This is the other man in my life. Or boy, if you want to get into invasive definitions. Or we can just stick with “pooch” though that’s something I can never say without giggling.
It’s kind of a cliche to say that you never really know what you’re capable of until someone is relying on you for all their needs. You may be aware from previous posts of my problems with anxiety and depression, which I’m not particularly shy about but am really resistant to using as an excuse for being unable to do things. Having this guy around has been both an enormous ease on the neurotransmitters and also sometimes induced imaginary stress and fear about my inability to deliver that really quality sort of care that our dog needs.
Connor came to us as an adult with issues that were known to a certain extent: when he was on a walk and would see other dogs he would become nervously protective. It’s called “leash aggression” and it makes walks very uncertain and nerve-wracking for everybody involved. Plucked by the awesome Homestretch Greyhound Rescue from a kill shelter when he was about a year old and then adopted out–but returned to within a year with complaints that his leash aggression made him too hard to walk.
When I take C-Dawg out sometimes and witness when he sees other dogs that stress him out, I totally identify. The whiny bark he gets remind me of myself when I’m edging myself toward a panic attack. He’ll start circling, or he’ll bow his face to the ground and try to tear his gentle-leader (a walk-training harness for the dog’s face) off with his paws. I call it his “existential crisis” bark. I’ve since started walking him with a leash on his martingale collar–the type of collar that needs to be used when a dog’s head is smaller than it’s neck as is the case with most Greyhounds– and wean him from the gentle-leader that could potentially strain his neck. I look like I’m leading a team of reindeer as I walk him down the street with two leashes, but you’ve gotta do…well you know…
I was afraid to walk him for awhile, to be completely honest. My limbs get sore when I’m having bad days, and it can hurt my muscles to have to pull back on the leash when he sees an unleashed dog. I’d take him out for about ten minutes then rush back to the yard as fast as possible. I’d outsource the job to my husband and then feel like a horrible dog-owner for pain-filled days on end, looking at my hound’s lolling dog-grin and seemingly concerned brown eyes.
Our trainer, Sue Penn, talked to us about levels of distraction in training the guy. It involves starting in the peaceful, least complicated place so the dog will be able to have an easier time concentrating on what it’s being asked to do–sitting, lying down, going to their spot–then building slowly and easily until they’re able to do more complex things. We’ve been doing that kind of positive reinforcement training with our hound, building his abilities little by little.
I have never not had a billion things going on, never not had a boat-load of responsibilities and interests. My brain not overriding my emotions the way it always used to, the change of scenery and levels of responsibility and my inhibitions kind of proved to me that I had to bring myself back to the barest level of distraction as well. Work and family (including the pup)–and of course the chaos of the wedding–were as bare as I could get. I stopped running and I stopped playing music and I stopped writing and stopped practicing language. I knew eventually I would have to do all of those things in order to be whole and healthy, but I had to start at the lowest level of distraction.
Then the other day it finally–finally–didn’t feel like too much. I made myself a goal with a reward at the end, and said that every day for the next two weeks, I’d take the hound for a walk that was longer than 20 minutes. Exercise for both of us. Endorphins and socialization for both of us. Five days in, and it’s so much easier than I thought. And while I’m not about to add all of the things I used to be able to do all at once, I can actually imagine adding all those things back into daily life.
Connor might still whine and circle a bit when he sees another dog down the sidewalk, but he’s significantly less stressed, and I know that one day both of us will be able to function without too much undue angst. It’ll just take slow layering and lots of love and rewards.