Thursday, August 21, 2008

I Don't Know How to Be with My Dogs

The trainers last night told me it's unhealthy to let my dog sit in my lap for a couple hours while I read. They said that means I'm petting her too much. She probably doesn't like it. And if she seems to like it (i.e., if I'm sitting and reading and she jumps up to sit on my lap while I read) then it's because I've created a co-dependent dog.

Of course, for over two weeks now there's been no sitting and reading with dogs on my chair or lap or ottoman or beside me on the sofa. My most blessed moments, my most tranquil and pleasant moments, are those when I sit with a dog or with both dogs and read. The trainers said I can never have a dog on either side of me on the sofa again because as I'm reading they could be passing negative eye contact and suddenly get into a fight with me in the middle. They told me about a woman's husband whose face was maimed by a terrier sleeping on his pillow. They talked about plastic surgery only partially reconstructing a ruined face resulting from bad dog-location decisions. So no more doggie "book-ends" for me. And for at least six weeks no more single dog beside me anywhere. And no more calling it "my great joy" to have the dogs so near me because that means I'm making the dogs too important. I need to find other things that matter, they said. They said I need to do more things that aren't with the dogs. I said I do plenty of other things.

What I love most, though, is my quiet time with the dogs. And now I don't have that. Not really.

For over two weeks I've been trying to seem authoritative, in charge, calm, structured . . . I've given praise only for obedience to the tasks in the 30DR. I've done "settle" and I've played but it's all been very structured, measured, calibrated.

This is not who I am.

I can't live like this forever. I'm paranoid about giving my dogs too much affection, about giving them the wrong kinds of reinforcement.

I'm so tense I could crack.

* * *

As I read what I wrote I find myself thinking that the solution, for me, must be to decide what I want most--what I'm not willing to compromise--and then to assert myself to make it happen. Isn't that calm-asserting leadership?

Right now my irony is performing the role of "leader" in a way that's tearing me apart, making me feel brittle, even self-destructive sometimes. I'm trying to trust experts to tell me what's right. And I have great confidence in the principle that I've been a weak leader and that's the root of the problem. But I need to redefine what me-as-leader means. I'm not going to transform into Cesar Millan. And I'm not going to become that semi-friend/bully at work who is so great with dogs but pushes me around (making me feel, perhaps, the way B makes P feel: herded and intruded upon).

I need to figure out what I can realistically become without losing who I am. Somehow that means sloughing off or excising the abused little girl who believes she deserves all manner of criticism, who can't possibly be good enough as she is. Somehow I've got to figure out where my strength is and how to build that as my foundation for leadership. Compassion, perhaps.

* * *

So I write myself into tears. And I leave the room so my dogs won't know I'm weakened and crying. And P-dog comes into the bedroom immediately and approaches me as I sit on the floor. And she sniffs my tears and nudges me to pet her and I give myself permission to break all the rules and pet her--without waiting 30 seconds, without making her sit first, without clicking her for not nudging me to pet her. I just pet her. And my first thought is, "I feel like a pedophile. I've snuck off into a corner and I'm hiding from the dog trainers and secretly petting my dog." And my next thought is complete disgust with a situation that has left me feeling ashamed of sharing a fundamental moment of comfort with my dog, who knows I'm hurting, who always knows what I'm feeling, and who knows I need comfort.

This is where I am. It feels so wrong to be here.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's about 4 am here in AZ as I read your really sad blog about you and your dogs.
I watch Cesar also and envy his leadership. If only I could emulate his calm assertiveness with my own dog.
That being said, the time I spend with my Rhodesian Ridgeback is the best time of my day.
I closed my business about a year and a half ago. My plan was to remodel my small building and reopen it as an art gallery.

Because my dog, Bondo, was so much fun and he was also needy (he's afraid of most noises) I began dedicating most of my time to him. It isn't exactly what the DW would do but it works for us. After his exercise and play time (learning or trying to learn "tricks"), I lay on the floor or couch with him. I hug him and love him. I tickle him and tease him. I imagine that if he had another canine buddy here at home, this is how they would act with each other.
I don't know. I don't care. It's just what works for me.
Give yourself some slack. Life is short. Dogs are great.

4:05 AM  

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