On Dog Training and Habit Forming

Connor, always trying to Gank my Sierra Nevada

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.

Zonked out after a long walk

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.


Read More

Four Reasons I Stopped Hating my Wedding

Sorry friends!  I totally spaced this blog for a few weeks, mostly because of this…

Turns out weddings are a lot of work and kind of a harbinger of things in one’s life, work and relationships going absolutely insane.  If you didn’t catch the above link, it’s to our fantastic photographer and friend Jeremy Ball, who not only did a great job this weekend photographing our wedding, but was instrumental in me not becoming lost, distraught or having to hide in a side room indefinitely because people were hanging around the church parking lot instead of going to the reception.

I’d never really dreamed of the whole wedding experience as a young kid…dance party and cake…suuure, but not necessarily WEDDING.  Just because I feel like life is meant to be shared, being married always seemed like a good idea.  I’d always just kind of wanted to snap my fingers and be married, or enter the city hall with big sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, do the deed and be done with it.  “But come on…” those I love said to me, “don’t we, those you love, deserve a stinkin good party and to celebrate your guys’ together-foreverness?”  And beyond the petty stuff like the fear of princess culture and undue materialism, how could I argue with the desire to have a kick-ass party with 200 of my friends and family?  People seemed keen to kick-in for finances as well and pestered me to register for gifts.  It all felt a bit surreal, but it seemed to make people happy and I got some cool dresses and gifts and my husband got some Shun knives out of it.  I’m not above presents!  Shoot.

We had the legal wedding back in April to fulfill the desire for personal fulfillment to begin the process of living our lives together (performed by my dad and attended by the immediate family).  Thank goodness for that.  With the pressures of a new job to contend with and some personal fragility and adjustment, that time to grow together and get to know each others’ families with the mutual understanding that we were in it together made everything much more manageable and meaningful in the long run.

The fact is though, most people seem to like big weddings a lot, and what do I think I am–special?  So here are the things that I do like about weddings, or in this case my wedding:

1.  A crapload of people you love.  In one place.  At one time.
The unquestionably best part of having a wedding, particularly a big one, is that people you would never see altogether in one place are exactly that.  Walking up the aisle and seeing the smiling faces of so many people I love, it was all I could do not to go–HI, Hi!  Oh you’re HERE!  YOU’RE here too!!  Another good part of that was having brand new family members, some of whom I’d only seen on Facebook, finally there to hug.  My husband mentioned that this side of it was almost like walking through a really good dream.

2.  PDA’s are totally acceptable, if not encouraged.
I love my husband like crazy and I don’t really give a crap who thinks that’s weird or gross.  Having people who love and support us and are there to celebrate our togetherness is pretty awesome, and it means I can smooch him whenever I damn well please.  Quote of the day, “Is that why you kept kissing me?  I thought people were banging their glasses because they wanted a speech!”

3.  Honoring tradition and family
A very potent anxiety I had when we first began this process was that I would be acting the phony in having a traditional Christian wedding.  Would it really represent our values and beliefs?  How do we keep faith and belief incorporated without straying into insincerity?  Having my dad as our officiant was excellent, however, in that he allowed us to strike a balance between respect for our ancestry and core values and who we really are and what we really believe.  We were able to talk and collaborate with him until we found a way to have our ceremony be “in good faith” so to speak.

4.  A really really FANTASTIC cake from Montecito Confections
Vanilla bean with lemon curd, fresh raspberry filling and butter-cream frosting.  And there are still leftovers.  That are excellent for breakfasting.  Don’t judge me.

Also I can’t really post that picture without raving about my flowers!  My florists don’t have a personal website, but they are fantastic and creative women.  I told them what I like and then told them to go to town and I am SO glad they did.

4.  The opportunity to do crazy creative things!
In the eastern tradition, mom, dad, fiance’, sister-in-law to be and dearest friends helped fold, string and hoist to the ceiling 1,000 origami cranes.  It was a lot of effort, and seeing them all hanging from the ceiling was more than dazzling.

It hasn’t been the easiest few months, but the bond that has grown between J.T. and I throughout this process is stronger than ever.  The warmth that I feel for everyone who has supported us makes me excited for the fact that now, we get to enjoy living life day-to-day together.

Read More