From the archives September 13, 2006
A topic of interest relates to a dog, Sassy, who I take out walking Saturday’s and Sunday’s. When I took up the assignment, I was warned about the dog, a Jack Russell Terrier, and her behavioural problems. Avoid other dogs, hang tight around squirrels, she’s very aggressive, and so on. Everything I heard sounded wrong; it didn’t sit well with me as I listened to all of these instructions. Curious and rebellious toward the negative perceptions I decided to observe what was going on with Sassy rather than take everyone’s word. This results in a remarkable story of transformation.
The first couple of walks I proceeded cautiously, allowing her to experience close-calls with other animals so I could observe what was happening. Then I purposely allowed contact during subsequent walks, always being cautious and watchful around her behaviour. Oddly, with some dogs she reacted and others she didn’t. When she did I would assert Alpha dominance – canine pack behaviour – and let her know it was wrong and immediately followed that with comfort that everything was fine. This also included me greeting and engaging with the other animal so she understood fully from the experience that her safety and my safety were not in question.
In addition to this, this Jack Russell was only managing to get a 30 minute walk, morning and evening, for minimal exercise and a bathroom break. This is insufficient physical, mental, and emotional stimulation for the animal. Even though only paid for 30 minute walks, I took it upon myself to go further, expose her to more stimuli and activity. We discovered she loves swimming in the ocean, she loves chasing balls and sticks – the sticks she loves to chew into bits & pieces too. I even discovered toward the end of our time working together that she manages just fine off-leash and will follow along long walks with rarely a mishap – she is a dog who loves chasing squirrels after all. Sassy, I’m told, is 13 years old and we’ve all been told you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, guess what?
Not only did we experience the transformations mentioned above, we also watched her confidence and a calmness return to her reality. All she needed was someone to take leadership with her and to observe and understand the emotional response – flight or fight – that was occurring. Knowing the reason for the emotional response offers insight – not really necessary to bring about change – and patient love and attention turned it around. As all those immediate concerns vanished, we could venture on walks and take on new adventures. This is where, in addition to the transformation she’d already experienced, I began to do some obedience training and to teach her new tricks. In two very short weeks she would roll over on command about 80% of the time. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
People make assumptions and adopt beliefs all the time about what is happening in reality. Just because there seems to be a justification for the situation (the Jack Russell had been viciously attacked in her younger years), there is always a cause and effect at play that can be challenged and transformed. This experience resulted in a remarkable story of transformation that is really nothing like a transformation at all. It’s more of a coming home and being as a dog is meant to be. This causes me to think of what it means to be human, what we’re meant to be, and what might happen if people really had the freedom in their lives to be that picture of freedom and playfulness, or authentically being. Better yet, what if we slowed down enough to offer the attention and authenticity with each other, our families, our children, and our colleagues? Enough with the Meds already!