No one ever believes me when I say this....Bravo was the most fear based dog I have ever seen! His motto in a deep Sam Eliot type voice........"UMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM I don't know if that's a good idea or not!" "Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm I don't think I can do that!" "Ummmmmmmmmmm, I don't trust you that much to believe that you won't let me get hurt or eaten by that scary thing (whatever it is)."
Robert in one of our deep conversations put it this way "Fear of trying is always a fatal error". We had to teach Bravo that it was ok to be afraid but not ok to stall out and not try! He had to learn to choose calmly...to do something rather than reacting was the best solution. Reactions such as running away physically, running away emotionally, growling, biting, getting mad are not going to be tolerated in any way shape or form! All of the traditional methods that I knew of didn't work. More exposure, more new situations, treats, tugs, making it fun, etc DIDN'T WORK. Making him didn't work. This was not a FEAR STAGE this was a FEAR BASED PERSONALITY. This dog at his core was VERY afraid. Putting him into my friend Karen's home at this point was a disaster waiting to happen...so we kept delaying it.
Bravo had been up to Robert's and when I went to pick him up Robert handed me a one page letter on thoughts of Bravo. I wish I still had it because it was a rare flash in writing of Robert's amazing mind! The general jest was that we some how needed to stabilize Bravo in his own mind and that the responsibility of that stabilization had to come from INSIDE of Bravo not from us as a outside force.
"UMMMMMMMMM WHAT? A DOG CAN BE FULLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN STATE OF MIND? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?" We discussed some methods of how to help him understand this...nothing really concrete just brain storms. We discussed Sit, Down, and Place. To me at that time Sit meant put butt on ground and keep it there. Down meant put body on ground and keep it there. Place meant get on that thing (bed, bucket, table, chair, etc) and you can do what you want but you must STAY on that thing. Have you ever tried to get a dog to sit or down when they are freaked out about something???? Holy crap watching him was like watching a cat on a hot tin roof yet there was nothing physically creating it except his own mind and his own fear.
I need to interject at this point I KNOW MANY PEOPLE LIKE THIS TO! Many are on meds, self medicated with drugs, alcohol, etc, in counseling for years to over come this.....some never do! I think my background in life and in social work came out. I began exploring methods of how people settle themselves. While Bravo enjoyed stealing an occasional plug of tobacco from someone's mouth and a occasionally spilled alcoholic drink, he was never going to be allowed to turn to heavy drugs so how was I ever going to be able to help teach him? Basically in a short sentence DOGGIE YOGA! STOP CENTER YOURSELF AND BE VERY INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR ACTIONS NO MATTER THE SITUATION. Think before you act. Have a plan! There is more but trying to keep this short! I have a feeling this particular thread is going to be revisited many times as I write because it is so central to him, his training, and his effect on me.
However the short answer is Sit was changed to mean PUT YOUR BUTT ON GROUND AND YOUR EYES MEET MY EYES. Down was changed to PUT BODY ON GROUND AND YOUR EYES SHOULD MEET MY EYES. Place was changed to YOU GET ON THAT THING AND YOU STAY IN POSITION TO ALWAYS SEE ME AND MY EYES! Eyes and body language were CENTRAL. Eyes had to be CALM and body RELAXED every time before he was released to try again. I have a fair amount of patience and tolerance especially with dogs but I was tested a million times for more over the years on this subject. Bravo like most dogs loved to move. He was athletic, he was graceful so move that body he did! If he couldn't move his body, his mind would race...you could see it in his eyes...darting here and there..then his eyes might glaze over as if daydreaming about other things. However I had to WAIT till he was PRESENT IN THE MOMENT with before proceeding. When teaching him some agility pieces, his first reaction was always OH NO THAT THING MIGHT EAT ME, I MIGHT GET HURT, I MIGHT..........the first words out of my mouth in ANY situation became SIT! Get your butt on the ground and your eyes on mine! I would stand patiently and wait till he was with me physically, mentally, and emotionally. It always went like this....I CANT I CANT I WONT YOU CANT MAKE ME NO NO NO NOT HAPPENING (spinning hard and fast like a tornado devoting everything in it's path) to OH WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME DO THIS YOUR ARE SO MEAN I AM NOT DOING THAT COME ON GIVE ME A BREAK (still spinning but no longer a F5 more like a F2) to Ok fine I am sitting here but YOU WILL NEVER HAVE MY MIND. OMG THE BAHAMAS SOUND NICE ABOUT NOW. A SANDY BEACH, WARM WATER, OH HOW I LOVE WATER( still spinning but more like clouds that are agitated and building) to DEEP BREATH eye begin to settle a little. CRAP THIS IS BORING WAIT WHAT WERE WE DOING? (No spin starting to engage with me) When the drama of fear was over and he could engage with me and we could move to learning! But it was a process not a epiphany! Many people thought I was nuts! I didn't care...because by then he had started alerting to BG's and I was going to solve this....I needed him as much as he needed me. We were going to become a team no matter the distance!
Just this morning I was reminded of a story about this. I started taking some agility lessons from someone who has now become a close friend as well as a mentor to me. Her name is Edie. I told her at the beginning "You are not going to probably like or be impressed by this dog for a bit, but when he finally puts it together..you will be amazed!" We would go to class and Bravo would pull his fear stuff and I would say SIT and wait him out. To be honest more than once it would seem I irritated Edie by doing this. I was lectured more than once about using the word sit for this. Teach eyes, teach watch me, teach, teach teach.....nope I am gonna keep it simple and straight....he knew that sit meant put his butt on ground, his eyes on mine, and that when he was released he had better try or we were going to be doing it all again. We continued on and eventually entered him in some Novice agility classes. I will be the first to tell you IT WAS PAINFUL to watch, PAINFUL to be a part of. It would have been easier to watch paint dry. Edie always videoed these events for me and it was always entertaining to hear the commentary...."Come On B you know this.....Come On B What are you doing....KC do this....KC do that. At about his fifth show or so I set him at the start line I walked to the second obstacle which was the dog walk and I released him. He blew off that start line like he had sat on a 220 current, throwing dirt every which way! He cleared 5 obstacles before I got to the end of the dog walk (none in the correct order but he did it with confidence and try...he failed to wait for me). On the video you hear Edie saying...."Holy Shit...there is the dog KC told me about"!
Oh BRAVO..my heart aches. Today's lesson that you brought while it was ABOUT you it was FOR ME and everyone else who has ever been afraid. WE HAVE TO STILL OURSELF. WE HAVE TO STILL THE MIND. QUIT SPINNING TOTALLY! MAKE INTENTIONAL CHOICES AND WHEN WE FINALLY DO THAT..........RUN AND FLY HIGH WITH THE KNOWLEDGE AND CONFIDENCE THAT ALL THE GOOD FORCES OF THE UNIVERSE FIND JOY IN THAT STRENGTH! WE INSPIRE CONFIDENCE TO TRY! NOT TRYING IS ALWAYS AND EVER A FATAL ERROR!
PS: Thanks to all my mentors who helped me see this! You know who you are!