Friday, August 08, 2008

Ignoring my dog for another 25 minutes

I'm sitting on the soft with B-dog's leash beneath my left foot. Mom is here visiting and we had a late supper so I feel guilty about restricting his mobility after a long evening of crate time.

But I must do this. a 30-minute "settle" with each dog on the floor, my foot on the leash, while I pay absolutely no attention to them. Poor buddy.

And poor me, really. I'm sleepy from the beer at dinner and must repeat this routine with P-dog as well before going to bed. And since both dogs must now sleep in their crates (instead of on my bed with me, which I love) I'm trying to give them a little liberty time before hitting the hay. Sheesh.

* * *

The last few days I've been following the trainer's "emergency" regimen in an effort to fix us all. Since I've been too worn out to blog about it I'll paste one of my emails describing this saga to a friend, following my 1 or 2 hour meeting with the dog trainer regarding or problems at home . . .

* * *

. . . After the meeting I sat in the car and
sobbed. For so many reasons. For being such a poor dog-mom despite my
fine intentions. For being such an incompetent leader to animals who
need leadership more than anything. For not doing my best
for these sweet creatures. For smothering them instead of attending to
what I knew they needed.

I mentioned my willingness to do the big time crack-of-dawn dog walks.
The trainer said European research has shown that dogs don't need
intensive Dog Whisperer style exercise because that raises their
adrenaline and can actually make them more aggressive; instead what
they need is lots of mental stimulation. She said what I need to do is
take them for a walk for the purpose of stimulating them, not
exhausting them. She said their nose is their most important organ. I
dunno. Seems like exhausting them is a good idea. But I'm going to
follow her prescription and let them walk and smell things instead of
forcing them to zoom along for an hour. In this hot
weather it's a bad idea to push a long walk anyway.

She was kind and a terrier-lover and gave me lots of advice and a printed sheet
summarizing a 30-day
plan for restructuring your dog lifestyle. I turned that into a
checklist and will follow it faithfully for 30 days, starting
tomorrow. (Though I'm starting some things tonight--perhaps including
not letting the dogs sleep with me.)

The trainer didn't say I could never sleep with them or cuddle with
them on the couch again, but she did say I'd need to stick to the plan
until things changed.

She helped me see how I've always let P-dog be in charge: from the
very first day of B-dogs arrival when I mistakenly let her decide
when he was permitted in certain parts of the house--that should
have been my decision, not hers.

She also said there really isn't any such thing as Beta and
Delta--that whole hierarchy thing. She said packs have a leader and
then everyone else, the others' roles change depending on what the
pack needs at any time. The problem in our house isn't that P or
B want to be Top Dog so much as the fact that I'm not Top Dog.
Once again (as with every other trainer I've worked with) she
explained that the dogs don't believe I'm in charge. Right now they
seem to see me as a possession. Part of the territory they're fighting
over. If I were clearly their leader they wouldn't see the need to
fight over territory anymore. It would be my territory. And so on.

So my job for the next 30 days is to (1) protect the dogs from hurting
each other, and (2) make myself their leader.

The saddest thing in the world is that (1) involves making B-dog wear
a muzzle. The trainer said it's a bad idea to keep the dogs separated
all the time because it will ultimately reinforce the problem rather
than dilute it. They need to be in the same space now and then. But
the only way I can feel confident P is safe (today's bite BTW was
near her eye--I discovered it only later) is by muzzling the bigger dog. This
won't necessarily stop them from fighting but it will reduce the odds
of a horrifying injury and it will make ME feel less nervous which is
a huge part of the problem. I'm now terrified for P-dog and I'm no
good at pretending not to be tense in front of them.

So tomorrow is muzzle shopping. She recommended a metal basket-type
model and said that the Greyhound rescue people routinely use them and
give one to every adopter because Greyhounds are so prey-driven
they're a natural threat to cats and such. The image of B-dog as
Hannibal Lecter horrifies me. Makes me cry. But I just need to get
over it. Me being comfortable is partly what led to this awful

And becoming a leader is next. Lord. The trainer at first described
how her own mother was one of those people who you just obeyed as a
kid no matter what. I knew what she was trying to suggest and found I
had absolutely no parental analogue. Not one of my four parents was a
calm-assertive leader. My mother was animated but weak and
hyperreactive; my father obtuse and unconcerned; my stepfather
unpredictable and sometimes abusive; my
stepmother an uncompassionate alien.

Explains a lot, actually.

During my drive home I reflected on all those Dog Whisperer podcasts I
watched this afternoon and it occurred to me that I'm the red-line
dog. I'm the one who needs the hour-long exercise to expend my nervous
energy before starting my day with the dogs. I'm the one whose energy
is weak or anxious to the dogs. I'm the one who needs to be balanced
and predictable.

So for 30 days I'll do all the things the trainer prescribed plus an
hour of exercise, probably on my bike. An hour is about two rides
around the lake. I can do that. I won't be in the mood for it but I'll
do it.

It's so difficult to change who we are inside. Is it even possible?
I've felt vulnerable for so long that I don't know how to feel
otherwise. But I believe it will require a physical change--something
very deep--because faking it doesn't make it.

And I keep going back to my ex-husband's (EE's) role in all this. He was alpha. Always.
To all of us. And in retrospect I believe that when EE lived here my
weakness and frustration was already well established in the
perceptions of my dogs. I've always said their behavior change was
about protecting me after EE left. Actually, I believe the foundation
was forming even while he was here. I wasn't second-in-command. I was
just another member of the pack who happened to take them to obedience
school and to the vet but wasn't really in charge of anything.

My persistent exhaustion emotionally and physically, my sense of
debilitation, all this weakness comes from years and years of tension
and frustration that began long before I adopted these dogs. They've
always known me as this fundamentally weary person.

The training I will do. Every last thing on the long list. Every day.
Twice. But I realize the dog thing is unlikely to be truly resolved
until I change. Really change. For good.

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