Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z: (#atozchallenge)

Z day. Can't believe it.

It's been fun. Grueling--first and last time I do the Challenge with two blogs, man!--but fun. I'm especially grateful to the repeat visitors--I think I would've given up somewhere around K if it weren't for your comments. You made me feel there was someone looking forward to these Lessons In Life From Dogs posts :)

There's so much to learn from dogs... These 26 posts barely scratched the surface, but the experience was totally enriched by your sharing of your own experiences and the lessons you've learned from your own furry family members. Thank you for that.

I'm off to Zzzz. I need it. We all do. But before you head to your own Zzzz place, take a listen/look-see at this video. It summarizes a lot of what the Lessons In Life From Dogs posts were about. Maybe you've seen it before--you probably have. In any case, I think we should watch it at least once a week. You know, to keep us on the right track.

Thank you so much for being here!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Youth vs. Age (#atozchallenge)

After yesterday's post, you probably think I'm partial to puppies. Who wouldn't be? Little bundles of cuteness overload, a pristine mind, character yet unshaped. Puppies--like the bunnies and chicks that symbolize Easter--offer a fresh start. A blank page. Holding a puppy in your arms is like holding the future. And our dreams for it.

It's no surprise that puppies get adopted a lot faster than adult dogs. Which presents a problem for rescue organizations.

Two, actually.

The first, most obvious, is that adult dogs have ever-narrowing chances of finding a good home. By "adult" I don't mean "senior"--even one- or two-year-old dogs get passed over for puppies. And every time that happens is another nail in their coffins. (If only they had coffins.)

The second problem is, actually, the core problem of dog rescuing. Where do all these homeless dogs come from? Sure, a lot are born homeless (especially in third-world locations like the Caribbean and Latin America)--but not all of them. A huge number started out life in homes, in families--a family that wanted that "bundle of cuteness overload", that "fresh start". But puppies don't stay puppies forever. They grow. Oh, so very, very fast.

Raising a puppy is every bit as challenging as raising a child. With one significant difference: you've got around six to eight years, depending on the branch of child psychology you prefer, to form that child's foundation of values and principles. With a puppy, you've got months. And not that many.

I get it; all you want to do with a puppy is cuddle and take pictures. What do you do when you find him cutting his tiny baby teeth on your Gucci loafers? You go Awwww, snap a photo, post it on Facebook, and all your friends go Awwwww too. And how can you possibly leave that itty-bitty baby in a crate all night? No, no; he sleeps in the bed with us. Plenty of time to teach him later.

Too many people fall in love with the baby cuteness and forget its days are numbered--until, one day, the puppy is no longer a puppy, it's a grown dog that growls at you when you try to get him off the bed. Off goes the ex-puppy to the shelter (or the street).

Raising a puppy to be a calm, independent, happy adult--the companion of your dreams--is hard work.

An adult dog comes with challenges, too, but they're of a different nature. They're already there, immediately visible so you can decide whether you can or cannot deal with them.

An adult's basic character traits--full of energy or mellow, social or not, a cuddler or a loner--have already been established and (unless you're into rehabilitation, which is a whole different ballgame), won't change.

An adult is much easier to train; they've lived enough to know, for example, that going potty in the same place where you sleep or eat is a bad idea. They test boundaries less. They love with less distraction, less challenge.

And yet ninety percent of people will stride past the adult cages at a shelter without so much as a second glance.

Why is it that we value youth so much more? Not just a dog's--ours, too. The golden years were in our teens, our twenties. Growing old seems like the end of everything, a tragedy that most people go to extreme lengths to postpone--as if it could be. Lying about their age; using all sorts of creams, make-up, concealers, magic potions. Studying pop culture to be in with the newest slang, the latest fashions, the hippest music. Going under the knife.

Why? Why is the passing of time so dreaded? Isn't it through this very passing that we acquire experience? Why is being older so bad?

Older dogs may not have the effervescence of puppies--thank heavens--but they have plenty of energy to keep any human company in the exercise department. Older dogs don't have to chew on everything to figure out what they like; they already know what tastes good, what doesn't get them into trouble--and they can spend more time chewing that.

Relationships with older dogs are more fulfilling--more time spent in quiet contemplation rather than in a tug-of-war to establish who's who. Power struggles and pissing contests aren't necessary.

I think that's also true of our own relationships as we get older.

~ * ~

Thank you for visiting, for all your awesome comments, and for helping make Life In Dogs's 
first A-to-Z Challenge a huge success. 
I look forward to many, many mutual visits.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Xanax, Eat Your Heart Out (#atozchallenge)

Depression seems to be the illness of our times. Everyone's either depressed, has been depressed, or knows someone who is. Xanax, and its fellow multi-colored pills, can be found in bathroom cabinets and bedside tables everywhere.

Is anyone getting better, though?

In my not-so-humble opinion, they're taking the wrong medicine. The wrong approach. I propose

Puppy Therapy!

One-on-one therapy at home has produced excellent results. Intensive out-patient therapy is available--free of charge--at your local shelter or rescue organization. For severe cases, we recommend volunteering at least once a week with a rescue organization. Aside from the endorphins your brain produces around chubby, furry, warm, and playful creatures, nothing gives your life a sense of purpose like an animal that needs you.

(If this seems contradictory, because you think rescuing animals exposes you to too much pain, remember: there's no light without dark, no day without night, and no joy without pain. It's part of life.)

Choose the course of therapy that best suits you. Except for allergies, no counter-indications apply.

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by, and happy last three days of A-to-Z-ing!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Who are you? (#atozchallenge)

A parent. Someone's child. Someone's friend. Married, single. A person of a certain sex. A graduate of a certain college. An employee at a certain firm. A performer of a certain job, certain sports, certain hobbies. A name. A family name.

Is that who you are? If these are just labels, then who are you? Are we what we do or what we like, even who we love? Or is there something more, something deeper?

And is that a fixed reality? Does that change?

If there is a constant with rescue dogs, it's change. Not just because of the lifestyle--dogs coming and going, new rescues, new adoptions--or because of their health issues--a liver enzyme acting up; an unheralded, and completely unreasonable, bout of diarrhea; sterilization complications--but because of the dogs themselves.

A dog that's taken in off the street has, suddenly, a lot to adapt to. A rescued dog is on the verge of transformation.

Who will he become? Will he remain fearful? Will he take over the pack? Will he be a mama's boy that doesn't leave his human's side unless compelled by chains and twenty-foot walls? Or will he find untapped sources of inner peace and become the zen master of the household?

Who a rescue dog is changes so fast.

This dog was surrendered to Tierra de Animales, a (wonderful) rescue organization in Cancún, México. She was in the car's trunk,  bound and blindfolded, because her owner said she was "vicious". She's certainly terrified--wouldn't you be, tied up and chocked into the trunk of a car on a hot day and taken who knows where? But not vicious.

This dog was lucky. She could've been abandoned out in the wild, tied to a tree, left to die. Instead, she came to a place without judgment, without labels. She'll be allowed to become whatever she wants to.

Oughtn't we to allow ourselves the same kindness? The same freedom?

If you do, if you dare, who will you become?

~ * ~

Thank you for stopping by, and happy A-to-Z-ing!
We're almost there!

Friday, April 25, 2014

View From Above (#atozchallenge)

Humans are taller than dogs. (Obviously, yes. But please bear with me.)

Unless you're a small child (or your dog is a 300-lb Great Dane), you stand at least three feet above your dog.

Which means you and your dog see different things.

Hey, human. How's it going up there?

I learned a lot from Brenda Aloff's Canine Body Language--more, probably, than I'll remember with any degree of effectiveness. But one thing that felt like a bucket of ice water on my head was this:

What happens at the dog's level often goes unnoticed at the human level.

Up here in Human Land it might look like two dogs are ignoring each other. But are they ignoring each other too hard? Maybe, down there in Dog World and out of (our) sight, the gauntlet is being thrown, tension is brewing, emotions are escalating. And when the growl or snap comes, human's all like, that came from nowhere!

No, it didn't. We just weren't looking.

Maybe there was a treat or a toy lying nearby, and one of the dogs wanted to claim it. Maybe one felt threatened by the other's size or demeanor. Maybe someone's space is being invaded. Maybe there's another dog approaching. Maybe the human is paying too much attention--or not enough--to one dog. Maybe--

Well. You get the idea.

Dog handlers need to train themselves to see these things. To step outside the human view and see the world from the dog's perspective. The things we consider important may not be important to them, and vice versa. Until we're able to see their world and the mechanics that rule it, we'll never understand them. We'll never be able to communicate properly.

And doesn't that apply to every relationship we have, canine or not?

~ * ~

Thanks for the visit, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Us & Them (#atozchallenge)

I've had to stop taking all the dogs to the beach together, and I miss it. It was such a joy to watch them chase each other, splash into the water together, hunt in unison. Beautiful.

But unsafe.

Not when it was just the three of them--Panchita, Rusty, and Winter. If we ran into other dogs, they'd sniff a bit, Winter might get a bit snappy (she's short; Napoleon complex), but it never escalated. Same thing with people. None of my dogs like kids (they do say dogs resemble their owners...), but they behaved as long as the child didn't harass them. (And I made damn sure they didn't.)

Even when the puppies came. Puppies--they're 17 months now, but I guess they'll always be The Puppies to us. All seven of us (six of them, one of me) would walk the beaches like one big, friendly family.

And then they grew up.

Sometime around their 10-month birthday there was an incident. A couple of teenagers in a kayak got attacked. Sure, I told them to stop lunging with the oars at the dogs and they didn't listen, but in this world a dog is guilty until--no, no defense possible. A dog is guilty and stays guilty. Fortunately it wasn't even a scratch; no blood, no doctors.

But it taught me a powerful lesson.

In a pack, my dogs--my lovely, sweet, and wonderful dogs--become dangerous.

In a pack, accepting strangers--people or dogs--becomes impossible.

In a pack, all their little quirks of behavior that seem so manageable--or even harmless--at home become exacerbated, magnified, replicated like a mirror in a mirror.

They become a threat.*

Just like humans.

I'm not talking just about mobs (or soccer fans)--those are the ultimate extreme. Families, homeroom groups at school, neighborhoods, cities, countries, even continents: all of these give us a sense of identity. But in that very identity lies the problem. We define ourselves by differentiating from others.

There can be no Us without Them.

This behavior, the pack mentality, is so ingrained it probably resides in our lizard brain. Every animal has it; maybe even plants do. It's a matter of protecting resources, of survival; one can't just allow any dog to waltz in and take over our food, our human, our safety. Spontaneous generosity towards a stranger can be dangerous.

I get it. I do. We all need, in lesser or greater measure, a place to call home, a group to call our pack.

Strength lies in numbers, after all.

But I wonder. Can't we use it, this strength, for something other than division lines? 

Now I go to the beach with one, maybe two dogs. It's still Us, but I'm working on turning around that Us vs. Them into Us and Them.

It's a start.

* Note: Pack behavior that becomes a threat to others happens because of faulty leadership. Meaning me. My mistake, not theirs. I'm working on that, too.

~ * ~

Thanks for the visit, so sorry about the late post, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

(P.S. -- I will catch up on visits. There's so many great blogs I've discovered this April that I think I'll be busy until October reading everyone's A-to-Z posts.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tackled, Tangled, Torn (#atozchallenge)

I apologize.

I have no dog-wisdom (wis-dog?) for you today. Life's been hectic, yadda yadda--right. Like yours hasn't. And you managed to put up your T post.

(And I swore--swore--I'd pre-write all posts this year.)

I hope you can forgive me. I'll work on U.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sharing doesn't come naturally (#atozchallenge)

Those of you with kids know I'm right. A child's generosity, as cute as it might be when it happens, extends only until said child wants his toy back. It's only through training (okay, education) that we learn to share.

The instinct to protect resources is strong. Yep. In humans, too.

~ * ~

Thanks for the visit, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Respect Is Peace (#atozchallenge)

Image credit
El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.
(Respect for the rights of others is peace.)
~ Emiliano Zapata, Mexican hero

Nothing illustrates that better than a pack of dogs.

If you've read the rescue stories of my dogs, you know it took time and effort--and a lot of patience--to get them to respect each other. When she first came home, Winter stole food from everyone. So did Sasha II. And Romy. They paid the blood price once or twice, but that's not what made them stop.

Respect doesn't come easy. Respect is like love: you can't demand that someone love you. Demanding--whether whiny or aggressive--just breeds fear. And fear is not respect.

Think of the people you respect. Why do you? Because you're scared of them, or the consequences non-respect would bring? Or is it their achievements, their grace, the way they deal with hardship and sorrow?

~ * ~ 

Thanks for the visit, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

P.S. -- I'm over at Vidya Sury's marvelous blog today sharing a
Disney-ending, tear-jerker dog rescue story.
Would love to see you there :)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Quiet (#atozchallenge)

I grew up in quiet. An only child, a large (too large, maybe) house, a father who worked a lot, a mother who believed in Montessori. I learned to read early. I spent a lot of time immersed in counterfactual worlds. Quiet is where I thrive. Quiet is where I feel at home.

But now that I have seven dogs, quiet is naught but chimera. Vain fantasy glimpsed as a shadow through mist.

Or fog. Dense fog.

Duncan & his favorite toy: any cardboard box.
There's the ripping sound of Duncan destroying a cardboard box or an old bedsheet. There's disputes about who gets to use which mat and when. There's barking, howling at sirens, roughhousing. There's nails scraping on the floor as they bolt out into the yard to chase a hapless iguana. And when none of that is happening, there's the clink of collar tags as they follow me around the house (yes, even to the bathroom).

Don't get me wrong. I love my dogs and therefore I love it, all of it. I love the company, I love the challenge of understanding their behavior and of getting them to understand what I want from them. I love to watch them interact with each other. I love to interact with them.

I love it so much, in fact, that I forget
the beauty of quiet.

And then one day I'll be at the beach with them and they all run off chasing after--well, whatever they find to chase, and I'm suddenly all alone with the wind and the ocean and the sun. And I feel recharged.

I need to remember.

I need to remind myself to get some quiet. Just a little. It makes me a better person--and my dogs are the first to benefit from that.

What do you give up for the ones you love? Have you found a way to recover it, even in bits and pieces?

~ * ~

Thanks for the visit, and a special hug of gratitude to everyone that's been coming back post after post to join the conversation. Every time you share a thought or an experience, an abandoned senior dog somewhere finds a loving home :)

Happy (Easter) A-to-Z-ing!

Prejudice (#atozchallenge)

Sam, at three months.
Thank you, Claudia Sanches, for the lovely photos!
I hate to think this Lessons In Life From Dogs series might've given you the impression dogs are perfect, angelical beings, incapable of malice or dishonesty or other characteristically human nastiness. They are better than us, so much more in touch with themselves and their nature, so much more sincere and straightforward in their needs and desires. They have much to teach.

But they're far from perfect.

Take prejudice. I told you the story of Sam and the cow. (I'm sorry to bring it up again, but it's such a great example. And I'm in love with Sam.) He's terrified of this inanimate object, a fraction of his size, and which has never been party to any horrible or even mildly discomfiting experience. Sam's terror of this cow is not based on fact, on evidence of any kind.

It's prejudice.

I wish I spoke Dog so he could tell me on what grounds he discriminates against this cow. Is it racial? Color-based? I know she's somewhat gaudy, but--really? Or is it religion? (Cows are, after all, vegetarians.) Is it because the cow came from Holland? I know Sam is somewhat (haha--"somewhat," she says) xenophobic, but--again, really?

Maybe it's the cow's lowered head. Dogs--and wolves--do that just before sprinting after prey. It may be obvious to you and me that this cow is merely reaching down to graze, but Sam--because his experience is limited to dogs--doesn't see it that way.

Can't see it that way. Because of prejudice.

Is this ringing any bells? Because it sure is for me. I'm fervently anti-religion, and when I find out that someone is religious, there's an audible clunk as I slide them into the Disappointment slot in my mental archive. If someone likes Pink Floyd, on the other hand, they have an automatic pass into my Wow People slot. Accountants are boring, graphic designers are fun. Argentinian wine is excellent, Californian not so much. And rosé is for wannabes who can't handle their alcohol.

Do I have grounds for this continuous, if (until now) under-the-surface, distinctions? Of course I do--the same way Sam has clear and real reasons to fear that cow. And if there's no factual evidence to support my claim, no actual experience, I can always fall back on it's instinct.

But instinct isn't prejudice. Instinct relies--demands, even--an opening of the senses in order to gauge everything: sight, smell, feel, sound. What does it remind me of? Where have I seen something similar before? And is this new situation similar enough to warrant fear (or aggression or--gasp--rejection)?

Prejudice is judgment before the facts. Instinct is judgment through the facts.

In dogs, training gets rid of prejudice. The reason we train is precisely to get rid of a dog's prejudices: barking at the mailman, chasing cars. Counter-conditioning the response. I wonder if it would work for humans. Traveling, exposure to different cultures, different mindsets, different people. Is it really that simple?

And if it is, then why does prejudice still exist?

~ * ~

Thanks for the visit, and happy (Easter) A-to-Z-ing!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Over-exposed! (#atozchallenge)

Desensitization and counter-conditioning are the standard to deal with fearful or reactive behavior in dogs.

Controlled exposure, in carefully monitored increments, to the thing that causes fear. Conditioning the behavior so that the response to this thing will stop being fear--barking, lunging, growling, cowering--and become something positive.

What’s most effective is treatment that will change the way [the dog] feels about something. This treatment will eliminate the underlying reason for the behavior problem in the first place.

So a dog that's afraid of other dogs gets exposed to them: first at a distance, then a bit closer, then more, then without a fence, then a close encounter with one single (very friendly, very well-mannered) dog, then another, and another, then maybe two, then three, until--finally--he's ready for the dog park. The dog has learned, through this exposure, that other dogs aren't to be feared. If we're lucky, he might even have found out they're fun. At the very least, though, he won't tear that little Pomeranian to shreds the minute we look away.

But I wonder if there isn't such a thing as over-exposure.

Extreme sensitivity might be a bad thing--primarily for the dog, since it causes him/her angst and stress, and for the owner of that little Pomeranian--but sensitivity itself isn't. The ability to feel--isn't that what makes us alive?

Watch the news: murder, rape, corruption, betrayal, dishonesty, malice. War, death in massive numbers. We hear enough of it and it becomes rote. Routine. We begin to expect it: the way of the world.

When you heard about the Malaysian plane, did you cry? When you saw the George Zimmerman - Trayvon Martin story, were you outraged? When you read about a shop owner shot dead in the course of a robbery, do you mourn that life--and the social circumstances that caused its end?

Most people don't. Not, in any case, for longer than it takes to shake heads and switch channels. Because we're over-exposed. Exposure changes the way we feel about something. Exposure eliminates the underlying reason for the behavior. Death and cruelty, lack of integrity and prejudice--these things have become normal. They don't make us cringe anymore.

Over-exposure leaches out the color of life.

~ * ~

Thanks for the visit, and sorry about the late post. P coming soon(ish).
See you all around the A-to-Z water cooler.
Happy Easter weekend! 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No Fear Is Irrelevant (#atozchallenge)

This is Sam. The most reactive of my (seven) dogs.

He lives in fear: of the vacuum cleaner, the broom, a plastic bag dancing in the wind, a branch falling from a tree, the garbage truck, loud laughter from the neighbors', slamming doors, strangers, the street, my absence.

I get it. The human world is full of scary stuff for dogs. Mechanical stuff. Loud stuff. Stinky stuff (like the garbage truck). His fears might not be reasonable, but--I get it.

His abject terror of a cow, though, I don't.

Sam's nightmare cow
It's a four-inch-high decorative sculpture. Sure, the colors are maybe gaudy, and the thing has horns, and the head is down low (stalk/attack position), but--seriously? It's an inanimate object. You'd think a dog, with their outrageous sense of smell, would be able to tell there's no danger here, imminent or potential. And yet he won't even get close enough to sniff it.

It's a fifth of your size, Sam! Stop being such a drama queen! (Or king, whatever.)

Completely by accident, I came across a post (by Eileen, one of my favorite dog people): Is My Dog A Drama Queen? Ha, thought I, this one's for Sam.

No. It was for me.

About halfway through the post I found this (Zani is Eileen's Sam):
"I need to remind myself that this house, with my other dogs and me, and the places Zani gets to go–these things are Zani’s world. She is utterly dependent on me. She has things she likes and dislikes, things she looks forward to or not. They are perfectly real and important to her."
And then:
"I need to take Zani’s frustrations and stresses seriously, not just brush them away as cute, silly, or annoying. [...] I need to change my internal response."

We've established dogs cannot lie--they're, quite literally, incapable of it--so why don't I take him seriously? Why am I labeling his reactions as "drama"? Because from my point of view his fear of the cow is unreasonable? Unjustified?

Who am I to judge?

I think I do this with people, too. I have very low (read zero) tolerance for drama queens. Your boyfriend cheated on you, your wallet got stolen, you crashed your car and don't have insurance, you lost your job, your house burned down? Here, have a kleenex, have a drink. Stop the sniveling, it's not the end of the world.

Isn't it? Maybe it is drama--or maybe, for that person, this thing that's happened really does feel like the end of the world. Who am I to judge?

My decorative cow is the stuff of Sam's nightmares. One person's drama is another person's abject terror. A good human--a good friend--should understand that.

~ * ~ 

Thanks for the visit, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Memory (#atozchallenge)

I rescue dogs. I pick them up off the street, I bring them to the vet for assessment, I administer medication. If they make it, I rehabilitate them so they can find a forever home (which, more often than not, turns out to be my own--reason why I have seven dogs).

Rescue dogs are extraordinary. They've been through hell--negligence, abuse, abandonment. They've learned that humans are dangerous. That food must be fought for and protected. That sleeping too soundly is a death sentence. Their trust has been betrayed in every way you can think of.

And yet they're willing to trust again. Not just that; they're willing to put it all behind them and move forward.

If we let them.

I used to feel sorry for them. How could I not? I found them a day away from death, maybe even hours. I found them with gashes, with gunshot wounds, sick inside and out. Poor baby, I'd whisper against their matted fur. Poor, poor baby.

It took forever for the dog to move forward.

No, correction: it took forever for me to move forward so that the dog could, too. I, and my pity--my memory--were holding them back.

When a trainer friend taught me this, I made an effort to suppress my pity and treat the dog as a non-traumatized animal. Lo and behold--the dog began to act as a non-traumatized dog.

Which brings me to my point. The image we have of someone--or of ourselves--will show up in our behavior. It will reinforce that image. It will, in a very literal sense, make that image a reality.

Memory is a gift--but it can be a curse. Be careful what memories you hold on to, what images you project. About others, but also, perhaps most importantly, about yourself.

Pity--and everything else--is in the eye of the beholder.

~ * ~
Thanks for the visit, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Keeping It Real (#atozchallenge)

At the beginning of the week I argued that frustration is the root of all evil, but I think I've changed my mind. It's expectations.

Think about it. What causes disappointment? Unmet expectations. What ruins relationships? Unaligned expectations.

Unrealistic expectations.

Unexpected joy.
Nothing like it.
I can remember dozens of moments of unexpected happenings that gave me incredible joy. But I can't think of a single instance where having expectations--not ambition, mind you, or dreams, or goals; expectations--has ever resulted in me feeling good. Expectations beget sulking.

It's my birthday. Why didn't you bring me breakfast in bed?

And if the guy/gal did, then it's Why didn't you bring a long-stemmed rose with the tray? That's what I bought that miniature vase for, you dimwit.

And if the rose was brought, then But it has thorns. Didn't you learn that you never ever give a rose with thorns? Don't you know that it means (whatever the language of flowers say it means)?

Expectations, by their very nature, create dissatisfaction.

This is Romy & her mom.
Her story makes Cinderella's look mundane.
And who wants to live unsatisfied?

Look at your dog. No expectations. Hope, yes. They live in hope; eternal, undying hope. But s/he is happy--satisfied--with whatever you give. Sure s/he wants you to come home, but when you do, even if it's three AM, the joy at seeing you is never marred by a sulk. If you forget to feed him/her, s/he won't hold it against you for the remainder of his/her life. S/he's doesn't expect you to produce food, and every time you do, s/he's amazingly happy--and grateful--that you did. And if you don't, no hard feelings.

(Which makes you feel, of course, all the more guilty and horrible for being six minutes late with dinner.)

Expectations are the enemy of gratitude. And forgiveness. And those... Well, they're the key to bliss.

Thanks for the visit. Your comments make my day :)
Happy A-to-Z-ing!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Just Listen (#atozchallenge)

You're a great friend, a great person. You've acquired so much wisdom through experience; sharing it with the people you care about is only fair. It's your duty, even. It's the greatest gift you can give. Right?


As hard as this might be for you to swallow, the rest of the world will survive without your intervention. They're doing pretty okay so far.

In fact, being 100% honest, who follows advice? No, what we need is the leeway to figure things out on our own. Nothing can be taught. (Ne c'est-ce pas, Beloo?)

You do have a magnificent gift to give, though. We all do.

It's the gift of listening. And listening not with the intent to reply, but with the intent to understand. (Yes, #5 of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits. So shoot me. The man has a point.)

I've often wished my dogs could speak. What goes on in their heads? How do they understand life? (Most frustratingly, where does it hurt?) But I think if they could speak, they wouldn't--not nearly as much as we do (except for that where does it hurt).

Because, see, dogs have mastered the art of listening. They listen without impatience; they're not waiting for us to finish speaking so they can put in their "two cents", show off their witty repartee, contradict us with brilliant sources and resources. They might walk away if our BS gets too thick--and if a dog walks away from your BS, it's pretty thick.

For a dog, listening is only about understanding.

Do like a dog. Give the people you care about that greatest of gifts. Just listen.

Thanks for stopping by, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I do, I do (love my reactive dogs) #atozchallenge + #WOOF

It's a busy Thursday! Besides the A to Z challenge, today I'm joining the 3rd WOOF Support hop:
What I Love About My Reactive Dog(s). 
I'm also up at Street Dog Story talking about dog rescuing--would love to see you there, too.

I love my reactive dogs. Maybe I love them more because they're reactive (which may be a somewhat significant part of the problem, but that's a discussion for another post).

Reactive is a term used to describe dogs that overreact to certain stimuli like other dogs, bicycles, people, kids, motorcycles, etc. Sometimes the reactivity is a tendency of a specific breed and other times it could be due to lack of socialization or a traumatic experience. The dog's over-reaction is usually in the form of barking, lunging, pulling and/or even snarling which tends to scare people and other dogs.

So yeah. Hi. My name is Guilie and I have several reactive dogs.

One thing they don't tell you about reactivity (because they shouldn't need to, it's that obvious) is that it's contagious. Like the bubonic plague. One dog freaks out, they all freak out. 

Which makes for a rather interesting life.

I love them for a million reasons. The way Duncan looks at me, how he trots with his front legs a little too wide apart. I love how Sam kicks up his back legs when he runs, and his lamb-to-the-slaughter look, and how unstoppable he is. And Benny's Shar-Pei face, and the way he smiles, and how he loves to jump up at me--but always waits for permission. I love how Panchita sits under the tamarind trees for hours, waiting for an iguana to fall from the sky. I love the way Rusty struggles to contain her boundless energy when I ask her to Sit and Down. I love Sasha's wiggly dance (I have to get it on video). I love Winter's overbearing need for attention; she can never have enough. 

(practicing for monkhood)
I love them, all of them, and I'm eternally grateful all seven of them are in my life. Why? Because they've taught me so damn much. Not just about training, vet medicine, creative treats, leashes and harnesses--above all they've taught me about human nature.

My dogs are, quite simply and without exaggeration, my best spiritual teachers. They're like a retreat in a remote Tibetan monastery--shaved heads and orange tunics and eat only what you've grown with your own hands. 


Thanks for the visit! I hope you enjoyed the post. Visit the other A-to-Z-ers and,
if you're a dog lover, you might want to browse the WOOF bloggers. Great bunch of people.

Thanks to Oz the Terrier, Wag n' Woof Pets, and Roxy the Traveling Dog for hosting the WOOF hop!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Happiness is NOW (#atozchallenge)

Dogs don't put caveats on happiness. They don't think, "I'll be happy when my human comes back," or "when I get my dinner," or "with a newer, less chewed-up toy."

Dogs live in the moment. They deal with stuff as it happens--not before it happens.

Dogs don't live in the future--or in the past. Whatever happened before is over; whatever's coming isn't happening yet.

For dogs, it's all about the now

Wouldn't it be great if we could live like that, too? Why are we humans obsessed with the past and the future? Can we stop? Should we stop?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Frustration: The Root of All Evil

I've been having issues with my dogs. Defensiveness with strangers (i.e., pack behavior). Some escapes, some aggression, some fights. One of my dogs, little Sasha, has been to the vet a few times already for stitches.

That's not good.

So I called a couple of trainer friends for help. What am I doing wrong? What could I do better? Most importantly, what's the source of the tension, and what can I do about it? Can I do anything about it?

After an hour observing the dogs here at home, they told me: it's frustration.


Yes, said they. The three puppies (fifteen months old now) were born here, right? They never left?

Right, said I.

That's the problem, they said. When dogs aren't exposed to new things on a regular basis, especially early in life, they never learn to deal with change.

Change being, well, anything new. A new noise. A new person. A new dog behind the neighbor's fence (the current catalyst). Instead of adaptation, change produces major freak-out.

Several years ago, I was hired by a hotel company and sent for a two-month training to one of their resorts in Dominican Republic. Another new employee, a girl from Curaçao, was there at the same time. She had never lived outside of Curaçao, and was horribly homesick. (I say "girl", but she was perhaps 28.)

She spent two hours on the phone every night with her mother. She never smiled. She lost weight.

This was one of those all-inclusive places that serve everything--Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Greek. All-American burgers and hotdogs. A variety of fruit beyond belief. An omelette bar. A salad bar. A Brazilian evening with cuts of buttery beef. A seafood evening with more giant shrimp than I could eat (that's saying a lot).

But my new colleague wouldn't eat any of it. She'd never had it before, wasn't interested in trying it. "Why should I? In Curaçao we're fortunate; we don't have to leave our country to make a living."

And yet there she was, stuck in an alien place for seven weeks. (And I mean, really, how "alien" can a Caribbean island be from another Caribbean island?)

By Week Three she'd had arguments with every one of the employees who were supposed to be training us. Instead of spending weekends at the beach, she locked herself in her room and talked 24/7 with her mom.

Frustration. Major freak-out.

Hers is an extreme case, but aren't we all guilty of this, in smaller or greater measure? Of pretending our lives will continue the same way they always have, of rejecting new things (people, food, ideas) because they're different from what we're used to?

We find comfort in routine, but--at least in this--there may be such a thing as too much of a good thing.

On the trainers' suggestion, I'm now taking one dog out every day to do something new. Walk downtown. Explore a new beach. Get lost in the Kabouterbos (literally: gnome forest) that's about a mile from the house. Expose the dogs to something new every day so that change will stop freaking them out. After a full week, I'm already seeing results.

And not just in the dogs.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Entertainment Isn't Rocket Science (#atozchallenge)

When's the last time you had a really, epically good time? How much money was involved? Was it really the stuff money buys that provided the fun?

It's the small things.

Happy weekend. Go have an epically good time. (Come back on Monday and tell me all about it!)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Downward-Facing Dog (#atozchallenge)

Do you listen to your body?

No, don't answer so quickly. When you get a headache, do you pop an aspirin or do you drink four glasses of water? How often do you go to the doctor? How often do you get sick?

How often do you sleep a full eight hours? And talking about sleep, how well do you sleep? Are you a toss-and-turner? Do you wake up tired? Do you wake up stressed? How often do you stretch?

How often do you have a craving for, say, broccoli? Brussel sprouts? Spinach? Do you eat because you're hungry, or because--dang, it's noon, gotta eat? Do you keep on eating because this fried chicken is sooo good, oh yum, finger lick?

I ask again. Do you listen to your body?

Dogs do. In fact, I'm willing to bet humans are the only animals that have so radically lost touch with our physical selves.

It's kind of like the common ground thing from yesterday. Like dogs, our bodies are constantly communicating with us; we've just stopped listening.

So listen. Stretch regularly. Eat when you're hungry. Don't overeat. Go to bed earlier. And don't stress.

Stress is a physiological response to fear, to lack of control--yep, learned that from "dog" training, too--so figure out what's making you fearful. Most things aren't within our sphere of influence, but there's a lot we can do to make situations more manageable.

For me, it has to do with organization. For dogs, it's having a strong pack leader they can trust. We humans have to be our own pack leaders. What do you need to do in order to trust yourself to solve / handle the situation? It's probably something that'll take you out of your comfort zone--these things usually do.

But it's worth it.

Go on. Give it a try. And give yourself a treat when you accomplish it.