The First Time

As seen on

I had had enough. I tweeted, I posted, I answered emails and phone calls and then…I had enough. The weather icon on the bottom of my computer screen was showing nothing but happy little sun faces for the next several days so I made an executive decision: this family was taking a day off—midweek—and going to the beach. We were all playing hooky–from camp, from work, from Facebook.

Preparing for a beach day with family took the usual planning—bathing suits, coolers and beach toys had to be organized and packed—but by 9, we were off, our trusty minivan loaded with food, towels, sunscreens of various powers, leashes of various lengths, sweatshirts, diapers and trashy novels.

We were humming along the highway, Radio Disney blasting, when suddenly (there always a suddenly when traveling with kids) a scream from the backseat. It was my six-year old daughter, herself going from 0-60, emotionally speaking, and shouting hysterically. “I’M DISAPPEARING! MOMMY! I’M DISAPPEARING!” While my daughter is not recognized as a quiet or unimaginative child, this was unusual. We stopped the car.

A little mommy-style detective work revealed the truth: her foot had fallen asleep.  For the very first time. A soothing foot massage, a simple (and probably inaccurate) explanation of the phenomenon and the promise of ice cream, solved the problem and we were back on the road.

“There’s a first time for everything,” the old saw goes, and some of those first times can really make your palms sweat.  Jumping off the high dive, eating sushi or switching cellular carriers…  during those nerve-jangling moments, it can help to have an experienced guide, someone who has already “been there, done that.”

When children are faced with a new and potentially scary situation, we hug them—we pull them close and whisper encouragement. But what about dogs and puppies?  When confronting the unknown, our impulse to comfort can make the situation worse. Dogs don’t understand people-talk and often misread our best-intentioned cues.

Bending over to sooth a frightened puppy may seem nurturing from your vantage point—but crouching looks a lot like cowering to your pup. “Uh-oh,” thinks your puppy. “She’s scared, too…this is Not Good!” Similarly, baby-talk makes you sound whiny and unsure, reinforcing your dog’s firmly held belief that vacuum cleaners, storm drains and bicycles are Not Good.

So how do you reassure a dog around the new, the untested and the unknown? By looking and acting absolutely, casually, uncompromisingly confident—even when you’re not. Simple changes to your posture and eye contact tell your dog that you’re in charge of the situation. “Whew,” thinks your dog. “What a relief.”

As your dog begins to see you as a benevolent and unflappable leader, you’ll find that your confidence in new situations grows, too. The newness will fade and … uh … life will be wonderful, I guess.