Skip the dress rehearsal

movie clapboard I am a ‘directional dyslexic’. My thinking is that if our culture found knowing which way was north was important enough they would have provided me with remedial classes in school. As it is, that didn’t happen and lacking specific instructions, when given a choice of going right or left to get somewhere, will choose the wrong way. It happens to me when I’m driving, due to my inability to know or sense which is the ‘right’ way, will even disregard the disgruntled ‘recalculating’ Garmin lady on my GPS unit. It happens to me in shopping malls, leaving through the east wing door instead of the west and wandering the parking lot looking for the car I’d forgotten where I’d parked. I get lost so often that even the wrong way starts to seem right because I’ve been there so many times.

Recently I spoke to someone who had been fostering dogs in the hope of finding a good match for her fearful dog. The question put to me was, “Should I keep the latest dog, who I like, but has gotten into 2 fights with my dog?” The fights had required medical care and even though the dogs ‘got along’ most of the time, unless both impeccable management and successful training were in place, even without a crystal ball I would have been willing to put money on the dogs fighting again. That was all I could say, keep the dog or not, chances are good there would be another fight.

Dogs get better at both emotional and behavioral responses they repeat, whether we like them or not. Preventing dogs from rehearsing inappropriate responses is important. We may never be able to completely change how they will respond to something, but our chances are slimmer the more frequently they practice what we don’t like or want.

Not long ago when I met up with my brother to carpool with him to a friend’s funeral service the first thing he said to me when I got into his car was, “Can’t you wash your car?” Seriously? We don’t see each other for months and that’s what I get? Fortunately I don’t really care if someone finds my dirty car offensive. I live on a dirt road and among the tribe of other dirt road dwellers, my car fits in nicely. I did a bit too much explaining for my liking and decided next time I hear something like that from him I’ll laugh. But it was there, a twist in my gut from the sting of criticism and insult. I was able to nip my first response of disbelief and expletive in the bud. We were after all on our way to a funeral. If there is a next time I hope I can remember my commitment to laugh.

Until your dog is ready for an opening night performance skip the dress rehearsals if they keep forgetting their lines.


6 comments so far

  1. Meld on

    A great analogy Debbie. I am sure I violated this principle more than once with all of my dogs. Taking Lady to the store the night she went missing was a mistake, not because of the freaky event that led to the outcome, but because she wasn’t ready to be in a public place. I should have known better, but for some reason I didn’t. It resonates with me now though. A good reminder for me.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s a tough balance Mel. I am always checking in with dogs to see if they do have the tolerance, flexibility and resilience to push the envelope a bit. And it’s often impossible to know for sure, which is why developing whatever skills and positive relationship we can with a dog is so important. If something pushes them over the edge there’s the chance they can quickly pick themselves up and move on. You had a perfect storm event if I remember correctly with the sign getting knocked over. It happens. This is why living with these dogs is a challenge, sh*t happens, try as we might to manage it. Some dogs can take the hit and get back up, others can’t. Depending on the dog, the relationship they have with their handler and their skill set we’ll get different outcomes. I think that many people assume a dog has the skills when in fact they don’t. The daily notifications about dogs who have fled from their new homes is an indication of this to me.

      It sounded like Lady came home and slid back into her routines, which is great. Some even return home with a seemingly new sense of appreciation for that home and the people in it. It’s not the recommended method for achieving this, but it happens.

      • MelF on

        I agree Debbie. I know what happened was a freak accident, but she was already freaked out from going inside the store. I should have known that the best option would have been to put her back in the car as soon as I saw her nervousness. Amazing how sometimes we rationalize what our dogs are telling us huh?

        I know that your post was really about not putting dogs in a position to repeat behaviors you don’t want (thus reinforcing them or causing them to reoccur), but it just made me think of how I put Lady into a situation that she wasn’t ready for and that maybe skipping the dress rehearsals is best for now until she is confident enough to hit the big time.

        BTW – I don’t know if I ever thanked you for your help. You have no idea how much you were a lifeline to sanity that day. Thank you.

  2. fearfuldogs on

    No worries Mel. I just hope that we don’t kick ourselves unless absolutely necessary 😉

    Happy that I could offer anyone a lifeline to sanity in any way. I’m often short on it myself!

  3. Sweetpea on

    Debbie, I wanted to honor you & your blog a little bit by passing along the Liebster Blog Award, but do not feel any obligation to participate. I just wanted to extend the gesture as a thank you for all that you do for fearful dogs…

    and her two not-quite-as-fearful-as-they-used-to-be fur pals

    p.s. I am working on the post now, it will be up in a few minutes.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Wow. Thanks, that’s really nice of you.

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