Biggest Challenge

I recently filled out a dog training survey that asked what my biggest training challenge was. My first response was to laugh. Given the context of the survey, I think the other answers were probably things like “my dog breaks his start line stay in agility.” I don’t mean to mock anybody else’s challenges, because I know that dog sports people have invested significant time and money into training their agility dogs, but I would love for that to be my biggest problem.

I don’t remember what I actually wrote. I think it might have been about how we’re basically housebound, now that Silas is afraid of both the car and the sidewalk. (They’re both getting better, but at a glacial pace. On Monday, Silas sniffed the middle of the bush past the gate, instead of just the closest corner.)

The question keeps kicking around in my brain, though. What is my biggest dog training challenge?

It’s me.

Silas is a fragile dog. On Monday’s walk, fortunately after we were back inside our gate, he stepped on a water meter cover that shifted under his weight. He jumped, and I said to my husband “Well, I’ll never get him out here again.” I was only partly joking. Silas remembers everything.

Last time he was doing any real sidewalk walking, I got cocky and took him out in a gentle rain. It took six months to a year for me to get to set foot out of our garage again.

That kind of thing has made me fiercely protective of him. I’m afraid–not without reason–that any bad experience is going to ruin the tiny scraps of regular life that we have left. If he meets a snarky dog in the pet store, will he ever go again? If I take him to the park and we run into a group of children, will he be too scared to go back? If I encourage him to take one more step, or to get in the car, will that be enough pressure to ruin our progress? If I drive him home from the park with the windows down, will he stop getting in the car?

I have become the dog equivalent of a helicopter parent. If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, it’s the word my teacher friends use for those parents who are always hovering, waiting to swoop in and save their kid from whatever real or imaginary problem he or she faces. Kids with helicopter parents tend to not turn out well, because they never learn any real life skills.

That’s my biggest dog training challenge. I’m so protective of my anxious dog that I don’t give him a chance to grow.

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7 thoughts on “Biggest Challenge

  1. Whew. That is tough. I can certainly relate with you here, although not, perhaps, to the same degree. I am never really calm with Pyrrha out in the real world; I am constantly on alert for her triggers, and I never relax. It’s a plague. It affects her, naturally, and I seem increasingly unable to break myself out of the vicious cycle.

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  2. The tough thing about the level of vigilance we gain with a sensitive dog is how hard it is to break away even when we’re living in the future with a different dog.

    I hope you and Silas can find that balance that allows him to have the protection he needs while gaining the resilience that will help you both have a more normal life.

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  3. Just throwing this out, but do you think you might be too vigilant? Maybe Silas has picked up that if he reacts to something he will get attention and/or can manipulate the situation to do only as he wants. With smart dogs, this can be an issue. Chessies are keenly manipulative and I know there are times I have fallen for it. I am not discounting his issues, but maybe there is more going on.

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    1. I have learned to be pretty zen in the moment, after I realized that me stressing absolutely does make him worse. But I tend to avoid any situation that I think might be hard for him, which is not really helping him in the long run.

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  4. It’s really hard to balance protectiveness and the opportunity to grow. You’re aware of it – that’s a huge advantage and allows you to progress (even at a glacial pace) and to handle setbacks. Remind us, your faithful readers, if you’re working with a behaviorist at this point? It sounds like an objective outside eye that you really trust might be helpful. IF there are any behaviorists where you live, and IF you can afford them. I had a choice of one, and glad to have that, and fortunately she was good, but it wasn’t cheap.

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    1. Yes, we’ve been to the behaviorist. (A veterinary behaviorist; the real deal.) We went for about six months last year, and I keep in touch with her on e-mail. She was very helpful about some of his issues, and not so much about others. I could never get her to take Silas’s stranger issues very seriously, for instance, because he was all “I’m in the vet’s office! That means people are okay!”

      But, yeah, I know what I’m supposed to be doing with him; I just didn’t expect it to be so emotionally fraught.

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  5. I can relate – especially to the ’emotionally fraught’ part. I was thinking, though, how helpful the right pair of outside eyes might be to you at this stage – and seeing Silas in his environment, not in the vet’s office. (Although you don’t have people over, do you, because of Silas’ issues. Hmmm…)

    I am so impressed at the work you put in with Silas, and at the great descriptions of ups, downs, frustrations and successes you offer us. When I realized what we had gotten into after adopting Habi, six years ago, it was really hard to find other people dealing with the same stuff, at least in an enlightened way. I so appreciate your sharing.

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