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Welcome to FDSA’s third annual Conference!  Our theme this year is “be the superhero!”

I started out trying to be wonder woman but I ended up not being a traditional superhero at all.  For a few reasons, first of all, the lady superheroes don’t wear enough clothes for my taste so I found this nice apron, which is working for me.  And even if I could get past that, there is the issue of shoes. High heels, to be specific. And I can’t do high heels, for two reasons.

First off, I’d probably fall and that would be unfortunate and quite embarrassing.   So I went for a modern superhero look – slippers for my middle aged feet.

But there is a second reason, and many of you will be able to identify with this.  You see, I might step on my super dog, and that would be sad.

Speaking of my super dog, I’d like to introduce him since I doubt many of you even noticed him.  He’s right here. You can’t see him because he’s invisible, but he’s currently waiting in perfect sphinx down – and he’ll stay there as long as I want because….

 In addition to being invisible, he’s perfect.  He’s amazing! 

So if I did step on him, he would not bite me, nor would he run away, because he would know that it was an accident.  He doesn’t take anything personally; even when I’m in a bad mood and am behaving badly…

My Superdog is totally stable.  Very sensible. Entertains himself when I’m busy. Prepares his meals and takes himself for a walk when he needs to go out.  Loves all dogs and children, regardless their behavior. He’s watchful in the house. Loves to work but chills very nicely. And in a place like this, he’s totally comfortable and ready to go.  That’s why he’s staring at me, right now. See?

But yeah, he’s invisible.

The best part about my Superdog is that he can also communicate in words.  I find this very useful because I don’t have to read his body language or guess about what he might be feeling.

To be honest, because my super dog communicates clearly with words, and is super stable and sensible, I don’t have to be a superhero at all.  This dog doesn’t need me; he can run the show and I can follow his lead.  

But what if I didn’t have a superdog?  What if I had an ordinary dog?  

Maybe kind of an average and typical dog.  Or, maybe a dog with extra challenges – a fragile temperament, or nervous in new places or lower energy, or whatever.

What if my dog wasn’t always stable and didn’t always make good decisions.  Maybe sometimes he didn’t feel well. Maybe he has headaches or tummy aches or just bad thoughts that make him scared and then it’s hard for him to think sometimes.

Well, if that’s true, and the dog I have is just ordinary,  then maybe my dog does need me to be a superhero for him.

Can you do that for your dog?

Let’s talk about it for a moment.  What does a superhero do?

  1. Sees problems before anyone else does
  2. Super Heroes defend the underdog,  even at personal risk and sacrifice.
  3. Super heroes expect very little in return.
  4. Sometimes superheroes have to be very strong willed because they may encounter resistance from those around you.

So, if you were going to be a superhero for your dog, your ordinary dog who is relying on you, could you do it?

Remember, your dog has:

  1. No voice. – we can’t always tell if sick, tired, scared, bored, etc.   
  2. Is often misunderstood.  
  3. When understood, is often ignored, even when it is clear and obvious.

What would it take for you to be a Superhero for your dog?

  1. You must pay attention!

Listen carefully to your dog’s language!  

Dogs talk all the time – but they will stop talking if you stop listening.  

    1. For example – Raika by the stove.  
    2. Brito asking to go outside.
    3. Raika waking me up at night when she needs something.  This is not trained – it’s because she’s a dog and I am her hero.

So if your dog asks to go out to the bathroom then your dog is talking to you.  But if that is the only thing you dog ever talks to you about then I’d ask this – is it possible your dog tried to talk to you about other things but gave up because you weren’t listening?   If you want to be a superhero for your dog, really concentrate on listening, even when the communication is subtle.

A superhero listens. And the more you listen, the more your dog will believe in you.  And that is the basis of trust.we

So what’s the problem?

Well, if the whole world was on board, you wouldn’t need to be a superhero because everyone would be advocating.  But remember, superhero’s sometimes understand things that regular humans don’t and as a result, it might be hard.  You might encounter resistance. And you’ll have to be brave, sometimes when you’re under a lot of pressure to do something different.

Let’s look at some examples:

  1. You attend a seminar and the presenter suggests a technique that makes you uncomfortable – it feels wrong for your dog.  What would a superhero do? 
  2. Ok; you go to a seminar.  You spent $300 to be there and… your dog opts out.  It sucks. Maybe you misread what your dog was capable of.  Maybe you knew that your dog was going to struggle but you did it anyway, because it was important to you.  Maybe something changed. Regardless, the ball is in your court now.
  3. What if you take your dog to a friend’s house for a party that includes dogs, and your dog is completely over the top excited – what will you do?

In a nutshell, you have three options when you’re in the moment.  You’ll want to understand intensity (where did you go – too much?)  proximity (how close are you?) and duration (how long are you there)

The thing about being a superhero- it’s only heroic if it’s hard!    But if you understand intensity, proximity and duration, then you can do it.  You can be a superhero!

There are perks to being a superhero.

When your dog believes in you – they want to be with you.  Then want to hear what you have to say. They’ll trust you!  They’ll look up to you as a natural leader.

When you are your dog’s superhero, then you create a bank account of trust and goodwill.  Your dog will naturally look to you for support and direction when there is unsureness or confusion.  When your dog needs something he will come to you! It’s a lot easier to help your dog when you know there is a problem.

Personal self worth.  Someday your dog will pass – you want to know you did right by your dog.

Thing about doing right – it will make you a better person over time.

There is one place where we will all struggle badly to be superhero’s to our dogs.  And that’s this:

Of course, doing what is right for the dog might not be much fun for you.  Sometimes being human means being really disappointed when things don’t work out quite how you had planned.  

So how about this, instead of being a superhero – and expecting to have no emotional reaction to your dog’s needs, how about being an ordinary human hero?  One who feels disappointed and frustrated and unappreciated and quite possibly embarrassed? Because that’s probably more realistic. SO let’s consider being a regular human hero.

Opt out.

Now my superhero dog?  The one I have left sitting there behind me all this time, without a thought?  Not one head scratch? Not one kind word? Turning my back on him and ignoring him completely?   And still – he sits there?

No.  That dog doesn’t exist.  You will not get that amazing and fabulous dog if you treat him like that.

So now I’m suggesting that maybe there are no superheroes or super dogs with special powers.  

But super humans do exist.  And special dogs? Yes, they exist too.

If you want a super special dog you can have one.  But you have to be a super human. That is the tradeoff. Your dog will be all that he can be, if he feels that you care and are there to support him.

Now, your dog may never meet your expectations – your wildest dreams. Maybe that’s not in him.  But he will be the best that he can be – if you do your part.

Welcome to our conference.  For 3.5 days we will give you all the tools that we have to help you become a superhuman for your dog.  But we can’t do it without your help. We need you to step up and advocate for your dog and your situation.  If your dog is tired and you have one more lab, think about what you should do – if you’re doing your super best.  If your dog is scared and stressed in a specific situation, think about that too – what are your options?

We need you to listen carefully and to study whatever materials you’ll need.  You’ll need to learn about your dog’s body language and what he needs at any given time. And you’ll need the courage to speak up when your dog cannot speak for himself – to keep him safe and comfortable.  And each and every instructor here will support you in that process, and will help you make those good decisions, so that you can become a more superhuman every day! And the instructors will respect your decisions and help you to implement them in the best way possible for your team.

And that is all that I want to say right now.  Thank you for being here!