Hurricane Irene and the Temperament Test

This picture was taken when Grace and I went on a walk in the woods recently, but it reminds me of how she felt on Saturday when we attended a “play session” to assess her temperament. She was more interested in leaving than playing with new doggie friends. “Let’s get outta here!”

Irene is fast approaching. By the time a hurricane reaches New England, it usually doesn’t amount to much. But forecasters are calling this one historic. Taking into account the size of this storm, coupled with her wind speed, she’s BIG.

My husband and I have been planning an upcoming vacation and we had lined up some friends to watch Grace. But if power is out for an extended time as is thought will happen, I tried to find a few back-up options in the case of any prolonged storm-related issues that these friends are grappling with. (And assuming we can leave on our scheduled flight.)

A friend had recommended a relatively new boarding facility near us. She has a nervous dog and had great luck there. They don’t crate the dogs, so it’s important that all the dogs they take in have the right disposition – the type that will get along well with others. Before you can leave your dog overnight, they require a temperament test and a ‘trial’ stay for a half-day at day care to test out the waters.

On Saturday afternoon, Grace and I ventured out for her temperament test. One might say she failed. But it’s more accurate to say it just wasn’t the right environment for her. Or at least not without giving her more time to adjust to it.

There were 12 dogs there for this scheduled play session; Grace and another dog were first-timers. All the others had been there before on previous occasions, though some of the dogs were meeting for the first time. Owners were seated in chairs in a circle and the dogs were off-leash, able to meander and visit with each other at will. The trainer kept watch on all the dogs, walking around observing and intervening when needed to prevent any real issues. Some dogs were there to help them with their socialization skills, others were brought there just to burn off some energy.

For the most part, it was organized chaos that worked well. Dogs seemed to find their buddies, either pairing up by size or activity level. It was humorous to see look-a-like dogs that gravitated to each other, and the ones who loved to chase and fetch a ball were fast friends, too. There were times that Grace would bravely venture out from between my legs, but she didn’t stay long and darted back quickly when she got in unfamiliar territory. After about 30 minutes, she hopped into my lap and curled up for some comfort. She was saying she had enough; all these new dogs and people were stressful to her and she wasn’t interested to play with doggie friends like so many of the others wanted to do.

I asked the trainer for her assessment of how Grace would fit in. She said Grace was too clingy to me and not very welcoming to other dogs when they approached and she wasn’t comfortable putting Grace into the environment with the other dogs. She said that Grace didn’t have to like the other dogs, but she did need to tolerate them in order to create a safe environment for all. I completely agreed and admired her candor about what she saw.

O.K. You probably know where I’m headed with this.

As a manager, we need to assess where a person is and what they are capable of doing. If we put them in a situation beyond their capability, we have failed them. I fully respect the trainer’s judgment, especially given that it meant a loss of business for her. More dogs translate to more income. But she astutely understands that a short-term gain that isn’t a good fit won’t yield long-term success for anyone.

So we’re off to vacation, knowing that we have a circle of generous, big-hearted friends who are taking care of Grace in the way that supports who she is. There is no back-up plan that involves an unfamiliar territory for her. But I feel good knowing there are businesses in our area that make ethical decisions based on what’s best for everyone involved. It’s a great lesson for all business executives.

I’m sure I’ll be fresh with stories upon my return from vacation. If you miss hearing from me and Grace, don’t worry, we’ll return in mid-September. In the meantime, if there’s one positive outcome that Hurricane Irene created, it’s the opportunity to know that Grace has the right temperament for being with friends she knows versus ones she doesn’t. I can’t fault her for that.

For those of you in Irene’s path, be safe. See you in a few weeks!

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9 comments

  1. Have a wondeful time and a safe trip getting there. The rain so far has kept me form the flea market and kayaking, but so far, its not nearly so bad as they predicted. Keeping my fingers crossed.

    • Definitely not good conditions for kayaking! 🙂 We lucked out without seeing sustained winds and we kept power, too. I was most happy for Grace who is (of course) nervous with the noise from wind and heavy rain. We all survived quite well. Hope the same for you and the kitties.

  2. didiwright says:

    We’ve never left George with anyone yet, but have started to look for the best option should we ever have to leave him for a few days. Since he’s very similar to Grace in terms of clinginess and attitude to other dogs, I think a boarding place/dog hotel wouldn’t be the right choice for him either. So it’s down to friends or family, I guess. There’s still work to do to achieve that, though.
    I’m glad to hear Grace is in safe hands whilst you’re away. Have a safe trip and a great holiday. Get some rest and enjoy yourselves. See you when you get back! x

    P.S. I’ve passed on the 7 links challenge to you (sorry) today…You can see what it’s all about in today’s post. But don’t worry, it can wait until you return 🙂

  3. Hi Didi. You are smart to think ahead for boarding options. It’s great to know what you can do if an emergency comes up, without creating more stress in the situation for you and George. I’ll look forward to seeing about the 7 links (thank you!) upon my return. Our flight is still scheduled to leave on time, but the airlines have a lot of catching up to do and until we actually leave, I’m skeptical about our departure. But when we return, I’ll work on it. Sounds intriguing!

  4. Good post, Robin. It cries out for the “sequel” — when did you know that it wasn’t right for Grace, (after all, hopping in to her lap could have been just for temporary solace as she adjusted) and, correlatively, how can a manager best recognize when the situation is not right for an employee? Obviously we want to test and challenge the people we manage (as you did with Grace), so the balance is important–and tricky.

    • Thanks, Michael. It’s SUCH a great question you pose. I almost felt it wasn’t right immediately upon entering, yet I wanted to see how it went. She did a few short stays in my lap, then ventured out and back. I never tried to prevent her from either direction, nor encouraging her one way or the other. All the decisions were hers. But when she stayed in my lap for a prolonged time (almost ten minutes with a lot of activity going on around her), and had her head down resting, I felt she was “done.” This was at about the 35 minute mark after arriving; then people started to go outside and gather there. I followed last, feeling like it wasn’t what she wanted to do, but giving her the chance. That’s when the trainer and I had the conversation about it not working. And my thought for managers is similar — look for patterns, for trends, for the extended time that illustrate being stuck when someone tries something new or challenging. Offer resources and tools to support their efforts. What you raise is such an excellent point because I struggle with it a lot dealing with Grace. When should I push and when should I let her be? As you accurately said, that balance is so important, and yes, very very tricky! Thanks so much for commenting.

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