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Dog Days Are Never Over

I travel often for my work and take my service dog, Shiloh, with me everywhere. He keeps me steady and, honestly, people love him. Of course he is well-trained, otherwise I wouldn't have him or  his support out on the road. But he’s also a dog so there are times when I need to employ training techniques to remind him:

1—I am the leader of our pack.
2—I am  in charge of his safety.
3—He is safe.

These things create that he listens and responds to my requests—allowing everyone to feel safe in his presence.

I’ve never had any issues traveling with Shiloh until this last October. On this particular trip, Shiloh was struggling. It started at the airport in Salt Lake. He was pulling on the lead and making chirping sounds—and  just being generally agitated. He calmed down on the plane. But as soon as we got off the plane in Denver, he started up again. 

His training tools happened to get packed in our checked luggage, leaving me with just his pinch collar or a technique called submission. Submission is placing a dog on his/her side and holding  them by the hip and  shoulders while keeping eye contact. When the dog relaxes or submits. You are done. All of this is done as gently as possible. It is not about pain or fear—it is parenting. 

As we made our way down the concourse, Shiloh was not responding to the pinch collar. When my wife ducked into the bathroom, I moved out of traffic and placed him in submission. There was a kiosk near us and people boarding at a gate. As I knelt next to him with my hands on his shoulders and hips, waiting for him to relax, a voice started screaming behind me.

“That’s not how you treat a dog!” 

Startled, I went into defense mode. I swung  my arm up to ward off an attack and yelled, “Get the F*** away from me.”  

The female on my shoulder backed up a step and continued yelling. I tried to calm down and talk to her, to explain. But there was no  communicating with her. She kept  screaming and I was beginning to panic. I tried to concentrate on Shiloh, and block her out. By now she was threatening to call security and have me banned from my flight. She was so loud that soon 20 to 30 people were gathered around us. 

My wife, who heard the chaos from the restroom, rushed out to help. She, too, tried to talk with the woman and was drowned out by her yelling. By this time, I was in a full trauma response. My heart rate rose. I went into a fog. Everything around me turned gray. All I could think about was escaping, so I focused on getting Shiloh to the dog relief area. I’ve been to the Denver airport, I know the terminal. But I found myself unable to find a room I‘d been to many times before. My vision shrunk to a small tunnel and I wandered the terminal—lost.

It took me a long time to come out of it. Eventually, I was able to find the relief room and the escalator to the luggage carousel. But I was still in a fog. I kept getting lost—and just standing there, in the middle of the concours, frozen. When I finally got to the carousel, my wife was the only one there. I couldn’t explain what happened to me. 

I didn’t understand. This had never happened before. 

Afterwards, I had nightmares for four nights straight. This had never happened before either. Not even at the height of my PTSD. And these days, I normally have two or three a year. The whole incident really upset my peace. It was confronting to be brought back to this place—this many years later. Especially when I’m supposed to be the expert. 

But trauma is not something that ever goes fully away. You never know what might trigger it. Healing is not something you do once and then it's over. You keep choosing to heal. Overtime, it gets easier. And every time, you heal on another level. 

Fortunately, we’d planned a ski trip to Winter park. I took advantage of being outside in nature and being active. I went skiing, walked everywhere and explored the small town. I stood on a mountain top and breathed in the fresh mountain air. I smelled the pine trees and listened to the wind whistle in the trees and felt the sun on my face—and my mind cleared.

I relaxed. I was able to talk things through with my wife.

And the nightmares stopped.

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