Why We Train (Hint: For When We Aren’t Training)

We’ve posted several times on training for when life catches you off-guard, like when you forget to put the meat in the fridge instead of on the floor. I had one of those moments today.

Over the weekend I was offered a big mirror, salvaged from a dressing room in the type of expensive store where I don’t usually find myself. I took it, because I didn’t have a full-length mirror, and put it behind my bedroom door. It didn’t have hanging brackets yet, but it was pretty secure in its place and I figured I’d get brackets this week. The dogs had seen it, knew it wasn’t a window to a new playmate, and generally they ignored it behind the door.

Until today, when the bedroom door was closed, exposing the mirror, and for some reason Undómiel decided to desultorily paw it — just once, and not particularly strongly. I saw and called her, but it was already moving. What followed was one of the longest seconds of my life, as the mirror tipped forward over my puppy who was looking back at me and couldn’t see it coming. I was on the opposite side of the room on the bed, with my feet up and a computer on my lap, and there was no possible way for me to intervene in time.

Broken pieces of mirror on floor.

The base of the mirror, where the explosion was most contained.

But my recall saved her. The mirror came down immediately behind her, and at the sound of the crash she leapt onto the bed (totally legit) and then we stared at the disaster.

Penny immediately came to see what was happening. I cued her to stop, called her to the bed, and then lifted her by her elbows onto our high bed.

I was barefoot, and the dogs and I were surrounded by innumerable shards of glass. Okay, now what?

A Sea of Glass

missing chunks from edge of bookshelf

Gouges in bookshelf (I removed the implanted glass before I thought to photograph it)

The mirror had not simply fallen and broken. As it tipped forward, it struck first a shelf on one side and then a crate on the other. These opposing blows invoked physics in a perfect storm of flexion and resulting explosion. A mirror shattering on the ground would have been much simpler; this one burst midair.

It’s hard for me to convey quite how violent this explosion was. My laminate floor, which has borne up under more than a decade of 50-90 pound dogs without a scratch, has a dozen gouges from the glass. There were shards of glass actually protruding from my bookshelf and pieces on each shelf. There was glass in my closet, which was around the corner from the event itself. There was glass inside the dog crates.

About the only place there was not glass, by a miracle, was atop the high bed.

The Cleanup

John McClane

John McClane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So this looked worse than that scene from Die Hard. But that’s okay, because the very first time I saw the film, I thought he was doing it wrong. No offense to John McClane, he had a lot on his mind at the time, but I thought he should have taken off his shirt (and pants, if necessary), wadded it up beneath and in front of his feet, and then shuffled through to the other side, letting the fabric push aside and pick up the glass before he reached it. It might not have stopped everything, but it would have prevented most of the damage.

(Isn’t this exactly what I said in another post, about how fiction makes us smarter and more prepared?)

I’ve done the glass in the foot thing (which, for the record, hurt much less than the removal of it) and I ended up on crutches for two weeks, so I was anxious to avoid that for all of us. I told the dogs to stay on the bed, and I carefully monkeyed over a glass-covered crate to the closet, where I found some shoes without glass.

Sitting Doberman and lying Labrador on bed with red duvet, above a floor covered in broken glass.

“We are waiting for clearance to explore what just happened. No? Okay, just waiting.”

I’d recently told Jon I wanted to do some carry training with Undómiel, because it would be convenient to have a big dog relax when you needed to carry her in a tricky situation. This qualified as such a situation! I put Penny in her crate on the far side of the bed, and then I took the glass-studded bedding from Undómiel’s crate, checked the interior for pieces, and carried her around the bed to the crate without letting her touch the floor, no flailing as I crouched and tried to ease her toward the crate without kneeling. Safe!

Then cleanup started. Ugh. There were shards of glass so tiny that it just looked like dust, and there was glass over so much surface area! It was actually almost pretty, like Elsa had built an ice castle and then smashed it. I pulled the glass out of the bookcase before I thought to take a picture. In the end, I got it contained and the floor clear.

Moral of the story — Undómiel’s recall saved her from serious injury and a very bad experience. Penny’s cue to stop moving and then to come climb onto the bed prevented her injury. And both dogs’ patient waiting in place, even while I climbed around and did generally hilarious non-typical human behaviors, kept them safe.

How are your core behaviors? Will they hold up in an emergency? Even if the humans are stressed or scared or acting goofy?

About Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT-KA KPACTP

Laura was born at a very young age and started playing with animals immediately after. She never grew out of it, and it looks to be incurable. She is the author of the bestselling FIRED UP, FRANTIC, AND FREAKED OUT. She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.
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