Friday, March 8, 2013

Wrong Is Me

We don't have cable at our house; we don't even have a TV. Our ancient cathode ray tube set gave up the ghost before we moved last fall, and when I asked my daughters if they wanted a TV, they said no. We do watch Netflix on occasion, and recently I've been watching Cesar Millan. That show is addictive. I could watch for hours.

Why? It's the old, old story: all about faith and hope and love and redemption.

I've been sorely in need of the faith and hope. In spite of that one moment, and subsequent minor victories (The mail carrier came to our door and My Bad Dog slept through it! We walked past a mail carrier who was only 15 feet away from us, and My Bad Dog didn't react at all! A FedEx truck passed us and she didn't lunge and bark!), I was feeling discouraged that the hard daily work of consistent discipline on walks and correcting her when she registered loud disapproval of landscape workers across the street, a real estate agent down the block, the Seventh Day Adventists who like to check in to see if we've changed our minds (we haven't) wasn't yielding consistent results.

She seemed better, then she seemed worse. She didn't bark, then she tried to eat the mail carrier/FedEx guy/school bus driver/elderly man with those enormous black sunglasses and the rather aggressive posture who doesn't like to share the sidewalk. 

In watching Dog Whisperer episodes this time, though, I found hope once again fluttering in my breast. I always say I'm a repeat learner, and the repeated lesson here is that it's me, not My Bad Dog. I had thought and thought and thought and thought about why she was the way she was, and kept blaming her sad, sad past of having been a street dog, having been abandoned not once but twice. The conclusion I always came to was that she was the way she was because of her past. Then sometimes I would sort of get it that all right, so I was inadvertently allowing some dominant behaviors and failing to be a confident pack leader, and so My Bad Dog then tried to take that role.

I got it, but I didn't get it. I probably just didn't want to believe it was me. On Cesar's show, it's always obvious to the viewer that it's the owner's problem that fuels the dog's problem.

Maybe the reason for the inconsistent results was that even though I had some of the behaviors in place (for myself, I'm not talking about My Bad Dog, I mean that I learned not to let her walk ahead of me and not to let her put her paw on me, for example), I hadn't done the necessary emotional excavation that you see with the owners who become successful in rehabilitating their dogs. Also, I was still making some behavioral mistakes (e.g., letting her sniff and track while we walked instead of requiring her to walk directly forward with me).

We none of us humans enjoy admitting we're wrong. It took me a while, but now I'm at this place of being thrilled to admit that I am wrong, wrong, wrong if that will solve the problem. 

My Mistake:
I had dreaded meetings with mail carriers/FedEd guys/teens in hoodies/elderly men with aggressive postures. Perhaps My Bad Dog sensed this dread and assumed that she needed to protect me from those dangers. My solution had been to avoid them, but that didn't work. It just made encounters worse when we had them.

What I'm Doing Instead:
I noticed that when Cesar worked with reactive dogs, he welcomed opportunities for the dogs to react in their typical manner because those were learning opportunities. Instead of avoiding such encounters, I needed to welcome them. This requires a certain amount of internal fortitude, but the great thing is that the more you do it, the easier it is.

Now we've have a few days of my embracing the outside world in its entirety, mail carriers and all. It gets dramatic and people do love to stare when they see me administering correction when My Bad Dog is leaping and lunging and barking.

The Result:
Today we were at what I used to think of as the Infernal Intersection because it had been the scene of many overreactions on the part of My Bad Dog. A big school bus rolled up from behind us, and My Bad Dog went crazy.

I gave her a firm "No!" (as opposed to a pleading or doubtful "No?") and each time she lunged, I gave a swift backward pull on the leash and the claw hand to the loose ruff around her neck--"claw hand" makes it sound meaner than it is, but there's no violence in it, nothing that causes her pain, and the reasons I know it doesn't cause her pain are that I'm not applying enough pressure to hurt her and that I know what she looks like when she is in pain, and that is not it. It does get her attention. She is used to my correcting her with ineffective words, and those are very easy for her to ignore. This she couldn't ignore. It was as if I had gone from saying "Blah blah blah blah, Sophie" to "Attention, soldier!" She calmed down and sat next to me at the intersection, EVEN THOUGH THE BUS WAS STILL THERE. Fantastic.

Then, because God likes a joke, I think, a little school bus pulled up in front of us on the cross street to turn right. My Bad Dog went crazy, and we went through the same routine, and she calmed down and sat down until our light changed, and then she walked sedately by my side while we crossed the street.

I'm so proud of My Good Dog.

And one of the best things about all of this is that it drives home for me what Cesar keeps saying about how dogs live in the moment, they don't live in the past. Sophie doesn't sigh for her lost puppyhood. She doesn't weep in remembrance of the wrongs done her. She reacts in the moment. Therein lie the hope, right? Every moment gives us a chance to react differently.

We met a school bus, My Good Dog reacted and got corrected, and then we went home, and the whole way, My Good Dog trotted happily and confidently at my side.

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