Two little (and one big) teacher(s)

[Warning: This is a semi-long blog post. You may want to grab a cup of coffee, a mug of cider, or some other tasty beverage before hunkering down to read this bad boy. 😉 {Pause; wait for people to get a drink or snack.} Ready? Okay. Let’s begin.]

Animals are excellent teachers. Earlier this week my sweetie and I adopted two 11-year-old “puppies” from a rescue organization; and these past several days I have been doing my best to exhibit balanced, calm, assertive leadership to these small dogs. I’m learning a lot about myself in this process.

[I promise that this blog will not turn into one big pet journal; but please do indulge me every now and again in talking about the puppies. 🙂 Thanks.]

Now, whether you appreciate Cesar Millan’s approach to dog training/rearing or not, I think he does do a good job spelling out the facts of pack animal mentality – and does his best to offer a ‘translation’ of various actions humans can take to appropriately communicate to/with the pack animals in their lives. One of the most foundational concepts that Cesar teaches is of energy; specifically, that dogs can ‘read’ (sense) a human’s energy, and will respond to the energy the human is emitting over the words the human is speaking. A strong, positive leader needs to emit and project a calm, assertive energy – and this energy cannot be ‘faked’. The human has to authentically feel and exhibit the energy in order for the dog to believe it (and therefore respond to it).

The language and concept of ‘energy’ may seem flaky or “woo-woo” to some – but based on my experiences these past few days, I’m a believer in it.

Case #1: The Walk. Cesar says that the way a human holds her body (head, shoulders, chest) as well as the dog’s leash convey messages to the animal. A woman who walks with her head up and eyes looking forward, her shoulders down and her chest pushed out a bit, conveys the message of “leader”. Similarly, a woman who walks her dog on a short leash in a relaxed-yet-firm arm/hand further tells the animal, “I’m in charge. Follow me.” Conversely, a woman who walks looking down, and/or who is a little slumpy in her torso, and/or who has a death grip on the leash conveys insecurity to the animal – and therefore the animal feels like it has to be in charge. (‘Cause someone has to run the show…) On my first two walks with the boys, I was the latter woman. I was looking down watching them, making sure I stopped when they needed to pee or poop, and because I was looking down I was a little hunched over in my shoulders and chest, and I held their two leashes in a quasi-death grip in a very rigid arm position…and the walks just didn’t go well. Ugh. So on Walk #3, I made a conscious decision to change my demeanor – and I’ll be darned if the boys didn’t modify their behaviors as a result! The walk wasn’t ‘perfect’, but it was better. Yet in the moments when I regressed to my previous posture/attitude/energy, the boys let me know immediately – they started pulling on their leashes, walking in front of me, stopping to sniff every five seconds… But when I remembered “calm, assertive, confident”, and changed my posture (and thinking) appropriately, the puppies fell back in line, and the walk returned to a smoother state. It was really quite wild.

Case #2: Sit. I’m not sure what commands these dogs know, but I’m certain they have been trained to “sit”. So before I allow them to do anything (go on a walk, get their dinner, receive affection, etc.) I make them sit – and then I reward their good behavior. When I tell them to “sit” from a space of calm, patient confidence, they respond very quickly (if not immediately). However, if I tell them to “sit” when I’m feeling annoyed, frustrated, or anxious, they can totally tell – and they only get more excited/agitated/unruly. Grr! But when I catch myself, and take a moment to pause, breathe deeply, lengthen my spine, and re-state the command from a place of calm assertiveness, the dogs usually respond within a few seconds. (Usually.) But man, they can totally tell when my ‘calm’ is fake versus real. It’s pretty uncanny. (And a good lesson for me.)

Case #3: Yoga & Meditation. For the past two mornings, the puppies have woken up and gotten out of their kennel after I showered and dressed (around 6:30 am). Perfect. By that time I was done with most of my morning routine, and didn’t have to worry about them being underfoot or trying to jump on me, lick me, or otherwise get in my way. However, this morning the dogs got out of their kennel at the same time I woke up (4:15 am). I put them in the yard immediately so they could relieve themselves, then petted them a few times after they came back inside and settled down. I then started to do my morning yoga – and as I feared, they were jumping and pawing and licking and basically “preventing” me from practicing. What do I do??! I saw my mind turn to me and said, “Stef, you are not going to stop doing the things you enjoy because of these animals. They will get used to it – now you need to get over it. Tell them to go lay down – and mean it!” And in that moment, my energy truly changed, and I became the Leader. I calmly but firmly told them to lie down, pointed to their bed, put them inside of it, said, “Good boys” once in a calm voice, then began my yoga practice. And the dogs stayed in the bed – they knew I meant what I ordered them to do. Holy freaking crap! This calm, assertive energy business truly does work!

After yoga, I went to my study and sat on my meditation cushion. This is the first time the dogs have seen me do this. Immediately they climbed into my lap, and I gently-yet-firmly pushed them to my sides, calmly-yet-seriously said, “No – lay – stay”, and began my meditation session. And again, the dogs “got” it – and they remained motionless at my sides during the entire 20 minutes of my session. Pretty amazing…

One area my husband and I are still trying to figure out is peeing in the house. On our first day together one of the dogs had an accident inside – and it was totally us human’s fault. (We simply weren’t paying attention to the time, and didn’t give the animals enough potty breaks during the day. What can I say, we were Day 1 rookies.) Okay, fine, clean up and move on. But then last night, we discovered that one of the puppies had peed a bit in our bedroom – while we were at home. We have visitors staying at our house who arrived last night, so my husband and I thought maybe all of the change was just a lot for the dogs to cope with, and so they ‘marked’ in response to their anxiety…. So okay, clean up and move on. However. Today I arrived at home after leaving the boys alone for seven hours – and was delighted when I saw that they made it the entire day with no indoor accidents. Hooray! I promptly took them for a walk (during which they both peed and pooped), then came home and gave them a little bit of petting and love, then went to our basement to do a workout. The dogs stayed on the main level of the house, presumably in their bed…But when I finished my workout and went back upstairs, I found that one of them had marked in our bedroom – again. 😦 I felt like a failure. My husband and I have been doing everything we’re supposed to: We’re giving the dogs two walks a day, and are making them “work” for everything we give them, but we are also giving them affection and playing with them…. What more can we do? Tonight, I started to feel a little defeated. What if I have to face a puddle of pee every day? (Annoying, and gross.) What if these dogs never behave on a walk? What if I can’t hack it as a dog owner? I kind of almost wanted to cry.

And this is where my human teacher comes into the picture. Sharing my feelings with my sweetie, he looked at me and said, “Hon, you are doing the best you can. And you are learning a lot about yourself. You are doing really great. I’m proud of you.” I didn’t know it until I heard it, but those four sentences were exactly what I needed someone to say to me. I love that I have a partner in this life who knows me well enough to know what I need even before I know it myself. His energy is pretty fantastic; and despite the shortcomings we all have, today my three boys (two little furry ones and a big human one) put a smile in my heart. Thanks boys.

How can I not love these three boys?


About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
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12 Responses to Two little (and one big) teacher(s)

  1. oh Stef, as a long time dog owner, I can tell you are doing a fabulous job with these two. I’m impressed.


  2. Touch2Touch says:

    A useful pair of twins: patience and fortitude.
    Joel’s a treasure. And you’ll all get there, it’s early days yet.
    (Come on in and visit Stef, guys: here they are, Patience and Fortitude.)


    • Stef says:

      Joel IS amazing; I’m truly a blessed gal. And yes, the four of us will all get there; every day is a little better than the one before. We’re all learning…


  3. barb19 says:

    Yup – they must be pretty irresistable, Stef!


  4. narami says:

    I hate it when people say they won’t bother with pets because they won’t get it. Pets GET IT, they can learn anything! It’s only a matter of consistency, patience and lots of love. Loved this entry 🙂


  5. carlaat says:

    What cute little faces! 🙂


  6. Fluffy Tufts says:

    Those two cuties are so lucky to have found you! 🙂


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