What I learned from the Dog Whisperer

Our family has owned four dogs that entered our home and our hearts.  We had outside dogs intermittently, but nature - or accidents - ended our associations prematurely.  When Alan was about 15, we acquired our first indoor dog - Cinnamon - a beautiful, red cocker spaniel.  Cinnamon came from our local shelter, before the current practice of having a vet check out dogs before they are adopted.  She was ill, and never quite became well.  Because she was not feeling well, she was not very friendly toward anyone.  Cinnamon eventually (after only a year) succumbed to a tick-borne illness.

When we bought our second home, Sera came to us from "the streets."  Sera was about a year old and she'd lived in a cardboard box in front of my best friend's house.  Sera (short for serotonin) lived up to her namesake.  She was a 10 pound bundle of energy.  We worked long and hard to house train Sera, but we were never able to help her be a "good citizen."  She was loved by everyone who came into our house, but heaven help someone walking down the street.

We felt that Sera needed a companion, so our sweet Sheltie, Betty, came into our life.  Shelties start cute and get cuter.  Her demure personality was second to none.  Betty never snapped at a child, and has always been a sweet companion.

Our Sera left us after 13 years.  Betty was getting older, and when we bought our current home, she seemed to enjoy the small, fenced-in yard.  We had decided not to add another dog to our home.  Betty was 13 at the time, and not getting around too well.  How could we do this to our old girl?

Enter Lucky, the Boston terrier.

Lucky started out as my nephew's dog.  My sister and her family lived quite a way out of town, and Lucky had been used to roaming the woods.  He was a fierce little guy, compact and alert.  The economy was not kind to my sister's family, and they decided to downsize and move into town.  Lucky couldn't go with them.

Most of my friends say we are too soft-hearted for our own good.  That may be true, but we just couldn't see sending Lucky to the shelter, so we invited him to live with us.  As soon as he walked into the door, he snapped at our sweet old girl, Betty.  We had to keep Lucky confined or on a leash when he was in the house.  We walked Lucky frequently, thinking the extra exercise would help him acclimate to our home, but he was still a terror whenever he and Betty's paths crossed. My husband seemed certain that Lucky would do ok given time, but I was a basket case, fearing that every moment he might pounce on Betty and I'd have to tear them apart.  That's when I turned to the Dog Whisperer.

I signed up for the three-month online class offered by Cesar Milan for those of us who have problem dogs.  According to Cesar, there are few problem dogs, mostly problem owners.   I watched videos and read articles about how, as the leader of my pack, I needed to have "calm assertive energy" so as to lead my dogs successfully, and help them to develop good habits.  I would start every day telling myself that I was the leader, breathing deeply, saying "calm...assertive...energy."   Part of this mindset includes not anticipating bad behavior, but expecting good.  Living in the moment - because our dogs live in the moment - living in the "NOW."  For a dog, every walk is the best walk, every meal the best meal, every homecoming the best ever.  A dog doesn't anticipate failure.  A dog lives for the moment.   The classes worked, and within a couple of weeks, Betty and Lucky were living happily under the same roof.  No more snapping or growling.  Just calm, happy dogs.

What did I learn from the Dog Whisperer?  That we need to live in the "now."  I was thinking about that as I took Alan back to his group home after a great Christmas weekend.  There were no attempted escapes.  We had some tense moments, and had to endure a few of Alan's fits of paranoia and delusion, but overall, the three days were wonderful.

Who knows what will happen next week or tomorrow?  In the "now" we had a wonderful holiday.  We connected with our family.  We enjoyed a sweet Christmas morning, and a lazy Christmas day. I can always look ahead, and feel the dread of what we may face tomorrow, but that is not "now."  So I'll work to not worry about tomorrow.  Praying for the Lord's strength to live in the "now"


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