Thursday, June 10, 2010

The People Whisperer, or How My Dog is Teaching Me To Breathe

I took four years of training to become an actor. A self-aware, emotionally intelligent, physically in-tune person. I know it's a journey, I'm not 'there' yet, etc., etc.

But I certainly thought I had an edge on everyone else.

Apparently I am not immune to arrogance. And apparently it took an 8 week old puppy to show me that.

Yes, we recently got a puppy. Zoey, the adorable Boston Terrier. She's smart. She's stubborn and feisty and a bit of a suck. It's a lethal combination. We've had her a week and she's already housebroken (for the most part). She knows if she whines in the direction of the door she can go out to do her business (she's very concerned about her stock portfolio). Looking downstairs gets her to her food. Pitiful whining at the bottom of the staircase (that she can actually climb on her own) gets her carried up to the living room for playtime.

We're training her using Cesar Millan's Dog Whisperer techniques. It's surprisingly effective. We 'claimed' the kitchen and bathrooms and she stays out of those rooms. We reward calm behaviour and correct un-asked for excitement. We maintain calm, assertive energy and she recognizes us as pack leaders.

Oh, alright. S. maintains calm, assertive energy and she recognizes him as a pack leader. When I'm calm and assertive, she responds to me that way. Most of the time though? I think I rank somewhere as a littermate.

Why? I get frustrated with her puppy behaviours. I get upset when she doesn't listen to me instantly. I kind of forgot how puppies were. The last time I had one was 10 years ago. She's like a toddler, and I am not the patient person I thought I was.

Prided myself on being.

Cesar says you don't get the dog you want. You get the dog you need.

I thought, watching his show "The Dog Whisperer" before Zoey arrived, that I would nail this whole calm assertive energy thing. Oh, I'm a professional actor, I'm trained, emotions are my friend, blah blah blah. I've had animals my whole life, I know how to deal with them, I'm so patient, this will be a breeze and we'll have the calmest dog in the city. No. The world.

Pride cometh before a fall.

And boy, what a fall! Instead of being patient, I get frustrated. Instead of calmly correcting, I get angry when she bites in play and punctures the skin (she has razor sharp puppy teeth). Instead of living in a calm, assertive state, I constantly have to stop and reevaluate my energy, breathe, and bring myself back from a tense, aggressive, stressful place to a calm and breathing one. Calm and assertive. Calm and assertive. Stop fixating. Relax. Let her be a dog, a baby, and teach her to obey. Calmly. Be. Just be the authority figure, the pack leader.

It's exhausting. Not to be calm, but to constantly bring myself back from stress.

Upon reflection I'm not sure why my behaviour, my state of mind, is so surprising to me. I worked at a day-care for a month and I got frustrated with the kids there. Granted, they were deliberately pushing buttons (seven year olds rarely call you a bitch otherwise); but they were also babies. Little kids. Not adults.

The difference with Zoey is that I can see her reading and reflecting my energy. It's uncanny. Right away, right there. I get angry, she gets insecure and excited. I get frustrated, she gets persistent and excited. I calm down and breathe and stop taking it all so personally, and she sits down and looks to me for direction. Like she's supposed to.

I'm sure kids read and reflect too. Looking back I can see that. But I see it so much clearer with Zoey. Maybe because I grew up with animals, surrounded by them, and my experience with kids is much more limited. Or maybe it's just because I'm more focused on my puppy than I am on someone else's kid. After all, I can look forward to 10 - 15 years of life with Zoey. The kids I got to leave behind every night.

I am forced to be more aware of myself in every aspect of my life in order to present authority to my dog.

I didn't expect that.

I didn't expect Zoey to show me that I have a short fuse. I am selfish and want to get my own way, instantly. I have high, unreasonable expectations of the other life forms I interact with. When I am upset I want the world to stop until my tantrum is over and I'm ready to continue.

(I knew that last one already. I realized that a few weeks ago when I was driving along a busy road in the city and Scott and I got into a fight. What did I want to do? Slam on the brakes until we'd had it out and he'd seen things my way. I think that would have gotten us in an accident, injured for sure and possibly killed, but damn, I almost did it before I realized the consequences. That scared me into non-rage in a hurry. And the same process happened again yesterday, although I thought I'd learned better. I guess I'm not super human in my learning curve after all. Fuck.)

So I can't stop the world as long as there are others in it. I should have figured that one out, sharing my world with people like I do, but for some reason it didn't click until the potential accident and the introduction of a puppy who is watching my every move, my every wave of energy and emotion and physicalization for cues on how to behave. On what's allowed. On where she can go and what she can do.

Somewhat like having a baby, I guess. Only I think it's less pressure. Dear God, what would I be like with a toddler of my own?

Well. I think Zoey will have taught me much more about myself before that happens.

And the funniest thing about all of this? I think I'll be a better actor, not just a better person, for it.

No comments: