Sunday, February 12, 2012

Humble pie

A few weeks ago, I shamelessly bragged about my performance as a calm and assertive pack leader when the Beast ended up being the only dog in the park to not have a meltdown when a shouting match, prompted by one off-leash dog going after another on-leash dog, erupted between their owners.

This weekend, it's time for some penance and humility...

My story begins on Friday morning, when the Beast and I took off on our run. We started out a little bit later than we normally would (someone forgot to set the alarm clock...), and so I thought we would just do a quick 6k so that I could get home and get ready for work. But about 20 minutes in, the sun started to come up. And I haven't had a sunrise run since, well, September. So I decided to change course. I brought the Beast into his beloved Arboretum. While he ran around from stick to stick to stick (a large number of which he evidently ate and threw up 24 hours later), I did a few laps on the pressed-down-snow trail that has built up over the winter months.

By the time we arrived in our driveway, we'd put 10.04k under our belts. We were both pretty wiped. And I was staring down a clock telling me that I would be late for work.

No matter. Running my first 10k in five months - during the light of day - felt glorious. And the Beast got a tonne of exercise while hanging out in his favourite place on earth. It was a good morning for both of us.

When I got home after work on Friday to let the Beast out and to take him on his end-of-day stroll, I was positive that he would still be recovering from his big morning. But nope. He was JACKED! I let him out, and he practically skidded across the floor to the back door. I let him out to pee and he leaped across the deck and over the snowbank as though someone was waiting on the other side with a treat. When he was done, he came running back into the house and jumped on me, something that he rarely does anymore because he knows it will earn him a correction. But there was something in the air that had him in an absolute tizzy. Maybe he knew that it was Friday?

Whatever the reason for his state, I should have known better than to bring him immediately to the dog park, at prime-after-work-hours, when all the dogs and kids would be there, without bringing him for a walk first to drain a little energy.

Now in fairness to myself, I had every intention of bringing him for a walk. But then, as I got to the end of my street, I bumped into a neighbouring family and their golden doodle. And their little 9 year old girl asked me if the Beast was coming to the park. I told her that we would go to the park when we were done our walk, and she looked at me and said, "Darn! We probably won't be there when you come back because we are going to Grandma and Grandpa's for dinner!" And since I really like this kid, I told her that I would come to the park with her and walk the Beast later, which seemed to make her very happy.

First mistake.

The second mistake was letting him off-leash when I knew that he was not calm enough.

There is a ritual to unleashing the Beast in the dog park. He must first sit down and make eye contact. Then he must relax (as much as he is capable of relaxing). Then I let him off his leash, and he must stay put until I give him the release command. Most of the time, he is very good at this, and if he does try to take off before I release him, all it takes is an "Ah-ah!", and his bum hits the ground and he resumes his not-so-patient stay. Until I yell "break", at which point he is off.

Yesterday, he took off immediately, without listening to my protest of "ah-ah!" or my futile grab for his collar as he dashed away. Enter the third mistake: not going to get him to bring him back to the spot until I was ready to release him. Nope, I just let him bolt off.

This is all very uncharacteristic of me. I love my dog, but I ain't no pushover. And he's not allowed to get away with this shit. I've yanked him out of a dog park for much lesser sins than this. But yesterday, I just checked out. I was tired from a long day at work. I was stressed from a long two-weeks at work. And I was feeling slightly guilty that almost as soon as we got home, the Beast would have to go back into his crate because hubby and I were heading out for the evening. So I gave him the proverbial inch...

...and he turned that inch into a dog park gong show.

I won't go into every detail. Suffice it to say that he was playing roughly with all the younger dogs, he was barking at the kids, and he was generally running around like a chicken with his head cut off. I reached my patience limit when, after releasing him from a three-minute time-out, he went straight back to terrorizing two sweet and submissive dogs that were frequenting the park. That's when I decided that it was time to leave, and I grabbed for the Beast with his leash in hand.

It took me about 30 seconds or so to catch him, because he was in that zone where every command I shouted was not registering. When I finally nabbed him, I clipped his leash back on and put him immediately into a down, swearing a little bit under my breath as I did so. My plan was to keep him lying down there for a few minutes until he calmed down a little. Then I was going to bring him on his walk.

And then one of the little girl's at the park came running up to him, screaming his name and telling him that he was the craziest dog that she'd ever met. Before I could tell her that the Beast was on a time-out, she reached down to hug him. Which he took as an invitation to jump up and bark in her face.

And so he did.

Now he did not touch her. Neither with a paw nor with his mouth. He simply jumped and barked. But he was about an inch from her face, and his bark is loud. Which I guess is scary to a little girl. So she started to cry.

And I thought to myself, "Oh f$&k!"

Because when a dog makes a kid cry, it is always, always, always the dog's fault. No matter the circumstances. It doesn't matter that I had put the Beast on a time-out to calm him down so that I could remove him from the park because he was getting out of hand. It doesn't matter that the Beast isn't a human and doesn't understand what a hug is. And it doesn't matter that this little girl was coming straight toward him making wild gestures that he didn't understand. All that matters is that he did something that made a kid cry.

I admit it. I wanted to speak sternly with the little girl, and say something bitchy like, "You get what you deserve, kiddo!" or "Stop crying! He didn't even touch you!" or "You can't come running up to him like that and expect him to lie there quietly!" or "Back off the next time you see that I am trying to discipline him!"

But I didn't say anything of the sort. Instead, I immediately put the Beast back into a down. Then I put a hand on the little girl's back, who was being comforted by her father, and I said, "Are you okay, sweetheart?" To which she just continued to sob. So I asked her father if she was okay. He was busy checking her face to make sure that she wasn't hurt (which I knew she wouldn't be because the Beast didn't touch her, but I didn't think it would be a good idea to say that). He told me she was fine, but I asked anyway if he needed anything from me. He assured me that everything was okay, and so I stuck around until the little girl stopped crying. After a few minutes, she did, and I told her that the Beast, who was finally lying calmly at my feet, was sorry too, and that he hoped that she wasn't mad at him. She didn't say much, but at least she cracked a little smile. And then she ran off to play with her dog.

So we left. And I took him for the walk that I should have taken him on 30 minutes earlier. And then I took him home. And I fumed for a little while.

I didn't know who I was mad at. Was I mad at the little girl for riling up the Beast just as I was trying to calm him down? Was I mad at her father for not teaching her that she has to be more respectful of other dogs in the park? Was I mad at the Beast for being such a shithead?

Well, maybe a little of yes to each of those. But I was mostly mad at myself. For not taking the Beast for a walk before going to the park. For not reinforcing his rules for being off-leash in the park. For not removing him from the park sooner when I knew that he was hyper-excited and that the environment was too stimulating. For ignoring every warning sign that he gave me. It's not up to him to look up at me and say, "Hey Mom, I'm about to have a melt down because there is too much going on around me right now. Maybe we should bail." That's my job. And I failed spectacularly at it.

(OK, maybe that's an overstatement, but I am both a drama queen and very hard on myself...)

Anyway, the good news in this is that I learned a pretty good lesson.

Taking care of the Beast is tough. As an excited-dominant dog, he needs constant leadership from us, or else he will take control. It's a full-time job, on top of my real full-time job. So yes, there are probably some days where I am going to be too tired or too emotionally drained to be very good at it. Which is okay - I can't be "on" all the time. But I have to recognize those times and those moments when I'm maybe not feeling so great and try really hard not to pass that instability on to the Beast. I have to set him up for success, by, for example, not taking him into an environment where he will need to rely on strong leadership to counter the millions of distractions and stimulants around him.

Or maybe the next time I am having a bad day, I can just let hubby deal with him. And I'll go to the spa or something... Yeah - that's a good idea too.