Taking Care of YOU So You Can Protect Your Kids and Pets

Being a member of numerous online social networking pages, I recently started to notice a huge rise in the number of ‘Dog Missing’ and ‘Dog Found’ posts across several of the sites. And apparently, I was not the only one to notice this. On one of those sites someone wrote, “Is it me? Or does there seem to be a much larger number of pets getting posted as missing than ever before?” Well, obviously as a canine professional, this peaked my interest, and I started to really think about why this is happening. It also resonated a bit more with me than ever before because I am coming up on my 10th year of being in business, and a few weeks ago, one of my boarders also got out…. which has never happened before! Even though he was found and was fine, it was the most frightening and tear-filled two hours I have encountered since opening the business. So I had to really question why! What is going on for me and others around me?

As I started to reflect on what was going on for me, I started to realize I was extremely overworked and my eating habits have been terrible; often eating one meal a day or less, and grabbing the unhealthy junk on top of the fridge because I am just too tired to spend time making a meal. On top of that, I had started to become isolated…I started to avoid the phone…. viewing it as yet another disruption of everything I needed to do. And I found myself getting angry every single time it rang.  

Amazingly, one of the times I did answer it, it turned out to be one of my closest friends… she was going through the EXACT same thing I was!  She’s a full time stay-at-home Mom for a one and a half year old, and just like my husband, her husband also works very long hours away from the home. We spent some time commiserating together about our exhaustion, our lack of patience, our short fuses and tempers threatening to flare at any moment….  

And I remembered an acronym I had learned in recovery a very long time ago. H.A.L.T. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. Each one of these things, in and of itself, can be a dangerous thing…. And I was allowing myself to live in all four day after day.  

So you may be asking yourself, “Why is this important? What does this have to do with child and canine health and safety?

Simply this: when you allow yourself to get this run down and tired, there are many important things that you miss. It becomes harder to focus and pay close attention. You tend to make more mistakes that seem careless and avoidable! And when dealing with children AND animals, not paying attention can have numerous negative consequences.  

What do I mean?

  • You make bad decisions that end up adding to your exhaustion. Example: “The kids were bored and were driving me crazy, so I took them to a pet store to play with some puppies to entertain them….the next thing I know, I now have a pup in my living room who’s now ADDING to the chaos! It’s pooping and peeing everywhere, crying non-stop, and jumping on and chasing the kids all over the house!”
  • You give in on decisions you normally wouldn’t have, and now someone’s gotten hurt (more mommy guilt!)  Example : “My children were begging me for a dog; I’m so tired I thought it would be a great idea to get one for them to keep them occupied. We went to a shelter and found one, but we don’t really have time to train it (Or “I had no idea how much work it would take to train it”) so now my older children (who begged me for it) are afraid of it because it’s so hyper and wild. It goes to chase them to play and they scream and run! On top of that, my two year old has been knocked down and run over by it so many times, he is constantly black and blue and crying! So the dog gets put outside alone or penned up in its crate, which is making it even more wild and crazy!”
  • You do things when not paying attention that could unintentionally put others in danger. Example: Because I don’t have children, I didn’t realize the ‘whirlwind’ the whole ‘sending the kids back-to-school and going back to work now that the pandemic restrictions have lifted’ created and how it’s affecting my clients. And in that flurry of activity (to get new school clothes, school supplies, get yourself out the door, etc.) no one realized the back door was left open and the dog just walked right out. And since no one noticed the dog was outside while you drove away, no-one thought to check if the gate was shut. And even if the gate hadn’t been left open, the panicked dog (having being left alone in the yard), found their way over, under, or around the gate. Now your dog is roaming free through the neighborhood, potentially putting himself and/or other neighborhood children or pets in danger.  OR the more simple version: as the kids ran out the front door to catch the school bus and you ran to the kitchen desperate for a cup of coffee, guess who ran out the door right behind the kids and is now roaming free through the neighborhood? (Remember I mentioned about all the missing dogs lately?)
  • Or you are just doing the simple tasks that you would normally not have to think twice about – such as shuttling the kids to and from school and lessons or driving the dog to the vet – but now you are doing them utterly exhausted – which is the same as if you are under the influence.  All it takes is:
    • Turning right to go to work instead of left to drop the baby off at daycare. The baby is sleeping in their rear-facing car seat in the back seat – you can’t see or hear them…
    • Looking in the rear-view mirror too long when the dog is barking at something out of the window
    • All it takes is one second of not paying attention behind the wheel of a car, and the results can be devastating! These are not bad parents – they’re just exhausted!!
  • Any caregiver – whether for a child, an elderly parent, or even a pet – can put themselves and those entrusted to their care at risk when exhaustion sets in. Even I, as a professional dog trainer, recently experienced consequences from allowing myself to get so run down. How many articles have I written where I ‘preached’ about being aware of your dog’s body language at all times? I had a 6 month old pup staying with me for some training. I was very tired and had not had a chance all day to eat …. And I was not paying attention. I went to put her in her crate, and was totally taken by surprise when she suddenly turned around and bit my hand. The fact is, I should not have been taken by surprise, nor should I have gotten bitten. This pup has always been clear with her body language, and I am sure she gave me numerous ‘warning’ signs that she was ‘not in the mood’ to go into her crate. But because I was so tired and was not paying attention, I missed all of them. Luckily, it was not a bad bite, but enough of one to snap me awake and make me realize I cannot afford to NOT be paying attention in my line of work!  I was lucky…as are most of us, most of the time, but unfortunately none of us are lucky all the time. And decisions are compromised by exhaustion every day.  I say in just about every article, “Never leave your child unattended with your dog” but when we are exhausted, how easy is it to just say, “It is only for a little while…. They’ll be fine…I’m right in the next room!” I am a professional trainer… when that bite happened I immediately knew what to do to de-escalate and redirect the situation…. but what if that had been your child who decided to do something that the dog did not like?

So, how do we combat this? How do we put aside that never-ending to-do list and take the time we need to recharge our batteries?

First step– recognize that there’s a problem and figure out what’s causing the overload – is this a short term (like going back to school craziness) or longer term (such as my friend dealing with a new baby) situation I need to address?  Recognizing the situation and knowing when there’ll be an end in sight is half the battle!

For me, the second step was empowering myself and understanding that I am no good to anyone else unless I take care of me. I sometimes struggle with this because I feel I am being selfish. But I have to force myself to look at this from a different perspective. For me, it’s always been easier to help someone else than to help myself…. Which is probably why I became a care-giver to begin with!  So, I ask myself, “If my best friend told me she did everything I have done today and had five or six more things still left to do, what would I tell her?” Well, I’d tell her to turn off the phones, and take at least an hour for herself each day. If you have a young child that cannot understand the concept of ‘me-time’ then you need to forgo the six loads of laundry, the dishes, the vacuuming, and everything else you squeeze into the hour that they are napping. Give yourself permission to take care of you for that hour.

The third thing to practice is setting boundaries….. this begins with learning to say “NO”. It’s another thing I too struggle with! When customer’s call me saying, “If you can’t help me, I’m going to have to get rid of this dog” I have a hard time not springing into action! But saying no to them does not mean I do not care. It doesn’t mean I’m this horrible person!  All it means is my plate is already full and I would not be helping either of us to say yes.

The fourth thing is scheduling something to do that is specifically for you, outside the of the house, at least once a week. And it needs to be guilt-free! If you have a partner, a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or even a good friend, make arrangements for them to come and take care of the kids for a day…. Or even for a few hours. If you cannot find a relative or friend, hire a babysitter for the day. And while you are at it, put Fido in a doggy day care for a few hours or find a local place that offers some sort of day-train program. He’ll get some (probably much needed) exercise, socialization and play time at doggy day care, and a bit of extra training can never hurt!! ! I know it can get a bit costly, but if you think about it…this is your sanity and the health and well being of your kids.

The final thing is when you know you are tired, view your decision making process just like your go-home instructions after anesthesia. “Avoid making any important or life-altering decisions for the next 24 hours.”

We all love our kids and pets, and we always strive to do our very best for them! We owe it to them to give them our very best… but not our all! Make time for you, because you are important and deserve it! And when you do make that time, you will find you have much more patience, tolerance, and you will be able to enjoy your kids and pets again! And I would wager that they will feel the difference, and be much happier too!!!

Be good to yourself. You are the only ‘you’ you’ve got!

How to Talk to Your Kids About…Diversity

Children are very quick to point out differences. With their limited experiences and understanding, it is hard to explain that differences are a wonderful part of life. Talking to our children about diversity can be tricky. We don’t want to compromise our family values, but we want to cultivate a true respect for everyone.

There are a few key conversations we can have, that will help.

  • Have a “diversity” conversation. Talk about differences that exist in your family. “Jill’s favorite color is pink, yours is blue. Your favorite food is spaghetti, mommy loves chicken” Explain that we are all different, and that is a good thing, not bad. When you encounter new people, explain that there are differences and similarities between all of us just like having different favorite colors. This simple conversation will help our children begin to understand diversity and see that liking different colors and foods is not bad, just different.
  • Challenge your children to get to know someone new on a regular basis and find out what they have in common. If they conclude that they have nothing in common, teach them that they still deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. Tie this back into your “diversity” conversations. “Remember, Jill likes a different color than you do, we don’t treat her mean because she likes something different.” Talk about how treating others with respect means that we take some time to get to know them and understand them. Our children need to understand that they might not like all the other kids, but they need to give them all a chance. In our house we encourage our children to meet someone new at school each week. Then our children talk to us about all the things they learned about the new person during dinner each Friday night.
  • Talk about the fact that diversity does not mean we forgo our values. Begin when children are young, and explain that there are choices that other people make that are not acceptable in our home. That is fine, but that doesn’t mean that we are rude or judgmental because they choose differently. To raise children who accept diversity talk to them about different cultures and traditions. You can start with something as simple as having them try different foods.

We will find that by talking to our kids about diversity, they will also learn key values like love, respect, kindness, and compassion for others.

How to Make Fast Food Healthier for Kids

Research shows that kids consume an average of 55 percent more calories when they eat out than when they eat at home. While you should limit fast food to an occasional treat, it’s not a nutritional disaster if you make healthy choices:

Child-size it.

Keep your kids’ portions under control by ordering the child-sized meals that were meant for them — and try one yourself. Just this one move will cut half the calories and fat from your meal. Or share one order of fries with two or three people. This way, you still get to enjoy a little fast food without a lot of calories. Still hungry? Order a side salad with low-cal dressing.

Balance it out.

Cut calories and increase nutrition by making some smart substitutions. Chowing down on a cheeseburger? Forget the fries and order a baked potato or salad instead. Can’t give up the fries? Order a grilled chicken salad instead of a burger.

Skip the extras.

Save major calories by saying no to toppings like cheese, bacon, mayo and special sauces on burgers; pepperoni, sausage and extra cheese on pizza; and bacon bits, tortilla chips, Chinese noodles and regular dressings on salads.

Water it down.

A large cola weighs in at 310 calories, all of which come from sugar. Regular and diet sodas also contain phosphorus, which can prevent kids’ bones from absorbing calcium. The best bet for the whole family: water.

Teachable Moments: Valuable Lessons on Life and Love for Kids

Meet Jack Bear. For such a little guy he offered many opportunities to teach our kids very valuable lessons about life and about love.

Here is a part of Jack’s story.

Jack was given up when he was 10 years old. By all reckoning that is old in dog years- perhaps 70 years old. It seems he was no longer fun and no longer desired. I always found it hard to imagine giving up a dog for no other reason than age but here was Jack. Then again in many adult relationships we see an end, perhaps a separation or a divorce. To outsiders it may seem that there is no good reason.

Teachable Moment 1– things change, feelings and perceptions, wants and desires and it does not always make sense. Often the truly innocent are caught in the middle and pay the highest price. Things will change in the lives of our children that especially to them make no sense and seem unfair.

From the time he was given up he began to cry non-stop- an unwanted behavior. His crying combined with the fact that he was old and funny looking- undesired characteristics- he was perceived as unadoptable. Differences real or perceived are one reason kids bully each other. The beautiful picking on the less so and the big picking on the small and the “normal acting” picking on those whose behavior is outside the expected or desired. Jack had all three.

Teachable Moment 2– Value the differences don’t condemn them. Jack eventually stopped crying and became a loved member of the family. No- he was never like the rest of our dogs-never played with other dogs at the park. He was not identical to the other dogs- he was his own dog. Teachable Moment 2.5– be yourself. His smaller size, this ‘flaw’ made him a perfect lap dog- better than many others. In this case his size was an advantage.

Teachable Moment 3– there are a myriad of ways to look at things and when we do so we open up tremendous opportunity. I never thought I would grow fond of a funny looking, old, Toy Poodle with the name Jack Bear- I did. See Teachable Moment 1- things change and sometimes perceptions and feelings change for the better. Our daughter never saw Jack’s flaws, was never bothered by his crying, his looks or his age. Teachable Moment 3.5 – one truly good friend who sees the real you and all your potential is worth more than 100 lesser or false friends.

Jack’s health failed him. He developed cataracts and went blind. His teeth fell out and his hearing failed him. He had to be hand fed and could not always control his bladder. In other words he grew old as we all will.

Teachable Moment 4- we will all grow old and we will all die. We need to help kids to understand that this is a natural life-path. Yes seeing loved ones sick is never easy- in fact it is down-right hard. It is natural to feel anger and to feel sad. There is a natural progression of emotions. Understanding this does not erase the pain but it does make one feel unique and less alone.

Teachable Moment 5– as the saying goes,” it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” It might seem better to avoid the pain but closeness, love and friendship though often painful are the greatest gifts in the world. My life was so much more enriched by having Jack in my life than not.

Teachable Moment 6– we can all find teachable moments, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places if we just take the time to look.  Thanks Jack- Bear, rest in peace.