But would he ask for help? Sure, he was begging for it. Would he ask in a way that a normal person could interpret as a cry for help? Hell would freeze over first. There are a number of reasons why he wouldn’t ask for help in a way that is “socially acceptable”. Primarily, it’s a survival thing. If you admit that something is too hard, you expose your inability to deal with it, both to yourself and others. Best to go on believing you can cope. Despair is pit not many have been known to get out of whole.
So without someone who knows his circumstances, someone to notice a significant change in behaviour or attitude, this young man sought help in ways that could be called “unloving”. He started out small, shoplifting from the supermarket. He rapidly moved on to shoplifting from a small local store, then attempted to thieve some money from the same store’s till. At that point he came to police attention and received his first caution. Cautions 2 and 3 were handed out when he stole from a locked motor vehicle and broke into a store after hours attempting to steal money. He was eventually charged for break and enter of a store, twice, and put on good behaviour bonds. I met him after he had been charged with break and enter a third time and was staring down the barrel of a custodial sentence. I don’t know if anyone else looking at his file had noticed, but all of these crimes had occurred on the same block in town and all involved the same small local store. Probably relevant?
Somewhere along the line he had hooked up with a charming young lady who was equally foot-loose and fancy-free and looking for something to while away the hours. They were both desperate for belonging, love and a safe place to be. They make a good team that way. They make a really terrible team in a lot of ways but they are great at offering each other a real sense of belonging. There was no way that abortion was on the cards, but the child’s removal by child protection officers is beyond their ability to control and is still a definite possibility.
So now we have a foul mouthed, loud, provocative young man, prone to violent outbursts, who has every primitive protective instinct in his under-developed body on a hair-trigger. He is defensive, rude, lacks any empathy and regularly tells workers of every creed, including a magistrate, to “get fucked and mind your own business!”
Enter Lady. Lady is about 1 year old now. She is a pure border collie and was the runt of her litter. Being the runt isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a dog. Plenty of trainers, particularly stock handlers, will tell you the runt often turns out to be the best dog as they have smarts and tenacity.
Lady is a lovely soft, sweet dog in whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt. She has large liquid eyes and a tentative manner that screams old fashioned femininity. She also gets her own way…always… and can make tenacity blush. Lady is a classic passive aggressive. She maintains steady control over most of her domain through a steady combination of sheer bloody mindedness and masterful diplomacy. She will make you believe she is so sweet and innocent that you don’t ever need to discipline her, and then go ahead and do exactly as she pleases.
Lady and I have had our moments. She has never been big on coming when called and before we finished building our dog paddock I had cause to chase her across 800 odd acres when she had taken off looking for adventure, taking other dogs with her. Of course when you get close, she is the first to come and sit at your feet and wriggle her delight at you endearingly. And because she is the first of the renegades to surrender, you tend to believe she was led astray… until she is the one who is ALWAYS involved.
We also had issues during her initial basic training. Lady seemed never to hear a command until you were practically screaming it in frustration. At that moment she would suddenly realise you were talking to her and she would do an amazing reproduction of one of those soccer players looking for a penalty - ‘oh my goodness, I’m so scared I’m gunna get kicked, I better quiver in fear with my belly on the ground’. She has never been kicked but she sure gives a great impression of having been on the end of some terrible abuse.
Being the amazing trainer that I am, (read heavy sarcasm here) I responded to Lady’s behaviour with a question “Why?” (Truth told I would scream it at the sky after every training session with this dog!) But why did she consistently offer behaviour that the she surely knew by now would draw an unfavourable response from her humans? The answer came to me when I separated her from the pack for a few days in a last ditch attempt to get something happening between her and I.
Lady was terrified of everything without her pack. She didn’t know if she could handle any of it, and she was running out of ‘try’ pretty quick. Separating her had exposed her greatest fear and uncovered her biggest motivation – confidence. Or specifically, a lack of it. She had never seemed like a dog who lacked confidence when hanging out with her pack. She appeared very much in control while surrounded by her external support structure. But take that away…
Lady needed help in developing a support structure that didn’t include others. She needed help to be able to support herself through some of the tough times, believe in herself and believe she had the capacity she needed. When I built up her confidence in herself, her ability to respond appropriately, she became a willing partner who would rather be with her humans than almost anywhere else.
So when this young fella turns up to do some dog training, I am not really surprised when he chooses Lady. They have a really similar story and have used similarly unappetising methods to get the help they need. They both repeatedly offered behaviour that was unacceptable. They both appeared to be in control while repeatedly making choices that didn’t serve them well. They were both screaming for help while clinging desperately to the belief that they didn’t need it.
Lying in the tepid winter sun with the dogs after a session, this young fella told me that he felt that he had been abandoned at 11 when his mum got a new boyfriend. The new boyfriend was apparently violent with the young fella and made it clear he was only barely tolerated in the house.
The early shoplifting was a clear call for help. He needed attention and for someone to recognise his behaviour. When they didn’t, he kept trying - over and over. Why else would he break into the same store so many times? He knew he would get caught, every time. It can be assumed that he wanted to get caught. What a shame that not one person in this young man’s life could recognise what was happening. Now here he is, in a world of trouble and hurt, from trying so hard to get the help he needed and didn’t know how to ask for.
The young fella and Lady had an instant recognition moment. Emotionally, Lady is still at the point of really needing her handler. She now knows what she needs from you, but she still needs it. She is not yet strong enough to be self-assured. And this young fella recognised her need straight up. He told me about how sad the dog was, how helpless and needy she was and how she really needed him. Call me crazy but as Lady was having a good day and smiling up at him at the time, I don’t reckon he was describing the dog…
As time goes on, the young fella is going to learn about how he needs to meet Lady where she is at, emotionally, each time he comes to work with her. He will learn that it doesn’t matter where she got to last time they were together, or where he thinks she should be. What matters will be starting from wherever she is and working up from there. He will learn that what matters most to the dog, what she will be looking for, is that he always tries to see her as she is, and where she is, emotionally. It matters to her because it shows that she matters to you. It shows that she matters enough for you to care.
It’s a lot about defaulting to kindness. Be kind and recognise that we are all on different paths, at different stages. Be kind, and see that there is always a story behind the behaviour. Be kind and meet someone in trouble wherever, emotionally, they are instead of where you think they would/should be.
And call me crazy but I reckon that if he can learn that about the dog, he might see it in himself too. It won’t solve his problems but it will sure as hell make defining the issue a bit easier for him. If he can see he was asking for help all along, and see there are possibly more effective and constructive ways of asking for that help, he just might try again.