During the early days with Melvin, I was all about making lists of all the things he needed to change. A list of all the things ‘he was doing wrong’. When we finally found a behaviorist that I liked, and after finding a way to secure him in the car so that he didn’t jump in my lap while I was driving and traveling 55 mph, we met with her.
In one 60 min session, she changed the way I think about dogs (and people) forever. That might be selling myself a little short, since I have worked really hard at this area of life, but she was the one that gave me an ‘ah ha’ moment to build on.
I brought my list to her. The Melvin-is-terrible list. The how-can-one-dog-do-so-much-wrong list. She asked me to pick one thing on the list that caused me the most frustration. The one thing I wish I could change about him.
He is missing out on playdates with other dogs because he seems to hate every dog we meet.
In response to that she asked me three questions:
- Do you like and want to spend time with every person you meet? No.
- What exactly do you feel he is ‘missing out on’? Fun?
- What if this is Melvin and he just doesn’t like other dogs? Is that ok? Wow. Of course.
She took my list and asked, what are the things he does that makes you happy? Make a list of that. What are the areas he’s already improved on? Make that a list.
From her I learned to meet Melvin where he was. Not to wait for him to arrive where I was or where I wanted him to be. I had to do the work to figure out who Melvin was, why he was where he was, and honestly assess what he (and I) should become. I couldn’t hand him a list and say ‘be this/do this’, I had to take each area of him and figure out how the two of us could be a team in him having a happy, successful life.
Obviously, he turned out to be perfect.
Melvin couldn’t bend for me. We had to learn a shared language. I let go of the demands, and embraced our journey.
In my life with Melvin, he never, not even once as a joke, play-bowed. He preferred me over other dogs, and he preferred me over all people, although he did love just about every human that he met. In Melvin’s first life, he didn’t know love. So once he came to me and felt crazy amounts of love, he became a love and joy junkie. He didn’t need a life with other dogs.
He had me. And then he had Jake. His life was complete.
I met Jake where he was. I’ve done the same for Doug.
She’s lying. I was perfect.
The number one thing I ask almost every day now is: why is Doug doing this? I don’t scream this at him, I don’t get upset about this question, I truly want to know why he’s doing what he’s doing so that he and I can figure out a better plan. What I have come to learn is that, Doug has a lot of fear about life. And the more comfortable he is with me and the more joy we find, the more he is willing to let his fear flag wave. He will run joyfully towards life and he will experience some form of fear in everything that is new. This list includes but is not limited to: bugs that crawl, bugs that fly, leaves, leaves that move with wind, mud, a clicking noise, a new car, a new food bowl, a sweater, a blanket with pom-poms, a new ring tone, shiny flooring, a purple koala bear on a cereal box.
He ran stray before he came to me. They don’t have purple koala bears on the not-shiny, rural streets of South Carolina. Every thing is new to him. It’s my job to make him feel safe but still encourage him to move in the direction of new things. In doing so, I have to step VERY FAR out of my comfort zone with bugs and mud and just this morning a slug, to meet Doug at Fear Avenue and get him on his way to the Joy Highway.