PTSD Waiting Game

Yesterday, a coworker asked me about Ryder’s progress. Unaware of the depth of this answer, he was genuinely curious.

I repeated the same story I have told a hundred times. And then we started talking about me and where I am in all of this. Which got me thinking about where I actually am in all of this. Am I ‘over it’? Am I still ‘in the thick of all these feelings’? Where am I exactly?

He asked me, “What makes a professional cyclist continue on?” Since I don’t cycle professionally, nor follow the sport, I had no idea. So, I guessed and said ‘determination’. He said no. He then asked me if I have ever seen a professional cyclist who has never fallen off a bike. I knew where he was going with this. It was obvious.

Why do we fall? So we can pick ourselves back up.

Get back up on that horse.

If you fail, try, try again.

It’s not like I haven’t heard these before. I’m a smart individual, so I know what he was saying. Then, he asked me ‘Are you going to let yourself be a great trainer?’. Will you let yourself be good?

That’s a great question. Why did this event affect me this way? Was it because I had to watch Ryder die? Was it because I had to make the decision with the family to put him to sleep? As much as that was awful, it isn’t because of that. It’s because I wasn’t good enough for him. I couldn’t fix him.

But, I also know the same fate would have happened if he was with another trainer. I know that. Why do I still feel like I failed? It comes and goes. Sometimes, I know I did the right thing. Other times, there is that ‘what if’ voice in my head saying I have learned so much since I started working with him.

Hitting the Wall End of my LeashThen, I hear the words from my mentor. ‘You did the right thing. I would have done the same.’ And then, when I had my totally embarrassing day 4 breakdown during my certification course, she said ‘You need to get over it’. Not in a mean way or make things worse, but still – I need to get over it.

The pain is gone. The pain from putting him to sleep, the pain of losing him. That’s gone. The feeling of failure, regret, feeling over my head, not knowing what else to do, and ultimately FAILING…. Is still there.

We have decided not to get a great dane right now. I wanted a blue merle great dane to add to our family. Right now, we have decided to put this off. I also haven’t taken on another difficult case since Ryder. It’s not like I’m avoiding them, just… haven’t had one come along.

I know I’ll have to make this decision again, but how can I move on? How can I get over it when I’m feeling like I could have done more. Will this ever go away? It’s been almost 3 months since we put him to sleep.

My therapist says I have PTSD regarding this situation. She says it will take as long as it takes. But why won’t it just hurry up? I mean, I’m trying to get over it, and triggers keep pulling me back.

All great danes used to get to me after this happened. Then, just merle great danes. Then the name ‘Ryder’. Then stories of unpredictable aggression. Then, I was faced with working in the same facility with Ryder before he died. The same technique I was working on, the same words were spoken to me. I broke down, but I moved past it. Once I moved past these triggers, it’s driving past the pet hospital that gets me sometimes. And then, when I feel I’m stable and getting over it, something else triggers me. Like someone who didn’t know the whole story, asking me about his progress. And I’m back to where I was.

WHY CAN’T I MOVE ON?! I just want to learn from it and move on.

I’m frustrated because it feels like I’m hitting a wall over and over again.  It doesn’t affect my work, I don’t freak out at clients’ houses, but it’s all inside. I’m very good at hiding what I’m feeling in person. People don’t know there is a hurricane of emotions happening on the inside. But there is. And even when people ask me about Ryder or I hit a trigger, I have been able to handle it. Until my workshop. It hit me like a tidal wave, and I couldn’t stop from shaking, hyperventilating, and panicking in front of everyone.

PTSD Drowning End of My LeashIt feels like I’m climbing out of a deep hole, and every time I start to see the light and climb out, the hole grows and I’m climbing again. The hole keeps getting deeper, and it feels I’ll never get out.

Or maybe I’m drowning, and every time I swim to the top, water pours down on me and pushes me to the bottom again. How can I ever get back anything if I keep getting pushed back down?

I have this internal wound that won’t heal. Every time it starts to mend, it gets ripped open again, and I’m trying to hard to stop the emotional bleeding. I’m trying to stitch it up the best I can and say ‘it happened, get over it’, ‘suck It up, it was right’, ‘everyone else would have done the same’, ‘he’s at peace now’, etc. But it doesn’t help. Those stitches don’t seem to be enough.

I don’t cry, I don’t show I’m upset, and when people ask me, I put on a smile and say I’m doing fine. I’m faking it to make it. I’ve tried screaming, I’ve tried forcing myself into situations where I have to interact with my triggers. What else can I do?

Just wait. Waiting sucks.

Reflection of Positivity

Napoleon and I, after a short training session

Napoleon and I, after a short training session

With all of the emotional challenges I have faced recently, I have to keep focusing on the positives. I focus on how much good I do, and I also face the grim truth: We can’t save them all. But, the ones we are able to save will live on with better lives. I have to think positively.

So, this week’s blog is about my successes this year with my business and personal gains. At the beginning of the year, I had set goals.  Goals I had to accomplish in order to make a huge life change. To take a leap of faith, to make the jump. It all comes down to that decision.

My biggest goal was to get my certification. I have been talking to the owner of K9 Lifeline for quite some time (starting over a year ago) about taking her certification course. At the time, it was around $3,000 and 2 weeks long. Well, that means I needed the money, and I also needed 10 days of PTO. It takes a full month for me to earn 1 day. So, that was 10 months of absolutely no sick days, no vacations, and no ½ days for my own personal sanity. I started saving up my time last year around November. I had a few days saved, so if I didn’t take a day off for Christmas or any other holiday, or get sick, or have an emergency, I could take the course in July.

I had the time, but the Difficult Dog Workshop was in June, and I JUST HAD to go. Which cost me 3 days. That’s 3 more months of no sick days or vacation. I can do it, I know I can. That means I can take my certification in October, and to play it safe, let’s plan on November.

Then, I found out the eTouch Workshop was coming in October with another very reputable trainer. Ok, that’s another 2 days. Which means I’m looking at Dec/Jan. Ah man… at this rate, I’ll never get it. And I’ll never take a vacation!

Then I heard from another trainer that the course is a little cheaper, and is only 6 days, instead of 10, but I get the same amount of material. WHAT?!  Really?! I can take it now! So, the plan is in motion, and I hope to get my certification at the end of August! YAY!

Pack Walk 6/28/13

Pack Walk 6/28/13 (Click to enlarge)

I have also started doing my pack walks. This wasn’t a requirement, but it is a success, and I’m proud I have been able to organize this event. Every time I do them, they get a little easier, I gain a little more confidence, and more people show up for them!

I am now offering a nutritional workshop (hopefully twice a year) because so many clients have been interested in what is the best dog food or I’m interested in raw, I’m just feeding chicken, is that ok? I want to educate and help people do what is right for their dog. Wow, another big event, planned. Hook. Line. Sinker.

I have attended a few nutritional workshops, watched online seminars, increased my training network and made some awesome friends as well. I have read so many books, it sometimes feels I’m reading the same things over and over again. But, if I attend a seminar, read a book, or meet with new people at a workshop, and I learn ONE new thing, it was completely worth it. If I learn a lot, that knowledge is invaluable because I will build on that and learn more new things and become an even better trainer.

I have been asked to help during my trainer friend’s Saturday Socials, and I feel I am becoming more and more confident each week.  This was huge for me, because eventually, I want to run these. I have run a small social in my backyard with 11 dogs (specifically picked out who would be able to come) and I was pretty confident (but so nervous too!). I am more confident and assertive when I am by myself because I sometimes feel I am such a baby in this field, so when I am around someone with more experience, I tend to freeze up a little or my heart starts pounding. I have only been ‘on my own’ training for 2 years. I worked at Petsmart and did simple sit/stay training with my dogs in high school, but not like this.  I will someday be as awesome as these trainers. I can do it, and I am well on my way!

Mowgli was here for boarding for a weekend

Mowgli was here for boarding for a weekend

I have started boarding in my own home. This was a scary move, but overall, I really enjoy it. The dogs are kept safe, get plenty of attention and stimulation and are in a loving environment. And I get to experience what handling more dogs feels like in a safe way. I try to only board dogs I know for this reason. Sometimes, I board dogs I haven’t met before, and it can go either way. I had a crazy dog I boarded in the beginning that was a disaster, but right now, I’m boarding 2 that I had never before. Both are sweethearts, and I’m happy to have them! I get to practice some of my own techniques, I get to practice reading dogs I don’t know, and I get to practice walking multiple dogs at the same time. Sometimes this is a huge challenge because I’ll be walking 4 dogs at once, and only one knows how to walk on a leash nicely. So, we take an hour to go around the block. But that’s just it – I get to practice!

I have actually started making money, and even though I won’t show a profit this year (which is actually a good thing for taxes, of course), I will next year. This year, I attended 2 workshops (so far, and plan to attend another) and my certification course, which weren’t cheap. So, I made money, and then spent it all on workshops.

I have plans in the making to get a better ‘dog car’ as mine is really taking a beating with all the dogs coming and going in it. This may not happen next year, but the year after. In the meantime, I need to find a way to keep my seats intact! Even Napoleon’s kennel won’t fit in my backseat.

We have plans about our location for when I get more serious about doing this. Either having a facility on my own lot, or leasing/purchasing a facility in the future. This is WAY in the future, just a dream right now, but it’s something.

The biggest success, if you can call it that, would be the decision the family and I had to make about their dog, Ryder. You can follow his whole story here. He was a very special Merle Great Dane who had an unpredictable streak. He could be loving on you and playing, and then turn and bite someone. Unfortunately, these are some of the hardest dogs to work with because you can’t find a trigger. We thought it was men, hats, uniforms, etc – but, he wouldn’t go after the same person twice, or the same hat, and if you switched the hat with another person, he would be fine. 95% of the time, he was manageable and just needed training. The other 5% of the time, he was unpredictable and could seriously hurt someone. He was hard to adopt out, and we didn’t find the right home. So, we made the decision to euthanize him. We didn’t come to this decision lightly and it was months of talking about options. I won’t get into everything again, but this was the right thing. I cried pretty much the whole week, I was emotionally exhausted, I didn’t want to talk about it anymore, I wanted a miracle to show up on my doorstep and be the perfect place for him, or I wanted Best Friends to take him. Neither happened. But now, I am at peace with this decision and I am still sad of the outcome – it won’t ever be a ‘happy ending’. But, I know he is running free and will be happy now, without having to worry about anything. I had to make this decision and it has made me a better trainer. This was a turning point in my career. I’m sad it had to be him, but I’m happy he is free and healthy now.

Most of all, I can’t ‘count’ how much I have learned this year, but I have really taken an initiative on learning as much as I can, and sacrificing so much to do this. I have also learned so much about myself, and I feel more complete because of what I have accomplished.  I don’t have the constant stress feeling of ‘Am I doing this right?’ or ‘I’m going to fail, what if I fail?’ feelings. If I fail, I get up and try again. If I get bit or kicked in the teeth, I put a band-aid on and try again. I won’t let other trainers, dogs, people, or my mistakes stop me from continuing on. I will learn from them and be a better trainer for them. I’m happy to take constructive criticism and coaching, but please – no need to be an asshat about it. I want to learn, and I can admit I don’t know everything.

I work in the dog industry, a bite is bound to happen. Not that I want it to, but just like working in construction, it’s inevitable. It’s not if, it’s when.

I’m happy, and I see an end to these 100 hour workweeks. I see a light, and I’m excited to see what happens. Scared, but excited.

I can do this.

Final Chapter: Ryder

Ryder3

Ryder, in the backseat of my car.

Ryder, the project Great Dane I have been working with for the last 8 months. If I were to look back at my notes from my last update and compare what said about him in the beginning to what I say now, here’s a comparison:

In November, 2012:

Ryder is incredibly pushy and a ‘jerk’. He jumps on people, has lunged at men (to bite, not to say hi), chews up everything, breaks out of kennels, counter/refrigerator surfs, jumps on furniture and is ‘out of control’. He is very fast and will knock you down to get where he wants to be. I recommend getting him neutered and we need to potty train and kennel train him first thing. I recommend leash work and mental exercise. I’m not concerned with obedience at this point in time. Receiving a bite may occur out of disrespect, not aggression.

Now:

With the last 8 months of training, Ryder is VERY sensitive towards corrections. Every correction must be very light. If the correction is too harsh (pulling too hard on the leash), he gets mouthy. When he gets frustrated, a bite can happen. The family has worked on Halti work, kennel training, mental exercises, and slowing him down around the house. He is no longer jumping, counter surfing, jumping on the furniture, and has slowed down quite a bit. He has a calmer demeanor and is no longer the jerk he once was. Now, he is very sensitive and wants to know what he can do to make you happy. He is potty and kennel trained, and now has more respect for humans. However, he is not to be trusted in the house or outside alone. He will break through fences to get where he wants, or will chew up things in the house. I recommend being on a leash at all times, even if the leash is dropped. This is a leadership exercise that will teach him you control space.

He has improved so much and has been in a constant state of learning since I have been working with him. He has been at my house a few times for boarding, training, and I took him to the Difficult Dog Workshop to learn more about how to handle dogs like him. While he was visiting me, I taught him how to walk on the treadmill, how to slow down and calm down on a dime in my home, and how to properly behave when he wants to go outside, wants food, or wants to play. Again, he isn’t perfect, but he has made major improvements. There was major work to be done, but I felt we were ½ way there.

I have learned so much from this dog, and I hope he has learned just as much as I have. Unfortunately, working with a difficult dog in an intense boot camp training setting is exhausting. The family has done everything they can, followed my training regimen, and really put the work necessary into working with him. After 8 months of intense training, Ryder has still made mistakes, and those mistakes are sometimes worse than others. The family is ready to find him a new home. I can’t blame them, I completely understand. It doesn’t make them bad owners or bad people. In fact, I LOVE this family.

But to make things even harder… I love this dog too. I am attached to him. My husband and I spoke until we were blue in the face to see if we can make this work. To see if we could take him into our home and work with him. Or at least foster him until we found the right family for him.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t do well with our cats (they are part of the problem – they egg him on until he gets in trouble), and I don’t have the necessary time to devote to working with him. As much as I want to believe I could get up an hour earlier in the mornings, leave earlier to work, come home earlier to work with him, and then train him after my evening training appointments… I know it isn’t realistic. It wouldn’t be fair to him.

failI feel I failed him. I feel like if I had more experience in training, or if I could have done a board and train (not doing those for a while).. things would be different. Did I do something wrong? Have I really failed? What can I do? I’m feeling all kinds of not good feelings about this. I don’t blame the family, it’s not their fault. They hired me to help them train Ryder. And he’s not trained enough. What else could I do? I know this happens in the dog training world. Every dog is an individual and learns at their own pace. I also know he did make major improvements. But it wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t able to keep him in his current situation. Some dogs choose not to learn. I don’t feel this was the case with Ryder. He is just super sensitive, not dumb. I saw remarkable learning capabilities when he was at my house. He learned how to properly walk on a treadmill without me being next to him in 3 days. I’m trying hard to feel that I did everything. I’m trying to hard to feel like I didn’t fail and that I did do everything I could. But now, what else can I do? I can get him into a different situation. I can help find another home for him and get him into a situation where he will succeed.

If you, or someone you know, feels that they can take on Ryder into their family and give him the training and time he deserves, please let me know.  It needs to be a good fit – this is the biggest factor in finding him a new home. I want to set him up to succeed in his new household by starting out on the right foot.

So please – no cats, and no small children. He is good with other dogs, and a calm dog would help him settle in quickly, and teach him how to slow down. He would do best in a household where someone is home during the day so they can continue is training.

Danes and Breeding

BlackGreatDaneWe have been looking and looking and looking for a Great Dane puppy for over a year. It’s more passively looking, as we don’t really support breeding, we want to rescue. With all the knowledge I have about dogs, training, and medical issues, I still feel like I am under-qualified to breed. I will always feel that way, unless I had a degree in Canine Genetics and Animal Behavior. I would need to know so much about the anatomy and medical problems of the breed I chose, that I wouldn’t have room in my head to do anything else. And besides that, how do I guarantee the safety and wellness of the puppies who go to homes?

I can’t. So, I don’t breed. I won’t.

White Dane

Lily, the blind Great Dane

There are some good breeders out there, and I know a few. But at the same time, our rescues are full. Our shelters are full, and there are SO MANY backyard breeders just making puppies without a thought to what this could do to the gene pool for that breed.

White puppies. Blind puppies. Deaf puppies. DEAD puppies.

This is what happens when breeders breed irresponsibly. Without doing the research. Without knowing the breed. Without doing knowing genetics, doing anatomy research, without checking the pedigree for a few generations up for each the dame and the sire.

These backyard breeders damage our dogs. They overbreed, they inbreed, they breed for the wrong reasons.

‘So my kids can see the miracle of life..’
‘So my kids can play with little puppies…’
‘Puppies are cute, everyone wants puppies..’
‘To make money’
‘My neighbor has a yorkie. I have a yorkie. Let’s breed them.’
‘I want a puppy, and this is how I can one…’

Great_Dane_PuppyThe list goes on of excuses. Never do I hear ‘To improve the breed’. Which is the correct reason to breed. Would you breed your children for any of the reasons above? If so… maybe you should think about your priorities.

Again, there are good breeders out there… just few and far between. Which brings me back to my original point. Great Danes. My husband and I (ok, mostly me) want one so badly. We are aware of all their genetic health problems. We know the risks, and know our dog won’t be around for as long as, say, a lab. But – unfortunately, they are still my favorite breed.

Over the course of 1 year: Many dogs we considered, we proceeded into the adoption paperwork about 4 of them. All fell through. Found out my neighbor is having puppies. Asked some questions. Found out the mom is a Merle. Dad is Black. No pedigree history, they won’t give me pictures. They aren’t registered breeders.

Worst of all: Breeding a Merle Dane can produce sensory defect pups or stillborn pups.

Merles should not be bred by anyone with only a handful of exceptions. The reason is not just the risk of sensory defects, since responsible breeding of appropriate colors can virtually eliminate that risk. Merles can’t be shown or evaluated by impartial third parties. Only someone who has been showing and breeding for decades and has a VERY compelling reason as well as the knowledge and experience to judge a dog’s faults and strengths accurately could even begin to responsibly breed a merle dog.

Doesn’t sound like that is the case… again… I’m puppy-less.

Danepuppy

Good Day

Had a pretty good day so far. It all starts by how I wake up. I woke up a few minutes before my alarm this morning, and got ready for my doggie social class. I was going to a different class today, as the dog I normally take was neutered on Thursday. He’s not ready to up and around yet. Class went well, BIG CLASS today. I LOVE big classes!

Me and NapoleonThere were 3 Great Danes in class today, and Napoleon made friends with one of them. They played the whole time, and made the ache of getting a dane come back. A lady in my neighborhood is going to be having Dane puppies in May, and I’m interested, but not quite sold yet. I don’t have a lot of information yet. I have a ton of questions to ask, and I want to make sure I get a healthy puppy. I don’t so much care about show lines or whatever, but I just want to make sure mom and dad are healthy.

I was able to talk to the head trainer about some concerns I have been having with Napoleon and the crating. He is crate-trained, because he knows the command, goes in no problem, and lays down immediately.

It was a nice day today, so my husband and I took our motorcycle out and have lunch. It was a great day, and I love having a mini-date when we can. We came home, and then worked on my website.When we are gone, I have nanny-cammed him before, and he is perfect. Just goes to sleep, or chews on his bone. But if we are home, he whines, and has a high-pitched migraine-inducing bark. …nonstop! I have waited for hours before.  All the techniques I have used with other dogs-not working for my boy! So, my trainer recommended I try out a bark collar. I haven’t used one before, but this will be good. I’ll get to learn how to use one on my own boy, and learn the proper way to use it. The goal is to eventually not use it all. I will be giving this a try.

It’s finished! Yay! Pawsitive Dog Training. I’m pretty happy with the outcome, and I can happily say I am very proud of my work. Finally finished, and I’m happy with the logo my friend made for me. I’ve been through countless logos, including another one my coworker made for me for free. None of them were… simple enough, or didn’t fit my business model. I found one I can use for anything, and that’s exactly what I have been looking for.

So, now, I’m off to play some video games, and drink more coffee. Yum! Have a great weekend, all!

Ryder, My Project Dog

Rider2Ryder, a 2 year old male merle Great Dane I have been working with for a few months is a PROJECT! He came to my client from a neighbor who didn’t want to take care of him anymore. He was underweight, and completely unsocialized. His problems included jumping on people to say hello, biting the leash while pulling and trying to get away, being rowdy in the house, counter/refrigerator surfing, aggression towards men, and he would ‘play bite’ your face, hands, butt, anything he could reach.

Now, that was a few months ago. Now, he doesn’t jump on people to say hello anymore, no more play biting, and counter surfing has been greatly reduced. We have been working on a leadership program to teach him who is the leader (it isn’t him!), and kennel training. We have also been heavily working on the leash and handling the aggression.

Kennel training was… difficult. 1) Because he’s huge. He didn’t like going in at first, the client would bribe him by putting a bone in the kennel. This is still something we are working on, but now, he will come out of the kennel perfectly. He will lay down until we open the door. He has to be laying down CALMLY before we can let him out. In the beginning, he would try to push you out of the way to get out of the kennel. That was a few months ago. Now, he waits calmly to be called out.

Now, the aggression is still a constant challenge. He lunges at men while barking, and this is not a ‘to say hello’ lunge. He snarls and does a hard stare when there is a strange man across the street or outside.  Now, this goes 2 ways. If the man completely ignores him, he is fine. If he looks at Ryder, he gives a warning hard stare and then a growl. If the man continues to stare, he barks and lunges at him. We have been taking him to a social class to help with this along with one of Ryder’s biggest problems: He’s pushy and dominant.

The rules are coming along, and I see major improvement within the client’s house. The family has learned how to behave around him and all the kids are on board. Even the youngest (around 4, I believe). Obedience is showing improvement, though it is slow.

As for the dominance and pushy behavior, we are teaching him he doesn’t get what he wants by pushing past people or rushing the door. We are making him slow down for ANYTHING he wants by making him sit first, and then wait calmly. Putting the halti on, taking it off, coming inside, going outside, going in the kennel, coming out of the kennel, feeding time, attention, obedience training, etc. We have also stopped him from jumping on the furniture, as this was a problem in the beginning. Still jumps up on the couches when no one is looking, but he has made HUGE progress.

So, overall, we still have a ton of work to do with him, but he made tremendous progress into becoming a loving family pet. I am so impressed with how much the family has been on board, and the progress he has made. Every week (most of the time) I see a change in his behavior.

Successes:
-Counter surfingRider
-Jumping
-Play biting
-Calming down in the house
-Kennel training

Work in progress:
-Loose Leash walking
-Accepting the halti
-Respecting the family
-Aggression towards men
-Pushy/Dominant behavior