In a previous post I spoke a bit about my family vacation in Flathead Lake, Montana. We stayed in a beautiful house with a little dock and an orchard. This morning I sat on the dock being very quiet, trying to blend into the background, and watching the deer in the orchard and the birds diving into the water. This beautiful setting is the scene for a story that made me laugh, and which I’d like to relate to you here.
Yesterday, my family was hanging out in the house and my wife suggested that we go down to swim at the dock. It was our first full day of vacation, so no one knew if the water was cold, warm, or somewhere in the pleasant middle. I had to finish an email and get changed, so I told them I’d be down in ten minutes. I also had a massive, raging headache, so I popped a few aspirin. Ten minutes later I walked down the steps and walked over to the water to see all four of my kids sitting on the dock with their towels, huddling and shivering. They said to me, “Dad, get in the water. It’s amazing, it’s so warm. Just jump in!” If it was so great, I asked them, then why weren’t they in it? But they told me, “Oh, we just got out for a second. You’re going to love it!”
I thought to myself, “Well, the sun’s out and the lake is shallow. Maybe the water is warm!” But they kept insisting over and over how amazing the water was. Something was fishy. I turned to my wife to ask her what was going on, and she held up her camera and showed me a video of three out of four of the kids jumping in all at once. The video cracked me up, because as soon as they jumped in they started screaming their heads off! That’s where the video went blank, because my wife turned off the camera to pull the kids out of the water. My kids were trying to trick me after all!
But I decided that even with that, I was going to jump in. The water was crystal clear. How often would I get to take advantage of something this amazing? So headache and all, I jumped right in. It was cold at first, but as I swam around more it started to become more comfortable. It was still chilly, but also extremely refreshing. I noticed that in about two minutes my headache away. I was swimming around, feeling wonderful, having an amazing time.
I swam for about a half an hour and then headed back up to the cabin. As I was walking, my headache came back almost immediately. I realized what had happened: the water was so chilly and refreshing that even though the headache was probably still there, I experienced it in the peripheral.
When our dogs have a problem like anxiety or aggression, they are so much better off experiencing that problem in the peripheral. If we present our dog with a problem that they don’t know how to deal with and expect them to tackle it head-on. Some dogs can, but most will struggle with such a tall order. If they can handle a problem in the peripheral, they’ll have more success.
In the water, my body was able to forget about the headache for the time being and enjoy the water. We can do the same thing for our dogs by helping them move their problems to the peripheral. That change lies in focus.
In fact, focus is the key to solving almost every problem, from aggression to distraction to bad manners. If your dog is freaking out about another dog nearby and you can keep him focused on you, then he’ll realize that he doesn’t need to worry about the other dog. Or if a guest comes into your home and you insist that your dog focuses on you instead, he won’t need to be consumed in emotion. You allow your dog to experience distractions and anxieties on his peripheral, giving him the proper “dosage” of excitement. Later, they’ll be able to deal with a higher “dosage” of other dogs and people.
Allowing your dog to deal with things in their peripheral acclimates them to their problems. One of two things can occur. Sometimes a dog decides to always deal with that issue in their peripheral, and sometimes they realize that nothing bad ever happens and are able to deal with their triggers much more effectively. Just like that cold lake water solved my headache—at least for a half an hour—so too can focus solve your dog’s issues.