Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dog Days

I have struggled for the last month how to feel about this small, furry interloper. I love his quiet companionship. I hate his piercing bark. I love his playful energy. I hate his need to lead on a leash. There are moments of joy, of absolute connection with him: He is an amazingly affectionate dog. There are moments where I am so angry and embarrassed that I shake and cry and beg to be freed from the responsibility. After one of these moments, I tearfully asked my husband to find another home for him because I couldn't stand to feel this kind of anger. 

The inevitable parallels between dog-ownership and parenthood have been drawn by just about everyone I've talked to. I have never been more afraid of parenthood than I am now. I am afraid of my own emotional fragility, my difficulty controlling my temper, and my debilitating fear of embarrassment and judgment from others. I can calmly steer my dog away from a situation that is making him frenzied, but I am dying a little bit inside every time. What about when my child is throwing a tantrum at the grocery store checkout? This is inevitable. How can I deal with this if I can't cope with a 23 lb. dog? What about when my child hits or bites another child? What about when my child is rude to another child, or another grown up? How can I guide this child if I feel so much anger and embarrassment?

The answer, obviously, is that you can neither guide a child nor a dog with anger and embarrassment. 

My hero, Cesar Millan, talks about fulfilling a dog on his own terms. Respecting that he is first and foremost an animal--not a little human--and to treat him like one. This is not an insult to him. I heard this, but I did not truly understand it until recently. Humans and dogs have been companions for so long, I think we sometimes forget that they are separate species, and they are hard-wired very differently. Those of us who choose to accept responsibility for these animals cannot expect them to navigate their way flawlessly through our human world. We need to help them make different choices when the choices they make don't work. There is not room for anger here.

It isn't about punishment; it's about redirection. And it's totally about love. It's about love for this animal that, for whatever reason, has thrown its evolutionary lot in with Man. We can't betray that trust by punishing a dog for being himself.

This whole week I have been focusing on what I love about him, and I have felt my patience with him grow two-hundred fold:

I love that when he is alert one ear sticks straight up and the other kind of flops. I love the way the silver in his fur makes him look shiny. I love his softness, his warmth. Schnauzer eyes can look a little intimidating from far away. I love how bright and earnest they are up close. I love that he is big and robust for his type, and that we can take him on long walks and hikes. I love that said walks and hikes wear him totally out. :) I love it when he puts his nose to the ground and "hoovers" all around the carpet. I love the way he gently licks my hand when he wants affection (i.e. all the time.)

I love that his whole body wags with pure, effervescent joy whenever I come home. There is nothing quite like the love of a dog.