Thursday, November 04, 2010

{ Life with a Dog #23 } Timeouts and learning to let go...

I wasn't expecting this. Actually, if I'm being honest with myself, I didn't know what to expect.

Slowly. A little more every day. The love I feel for this little blonde bundle of high level engery is growing.

A month ago, I was feeling overwhelmed with this new puppy mommyhood. So much so that I was seriously contemplating finding Starbuck another home.

I reached out. Told my family. Posted my uncertainty on Facebook. And the suggestions, the support, poured in. The underlying message? Just hold out a little longer because it does get better and it does get easier as she moves from puppy to dog.

Three weeks ago, I made an unconscious decision to stay the course. After all, I signed up for this. Regardless of the lack of education I had on being a dog owner, I made the choice to bring this little creature into my life with a promise that, with me, she would find her "forever home."

What was my problem before? Well, one of my sisters, in a heart to heart late night conversation trying to convince me to not make any rash decisions, said it best: It's been a very long time since I invited any one new into my life let alone into my home.

She was right. I was having a hard time sharing my time, my space, my life with a little creature that not just "demanded" my time but her survival "depended' on the time I made for her.

I don't know what I imagined before. I guess I started to "want" a dog after everyone around me kept telling me I "needed" a dog. I think they saw a single forty-something woman with no immediate prospects for changing that status and thought a dog would keep me occupied, maybe even fill that void I often struggle with.

The first two to three weeks, as in any new relationship, was most definitely the "honeymoon" stage. Each of us showing the other our best selves. I would proudly profess how good she was in the evening. How she would lay at me feet while I worked on the computer in the evenings, how after two weeks, I still hadn't heard her bark. She followed me around. She ate what I gave her without attitude. Granted, there were potty training issues but I knew that going in.

But after those first two weeks, my impatience started to seep through; her need to dominate me started to manifest. And the seed of doubt was planted. Why did I get a puppy? Why didn't I stick with my guns and hold out for a 6 or 7 year old dog? One past this high energy puppy stage that would come into my life and just be there for me. Non-demanding and happy for a warm house and daily walk.

This month, I stopped listening to the "professional" advice and started heeding the advice of fellow doggy parents in my life. I found that the more I tried the techniques that the professional trainer I hired taught me those first two months, the more her aggression escalated.

Don't get me wrong, I did take a lot out of those sessions – a few of the techniques I still employ – but the corrections he was having me do only pissed her off more. I would literally stand there having a "fight" with my dog both of us getting more and more frustrated with the other.

Now, I give her a correction and if she starts barking, biting and pawing at me, I simply don't engage. I tell her no. Once. Twice. Then if she hasn't backed down, I scoop her up and take her out side to the back patio for a time out. She loves the patio. But she hates to be out there with the door closed when she can hear me inside. 5 minutes is all it takes for her to stop barking and calm down. I let her back in and she's back to being a well behaved dog. Well, until the next thing sets her off but those times are now coming further and further apart.

I don't see this as a cruel act. I had time outs as a child growing up and most certainly didn't scar or traumatize me. Although, at the time, they weren't called "time outs" but essentially, that's what they were. Mom was the one who gave them. There was no yelling. There was no hitting. There was "sit there and face the wall and think about the behavior that put you in this situation."

So now I do the same with her. I ignore her when she's throwing her tantrum. I discipline her when she needs discipline. I give lots of love and stroke her belly every time she presents me with it. I take pleasure in our walks and in our mornings as she's slowly waking up and wants me to rub her belly and play with the covers and I relish in these moments when she peacefully lays next to me as I stroke her ears.

I'm learning a lot from Starbuck. She's teaching me patience. She's teaching me to slow down. She's teaching me to open myself up again to another life.

And she's teaching me to turn off, tune out and just play.

1) I love it when Starbucks sits in the passenger seat. Usually she's laying down or standing with her head out the window. But when she sits like this, she leans her head into the seat back and closes her eyes as the sun comes in out while we drive. And I think, yes, I know what you're feeling! This was on our way to Balboa Park on a very HOT first week of November day. 2) After nearly 2hrs running around Nate's Dog Park, we headed onto the Prado and over to the fountains. There were many folks with shoes off sitting here with their toesies in the water. Starbuck kept looking that water rushing by so longingly that I didn't protest when she finally up and jumped in. 3) Making new friends! 4) Loving it!

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