but he was concerned. I got on the floor to snuggle with him. Tears vanishing with each little kiss he gave me. Yes, he made me smile. He is so sweet.
I will acknowledge our success, it is so important to do this. If you don’t stop and acknowledge even small successes, how will you know you are improving? Meeting goals, making progress. It will always be, oh the next thing. That isn’t fair to anyone.
Plus, Jedi gave me his best last week, he really did. I pushed back, I didn’t respect his needs. My husband and I often talk about respect. About two weeks ago, we had a tiff. It was over who would get up and feed the dogs. We did discussed it afterwards, because I believe good communication is vital to relationships. It turns out, tons of issues stem from respect.
It was around 8 am on a Sunday, I know what was I doing still in bed. My husband had just gotten back from taking the dogs on their morning walk. Both dogs had thrown up the day before. I think they found to many rabbit treats in the yard earlier in the day. They sat waiting patiently that morning for us to feed them. I heard Jedi’s stomach heaving a bit. Both dogs acted just a touch under the weather.
My husband said he would feed them. I wondered if they would feel better with food in their stomachs now. My husband had been sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at his phone. After 15 minutes, I asked if he was going to feed them. I swear, it came from a genuine place. I knew what I was asking, no ulterior motives. If he said, sure can you feed them, I would have. No complaints.
Instead our communication failed in the next moment. He said he would in a few minutes, just the answer he gave…a few minutes ago. I got up and started towards the kitchen. He followed me. At that moment, I reacted. I couldn’t believe he got up. I could have stayed in bed, if he would have gotten up right then. He later said he got up, because he thought I was angry. He reacted back A skirmish ensued.
Who started it. Well, I was the first to react, with my heavy sigh, stomping feet and slamming food dishes. I know, very childish right. I was off in some emotional world where it is difficult to listen and act properly. I had gone REACTIVE! Afterwards, we went back to the beginning. We discussed what we could have done differently.
First, I have to add this. The same day a friend of mine and her husband, had a go around about a salt shaker left on the counter. My friend’s husband is constantly dismayed over the salt shaker staring at him from the counter. I always mean to tell her to glue some little plastic eyes on the salt shaker and leave it on the counter. LOL, I don’t know if that would help the situation though… Together, we tried to figure out a solution. We couldn’t. We decided to chew on it and talk about it again another time. We were going to understand men.
I decided to ask my husband about it, while we were discussing “our issue”. He said, her husband was disrespected. Blew up my mind. I never knew men actually felt disrespected in that way. Why don’t we know this about each other!! A few days later, I read the blog I left dishes by the sink. It was about the same thing. Respect.
Either way, I believe it is very difficult for people to begin to notice when they are reacting to a situation. By that I mean, responding with pure emotion, not logic. Not just the emotions they are feeling now either, but sometimes past emotions. Just add it to the pile. Things we haven’t fully let go of yet, so we rehash them again and again. We are no longer in the moment, we cannot figure out what started the argument or why we are even arguing. Pure raw emotion.
Yes, ground rules are a must if you want to put a halt to the reactivity!! This is a very important step when communicating during a very stressful conversation. Our first rule is, who ever is able to recognize we are no longer discussing anything, but rather just reacting, asks us to stop.
In the beginning, this is difficult step. The other person is most likely going to try to say one last thing when you stop and become quiet. What is said might make you want to start back up. Instead, take a breath and trust that you will start a calm, respectful conversation from this point forward. You both have to be on board with this for this to work.
Next, we attempt to figure out what actually happened. What did I hear him say and vice versa. It always seems to be, something was misinterpreted in our brains. What was said did not have the intent behind it, when compared to what the other person heard. We owe this to each other and to those around us to create respectful communications.
Take turns talking about each others personal experience. No blame, just your side of what you heard and how it made you feel. If you are the kind of person that needs to take a break first, go write everything down. This is where it really started changing for me. I would stop and go sort out my feelings, by writing my husband a letter. Often, I didn’t needed to give it to him. I would discover, it was my issue.
I got better at expressing myself. I could handle conflict in a more productive manner. That is a gift that I wholeheartedly accepted. I have struggled with conflict my whole life. I would just shut down. How did my family deal with conflict…we just never had it. We all avoided it like the plague. I never developed the skills!! Ok, I digress. I am pretty good at that.
Continue working the steps to get closer to the beginning. Was it the tone of their voice, did it bring up a reoccurring issue, do you just not feel good, are you really upset about something else and you took it out on the person you love?
Now, we are getting somewhere. Talk about how to avoid the drama. Ask the other person how it could have been phrased differently or could you use other words next time or maybe you need to be aware of your tone of voice. Say sorry where sorry is due!! Most often, it is due from both parties. Now move on.
Here was our solution. I should have said, “I think the dogs stomachs might not feel great and eating now might make them feel better. Do you still have things you need to do on your phone, otherwise I can feed them? ” Mission accomplished. Clear and respectful communication.
This process creates change and teamwork! A relationship/partnership should make your team stronger, not weaker. When you get really good at this, you can just respond while staying in the moment. You may simply stop. Ask the other person if what you think you just heard, is what the other person meant. It’s like magic!
The more you do it, the better you get at it. This has been a wonderful gift from Jedi, helping me stay in the moment. These techniques can be applied all over in your life and the same skills you need for your reactive dog.
Your may be reacting to your sudden tense body posture, the heavy sigh you just produced, a flash of anxiety or apprehension or the tight leash. Things you may not even notice you are doing. If reacting starts, you can either stop it or feed it. Choose wisely.
I am not sure of the origins of this story, but my husband told me about it after our last “reactive” event.
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.
“One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
The other part of having a reactive dog is make sure you do not to stand still on your journey. The more you get out there and have experiences, the better you will become at noticing what is happening.
Just keep moving, it all helps you figure out what might be spinning your team out of orbit. Oh yes, you are right there playing your part, but what does that mean? Remember, stay in the moment, listen to your thoughts, it will help you get that much closer to moving past these moments. One step at a time, together as a team.