Chain Reaction

dog training, Wellness
May you greet every day with Christmas morning excitement.

Fayston, Vermont. The holiday season’s wishes of peace and goodwill have a different spin during a pandemic: How we treat others and how they feel as a result is highly contagious. I’ve found that the same holds true for my dogs.

Charlie Brown, my spanador foster fail, was never particularly brave, but he is always wagging and is super affectionate with just about everybody. However, in the last several months, he has become more fearful of other dogs that display reactive behavior. I trace this to my neighbors’ golden retrievers. Those dogs are never leashed and bark and snarl at us when we go by. They often follow us into the street. The youngest one has lunged at us. Hubs has spoken to their people; I’ve heard yelling at both dogs and humans by other neighbors out for a walk.

The neighbors with the reactive dogs are second homeowners, but with the pandemic, they have been here more often than not. Their dogs are not the only ones who raise their hair at us: The pandemic has brought more people and their dogs to my usually quiet street as folks move to the country.

Charlie starts barking when he sees unfriendly behavior from another dog. So far, he waits for the other dog to display before reacting. To break this chain, I have been redirecting him. I walk him out of view of the oncoming nasty encounter. We duck down a driveway or into the trees. I have Charlie and Lucy sit as I shower them with treats or dry dog food until the snappy passes. I’m teaching them “touch” where they must tap my hand to earn a treat. Distraction is working! I can now have them focus on me and my kibble pocket while in distant view of the passing would-be antagonist.

To paraphrase a tv preacher, Charlie let go of the conflict to find his peace and cookies. I haven’t been sleeping much lately, and “release your conflict to find your peace” was the phrase I first heard when I absently turned on the TV just before 4 am last Sunday. I don’t think I’ve ever watched tv church before, but this phrase made me sit down and listen. Like Charlie, I have been feeling anxious. I am bundled stiff in layers of sadness, loss, and frustration, topped off with an itchy cap of feelings that I been deceived and pushed around.

One of my anxiety layers is caused by common COVID confinement that keeps me from my family and from doing many things I enjoy. But underneath that, I am grieving for a friend who entered hospice care last month. She passed away earlier this week. Additionally, my office is undergoing a reorganization. Although I have been offered a spot while others will be unemployed come January, I have been demoted and must learn a new job, my third in five years, while finishing up my duties in my current position with a smile on my face.

I don’t think I can tell doggo Charlie to turn his troubles over to God, but we are breaking the negativity chain by redirecting his attention to allow good thoughts to fill the space between his floppy ears. Focusing on positive interaction with me keeps him from reacting to another dog’s anxiety. Plus, I’ve met a neighbor who has offered friendly socialization with her happy young Labrador. Maybe we will start a new chain by inspiring local dog owners to work on training and socializing their dogs, but I’m realistic.

As for my emotional conflict, I mindfully attempt to let go of the negative thoughts. Like Charlie, I’ve found that cookies are a wonderful distraction tool, especially when paired with brisk long walks to work off the extra cookies. Talking to my family and friends also helps me release some of the negative emotions even though I can’t be with them. I know that my family members are healthy, and I look forward to seeing them in the new year, once we’re all vaccinated and travel is safe.

Further, I will honor my friend’s memory with the care I take to do my work, whatever that becomes. Memories of her sass will keep a smile on my face, or at least a bemused smirk. I know that I must also allow myself to miss her and feel sad sometimes. As for the recent office changes, I’d be worried about me if I wasn’t bothered. I am navigating the transition with practicality and some semblance of grace and humor.

Walking – literally putting one foot in front of the other – helps me focus on the present. By doing so, I won’t slip on the metaphorical or real ice as I wander back to peace, enabling me to radiate my calm vibes forward.

I highly recommend pocket cookies while embarking on a moving meditation with your dog. Take deep breaths; listen to the trees. Or, in my neck of the woods, hear the hum of snowmaking that vibrates across the valley and sing along.

 I wish you peace this holiday season and throughout the New Year.

About my photos in this post: Red shed images taken with my old Canon 7d; other images shot on 35mm film with an even older Canon AE-1 Program. Linus in the chair is on Kodak Portra 400 film; black and white photos of Charlie Brown and Alice the Cat are on Lomography Lady Grey.