Thursday, February 4, 2016
Life With Miley
I started this post when I was not in the right frame of mind. I was feeling frustrated and there were multiple things that were out of mine or Miley's control that were influencing what was going on and it was unfair of me to get so overly critical and negative of my dog. Miley has been going through a false pregnancy (I feel like I'm beating a dead horse every time I bring this up) and it has been worse than the last one. There have been things going on with her physiologically that neither she nor I have any control over. While I can rationalize this part of the time, the rest of the time it's a little hard to deal with and I get frustrated, negative and critical. So I need to check myself, before I wreck myself. Or my well meaning dog.
Miley went 7 days without eating her normal food. She even refused all treats that I offered her in a non working setting. Thankfully, she would accept her normal training treats while working. But that was it. So while she didn't completely starve herself for 7 days, she really didn't eat much. And she has become incredibly noise sensitive. To the point where the sound of Dominic eating out of his metal bowl will make her tuck her tail. She finds new inanimate objects to become afraid of every couple of days. Things that she has a history of touching and getting treats for, she now doesn't even want to come near. This has been a very difficult and frustrating false pregnancy to get through. Part of me is worried about my dog (lets be real, how often do you voluntarily pass up delicious food???). Miley is the first dog that I've had for whom refusing food is not a sign that I need to rush her to the vet. It's disconcerting and while I can rationalize that she'll get through this and start eating again, while it's going on, it seems that she will never eat again and I'm going to watch my dog self starve herself to death. I can admit this now because she has started eating again. Admittedly it's hit or miss how much she'll eat, but she's eating real food.
However, I hit a wall. The combination of worry, frustration and not being able to rationalize myself out of the moment, made me a very unsupportive partner for Miley. I didn't act out negatively towards her, but I was not as understanding when she needed me to be and there was a whole lotta negative talk going on inside my head at the time. So I'm writing the post to sort of put myself in check.
I got so stuck on the difficulties that we're having at the moment, that I couldn't switch gears. I'm a big fan of Denise Fenzi and she has had a few blog posts about training the dog that's in front of you. Not the dog you wish you had, not the dog you plan to have, not even the dog you might have had yesterday or an hour ago, but the dog that is standing there right in front of you. I wasn't doing that. Admittedly, my way of not training the dog who was in front of me was to just stop working with her. And that may very well be the solution for some dogs on some days. Miley is very forgiving and she was fine with that, but that was a failure on my part for not continuing on with something, anything, that maintained the connection that she and I have. Something that continued to further and build up that connection that will ultimately strengthen everything else that we do. I'm getting a little grandiose and maybe a little overly exaggerated, but really, it's the truth. I want a working partner that I have a very strong relationship with. Not every dog is going to be in a position to do or work on exactly what I want to work on at that exact moment. I need to pay attention to the dog that's in front of me. Period.
I did a lot of thinking while I was at work today as well as thinking out loud with my friend Megan, who is probably the most awesome person for me to go to when I'm needing to work through these moments. Giving myself a little bit of time and separation from the frustrating moments allowed me to dissect them a little and try to figure out why I was reacting the way that I was. Ultimately that was the problem. Miley is having a physiological response that neither she nor I can control. So the real problem is how I'm reacting to what's going. In it's most basic sense, why am I getting so frustrated with the training hiccups that we're having? What's going on is out of my control, so why am I placing so much importance on it? Ultimately, I feel the need to prove and produce. If Miley and I aren't making progress that I can show, then I'm failing. But who cares what kind of progress she and I are making? We're not going to win the Nobel Peace Prize for anything that we do. It won't solve world hunger. And it won't stop global warming. But it does matter to me. And because it matters to me, I put pressure on myself to produce. I know the mechanics of producing the end product, but when things get jumbled up in between, frustration happens. I get caught up in knowing how things can go, how I feel that Miley should respond if there weren't other forces at work and I don't alter my game plan based on the dog who I have before me.
Sometimes switching gears to focus on what Miley is giving me at that moment can be as seemingly simple as focusing on what SHE can do instead of what she can't at the moment. When I focus on the negative, the negatives have a way of seeming to pile up and become insurmountable. If I focus on the positive, it gives me a more productive and better oriented place to start from. So lets focus on what Miley is good at. The most basic thing I desire from my dogs is that they be enjoyable to live with and are able to go on the most basic activities that I get so much enjoyment from. Miley does that with pretty flying colors. She's my current running partner (for everything except my weekly long run) and my current hiking, snowshoeing and random outdoor expedition partner. She very happily goes along with me on these outings and is only continuing to show more enthusiasm the more varied the places she gets to go.
She's a pretty happy and forgiving dog. Bess was not terribly tolerant of repetition while training and would shut down. Miley may wilt a little if we're working with something scary, but she doesn't check out from me entirely. As a matter of fact, if she's scared of something or unsure of herself, she's more likely to come to me for reassurance. Even when I'm the one asking her to work with/around something she's not entirely certain of.
She has increasing stretches of wonderful heeling while out in distracting environments! I LOVE heeling. Love it! That is probably the single exercise where I feel the most connected to her.