Saturday, September 06, 2008

Drinking the Kool-Aid

So I just finished the first disc in my Complete Season One of the Dog Whisperer collection. And here is what I'm thinking:

  1. For starters, regardless of what else is happening here, I can say that watching this tv show motivates me to walk my dogs--especially in the moments after each episode ends. I've actually taken two extra dog walks this week solely as a result of my watching an episode and feeling afterwards that I must walk the dog sitting on the floor while I was watching it. Conclusion: I should continue watching this show. (And of course by now I've ordered all three seasons plus the book of his I hadn't read yet and the little dog-training journal suggested by as a complement to the book. (Click-to-Pay is a dangerous thing.)

  2. Because I rarely watch tv and haven't been relaxing anywhere in the house (I still don't know how to relax and do things I love--like reading books--without a dog beside me. It's like when I quit smoking and couldn't figure out what to do with my hands. Plus I have empty boxes on all my comfortable furniture to keep the dogs off so when I'm on the sofa I've got big empty boxes next to me. Weird.) this business of watching DVDs with a dog on the floor is something I'm experiencing at a semi-objective level with the one benefit that it's helping me notice a few things about my household dynamic. What I mean is that I'm not just relaxing and watching DW; instead, I'm watching it and also distracted by the logistics of it. And I've noticed that when Petunia is the dog on my side of the gate, in the living room, she seems to relax when I put her on a down-settle instead of letting her roam around our side of the house. Maybe because it's one position in which we both know how we're supposed to be, physically. I *want* her on the sofa beside me and I'm tense because I can't let her be there--so putting her on the down-settle means I can stop feeling guilty and awkward and she can stop feeling the unsettledness of everything.Conclusion: For now, I may as well use my living room time as a down-settle time for whatever dog is in there with me. Even if it means more than an hour of down-settle for the dog. Because it's a structure we can all live with and not have to think about. And it would be consistent.

  3. So far, my favorite episode is the one with the big black herding dog (a Bouvier). I loved that episode because it had such a happy ending--the dog's owners had the resources to be sure he'd be able to take herding lessons and they'll probably hire a dog-walker for the mornings, but most of all I loved watching the dog racing around with the sheep. Having dog-fun. My dogs don't get much dog fun because they aren't playing with each other (before The Incident they chased squirrels together and played now and then in the back yard--not tons, but some--and of course now they aren't permitted together without a barrier) and they only get their playdate with the Pug maybe once a week. It makes me so sad. The Bouvier episode got me fantasizing about doing agility lessons with Buddy and maybe again with Petunia. (She did agility years ago but just for one series of lessons then we moved on to other random activities.) You know, this is when it's so tough to be a single dog-mom. If a second human were here we could enroll both dogs in agility and take them into the agility ring together, on their leads, and give them a way to be in the same space safely, having fun, and use that as a way to re-structure their relationship. We could walk the dogs together also. At any rate, the Bouvier episode was positive because it gave me a way to visualize Buddy and Petunia having good fun, and feeling the elation of knowing they were having good fun. I need that. I really, really need that.

  4. The backpack thing. I know all about the backpack thing. Both dogs have backpacks. Over the years I've used them in various ways. But there again, to be honest, I used the backpacks during my "backpack phase." I've read literally dozens of dog training books and taken all sorts of lessons. But I've never maintained a consistent routine with the dogs. I basically raised them the way my mother raised me: lots of lessons, lots of praise, lots of toys, not much structure or discipline. Anyhoo, I've decided to do the backpack thing with Buddy and make it a regular component of our walks, partly because I know that realistically during the school year I'm never going to be able to maintain the kind of daily walking-schedule that would really wear him out physically if I rely on duration-of-walk alone. I need ballast.

  5. So here's my experiment for this week: I'm going to rig up a DVD-watching arrangement in the guest bathroom (the one with the tub) so that, in the morning, I can drag myself into the bathtub and watch an episode of DW while I'm waking up. I'll get out of the tub, into my walking clothes and *then* let the dogs out of their crates, taking one immediately on a decent walk. (I realize this is goofy and convoluted but I never feel like going for a walk in the early morning but I'm always ready for a fancy aromatherapeutic bath. I think I'd get out of bed for that and I think this arrangement might give me the momentum I need.) I'll go ahead and declare that my early-morning teaching days are exempt, but if I were to make this happen the other days it could be a major step forward for me and my dogs. Why? Because . . .

  6. I have finally bought into the premise that ultimately what's going to need to happen is a bonding ritual in which I walk both dogs together on a regular basis, having them share space with me in the lead. I haven't abandoned the click-to-calm stuff or the other things the obedience trainers prescribed. But I do believe that at the end of the day this whole problem is about the structure of my relationship with these two dogs. Perhaps even more than it's about the structure of the relationship between the two of them. And the clearest way I can visualize progress is through a routine that involves the three of us walking as a pack. This is tricky as hell because we routinely encounter stray dogs while walking through my neighborhood and Petunia is fear aggressive, etc. (Some day I'll tell the story of the time we encountered the pit bull puppy while walking as a trio.) But now that the weather is cooling down I think I could take them to a local fenced-in spot (like a baseball field) and walk the perimeter with them, a large space protected by a fence. That's my plan. And with Buddy weighted down I think we'd stand a good chance. I wouldn't muzzle him for this because I would keep them on lead the whole time and I can separate them in that configuration. I know I can. I'm still big and strong and know how to get between them safely if necessary. And I'd bring my air horn in case of an unexpected stray or weirdness. So that's the goal: starting a regular walk ritual that will lay the groundwork for me handling them on a trio walk within a protected space.



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