Your Dogs and the Green-Eyed Monster

April 2, 2018

jealousyJealousy. We’ve all experienced it. The “green-eyed monster” is petty, unpleasant, and something that most of us would prefer to avoid. But what about when the ones feeling jealous are our dogs? Some scientists still believe that dogs don’t experience emotions such as jealousy, but any dog owner could tell you different. When we first brought Bodhi home from the shelter, there were most definitely jealousy issues between he and Sierra over our affections. When Sierra was on her back having her tummy rubbed, Bodhi would clumsily stomp over and actually walk on the poor girl, trying to get in on the action. As you might imagine, this did not go over well. I had to come up with a solution.

I came up with different solutions to the jealousy issue depending on the situation. I’ll share the one that allows Sierra to have her tummy rubbed and Bodhi to jump on the affection train without derailing it. I’ve described it in my new book Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home. Here’s an excerpt:

My solution was to train Bodhi to perform an alternate behavior. I taught him that if I was petting Sierra and he wanted affection too, his job was to approach and, instead of steamrolling over her, to lie down on the other side of me and wait. This effectively positioned me between the dogs and kept them from interacting with each other. It allowed Sierra to feel assured that Bodhi would not be stepping on her, and that she would not lose my attention. Nowadays, whenever I’m giving Sierra a tummy rub and Bodhi wants in on the action, he comes running over and immediately lies down next to me. He has, on his own, added the follow-up of rolling over on his back to make getting to his tummy that much easier. (He’s such a thoughtful boy.) I can then give both dogs affection at the same time or, if I choose, I can finish rubbing Sierra’s tummy and then turn my attention to Bodhi. And if Bodhi forgets his manners every now and then and Sierra snarks at him, I let her. There is nothing wrong with allowing her to remind Bodhi that pushiness is impolite.

 Of course, I realize that sounds simpler on paper than it might be in practice. Assuming your dog understands the cues to lie down and to stay, it’s pretty simple to teach. The reward, by the way, is not a treat, but affection. In case you might find it helpful, here’s another excerpt that describes how to teach it:

Now, maybe this technique sounds promising but you can’t imagine your dogs having the self-discipline to carry it out. Perhaps one of your dogs is even more Bodhi-like in his pushiness, or the situation is more intense in your home. In that case, begin by tethering the pushy dog to a furniture leg or other sturdy object. Have treats on hand. Ask the non-tethered dog to lie down nearby. Then ask the pushy dog to lie down. Pet the non-tethered dog. As you are petting, periodically toss treats to the pushy dog so long as he remains in a lying position. You are accomplishing two things at once: teaching the pushy dog that lying down nearby while you pet the other dog is not only okay but results in being rewarded, and showing the dog who is being petted that it is okay for the other dog to be nearby. Over time, as your pushy dog learns to lie calmly as you pet the other dog, switch the reward from treats to petting. When you feel that it is safe, do the exercise without the tether.

 So, there you have it. This particular technique is easy, and just takes a bit of time and practice until the behavior becomes habitual. Try it and let me know how it goes in your home!
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Thanks for reading! You can find my books, DVDs and blog here, and my artwork here.

 

 

 


Do Some Rescues Need to be Rescued?

March 22, 2018

Pug stare at cameraThe woman on the other end of this morning’s phone call was distraught about her dog and in need of help. This was not unusual. That her dog was behaving aggressively was not unusual, either. When she told me her large purebred dog’s breed, I asked whether she had by chance gotten the dog from a particular local rescue group. Sure enough, she had. It was all I could do not to utter the expletives that came to mind. Why had I suspected that the dog might have come from that rescue? Because over the years, I have had countless calls from owners who adopted from them, and over 90 percent of those dogs had aggression issues.

This gets my hackles up. Having been involved in rescue for over 20 years, I understand what it takes to run one. For years I co-ran a rescue for wolves and wolfdog mixes. Granted, it was a bit different because many of the dogs could not be adopted out. However, before that, I worked for a low-kill rescue organization, as well as volunteering (and then volunteer coordinating) for years at a Los Angeles city shelter. I networked with many groups, got very involved in and helped out others, and understand the ins and outs of rescue. I’ve seen the best and the worst of what can happen. And I’m here to say that the “worst” doesn’t have to be this way.

We all want to save dogs. But the sad truth is that not all dogs are adoptable. If a dog is behaviorally so unsound as to be a potential danger, a rescue has no business adopting that dog into a home with an unsuspecting owner who may (or whose kids may) be injured by that dog. Even if a dog has “workable” aggression issues, the screening process for a qualified home had better be very thorough. Years ago, I visited the home of a disabled woman who had adopted a large breed dog from a rescue that dealt only in that breed. The woman had a “helper” who was a friend that came by daily. However, this well-meaning friend had some mental challenges and was not able to truly take responsibility for helping with the dog. This 90-pound dog very calmly sat down in front of me, took my forearm in his mouth, and stared at me as he began to bite down with increasing pressure. It was strange and unsettling. I was not harmed, but given this and other behaviors I observed, it was obvious this was not the right dog for this home (or possibly any home). Although this was a different rescue group than the aforementioned one, I had also seen quite a few aggressive dogs come through that organization over the years.

Most rescue groups bail dogs out of shelters where they would otherwise be euthanized. This is laudable, but what then? Some have a network of foster homes where a dog can settle in and his behavior can be properly observed. If there are other pets in the home, it may be possible to find out whether the dog gets along with other dogs and even cats. If there are children present, the dog’s behavior around children can be assessed as well. All of this is the best-case scenario. Unfortunately, some groups simply get dogs from shelters and then, with no temperament testing at all, put them up for adoption. Can you guess the effect this might have on the return rate, not to mention the chance of harm to adopters? And what about the dog’s health? How can anything be known if the dog has just come out of a shelter?

The organization I used to work for had an adoption form that some joked was as lengthy and detailed as a college application. And you know what? It was, and that was fine. It automatically screened out those who weren’t committed enough to take the time to fill it out, and it told us a lot about the potential adopters. I’m not suggesting that an overly difficult, long, or judgmental adoption process is the goal. It’s not. But some groups I’ve encountered (rescue groups, not shelters) have absolutely no adoption application at all, nor do they take the time to so much as have an in-depth conversation to judge whether the home might be appropriate. There should be a happy medium.

Then there are home checks. Over the years, I have seen people write on applications that they lived on a ranch with acreage, when in reality they lived in a studio apartment. While I would like to think that most potential adopters are honest, the sad truth is that some people will lie to get what they want. A home check should be a part of every adoption, not only to ensure that the dog will have adequate living conditions, but to see whether anything needs to be fixed or changed before the dog arrives. Owners often miss things like the fact that an unfenced pool area can mean death for a dog who’s never encountered one before, or that the garbage bin that’s sitting against the backyard fence is a great stepping-stone for a dog to jump over and out. Fencing, kids’ toys that could be ingested, and other safety concerns are things that must be surveyed first-hand.  Again, to clarify, I am not talking about city or county shelters here, but rescue organizations that have the time and resources to do this. And the idea is not to judge whether anyone is “good enough” for the dog, but to help them repair what’s repairable in order to make the environment safe for the dog, and if it can’t be made safe, to prevent possible tragedy.

Rescuing dogs is hard. It’s more difficult physically, mentally, and emotionally than non-rescuers will ever know. It can be extremely rewarding, of course, but it can also be heart-wrenching. My hat is off to rescuers everywhere, truly. But if an organization is going to rescue, there needs to be ethics and oversight in place. Simply bailing dogs out of a shelter, putting them directly into homes with no regard to health or temperament, charging way-over-average, exorbitant rates and then boasting about how many dogs you have adopted out is NOT ethical rescue. Does an adoption process have to be overly long and complicated? No, and it shouldn’t. But taking the time and making the effort to place dogs in well-matched, loving homes will ensure that the dogs stay in those homes. And really, shouldn’t that be what it’s all about?
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Keeping the Peace cover for website 3On a happier note, my new book “Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home” will be out next week! Click here to pre-order, to view the Table of Contents, and to read the complete Introduction.


The Tipping Point

February 26, 2018

husky attacksAt the dog park this morning, my dogs and I were on the “small dog side,” as it was empty and there were two dogs on the “big dog side.” I was happy to see the gentleman and his two dogs, as our dogs like to run the fence together. They’re all friendly, and everyone gets exercise. It’s all good. But five minutes into the festivities, a couple showed up with a dog I’d never seen before, and entered the big dog side. Apparently the two dogs in that space had never seen the dog before either, and ran over to him. The new dog and one of the two began to get very stiff-legged. Hackles were raised. Growls were heard. Suddenly the air was thick with tension. “Ziggy,” warned the owner of the two dogs, “Be nice.” Ziggy got even more aroused. “Come on, Ziggy” he cautioned again, his voice even more tense. Fortunately, the dogs did not fight, and after a few more moments, they separated.

Every dog owner is familiar with that tense moment when two dogs are aroused and may or may not fight. You can feel the tension coming off the dogs in waves, and it is almost impossible not to be stressed yourself. But what an owner does in that moment can affect whether the dogs will explode into violence or not. It’s a common response to do exactly what Ziggy’s owner did, to admonish the dog in a stern, warning voice. And for some dogs, it may work. Unfortunately, for many, it only adds to the unease. Although it might seem counterintuitive, calling your dog’s name in a high, happy voice can be the better option. If you’ve conditioned your dog through training that his name is his cue to look at you, although the situation is worrisome, you can still get his attention. You can then call him to you, thereby averting a full-blown fight. EDIT: I am adding in this edit after someone brought up the important point that there could be a possibility, once your dog was called away, of the other dog attacking from behind. Clearly this is a judgement call that the owner must make. In my mind, the situation had not yet gotten to that point, but it does bear mentioning to use caution and assess the situation carefully.

The same type of scenario often happens when two dogs meet on leash. Many owners are not savvy in the language of Dog, and don’t realize that the dog they are bringing their dog over to meet is not friendly. Very quickly, the dogs are nose to nose with rigid bodies, tails held high and waving stiffly, hard staring at each other. Here we have not only two dogs who are already tense, but there is the factor of the tight leashes, which adds even more pressure to the situation. There is a tipping point that is being approached: will the dogs go past it and fight, or will the moment pass peacefully? Again, what the owner does at that moment can make all the difference. Tightening the leash even more, which is often the knee-jerk reaction for we humans, can make things worse. If the dog has been trained to give attention at hearing his name and to do a “walk-away,” meaning he follows the owner away from something, the incident can end peacefully. Or, the owner could simply call the dog’s name in a high, happy voice, followed by, “Come!” I’m not suggesting that these tactics will work in every situation; they won’t, if tension levels have already escalated past a certain point. Once a dog is over threshold—past the tipping point—he’s not capable of mentally processing those verbal cues, any more than a person is who is involved in a raging argument would respond if you walked up and asked for the time. Emotion has taken over, and it’s too late for coherently processing thought.

Just think how wonderful it would be if everyone trained their dog in simple things like attention (look at me when your name is called), the recall (come when called), and walk-aways. It’s really not difficult, and there are plenty of resources out there (including the Train Your Dog: The Positive, Gentle Method DVD). And what about having early education on canine body language in schools? It’s estimated that almost half the homes in the U.S. have dogs. The majority of dog bites happen to children, who haven’t been taught not to do things that cause dogs to become defensive. But I digress. The point is, if your dog is involved in one of those moments where things are looking dicey and could go either way, don’t add to the tension. Flip the script and call your dog’s name in an attention-getting, happy voice instead. You might be surprised at how well it works.
Keeping the Peace cover for web newest
Speaking of aggression issues, pre-orders are rolling in for my upcoming book “Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home.” Clearly, this is an important issue to trainers, owners, rescue workers, shelters, and more. Publication is scheduled for April, although I’m hoping it will be sooner! You can pre-order as well as read the full Introduction and Table of Contents here.

 

 

 

 


Is it Always the Owner’s Fault?

February 22, 2018

There’s dog on leash pixabay smalla man I walk around the park with sometimes early in the mornings when I have one of my dogs with me. I’ve known this man since before he ever got a dog, and was familiar with his philosophy about dog behavior. It goes something like this: Every dog is fixable if the person knows what they’re doing. I’ve tried to tell him in the past that not every dog is stable temperamentally, but not only would he not listen, he’d tell me I was being way too careful and overprotective with Sierra around unfamiliar dogs. I should let her go right up and meet all of them. Umm….okay. Luckily for him, he ended up getting the easiest, sweetest Lab in the world. The dog is friendly with other dogs but doesn’t get in their faces. In other words, an easy dog. Good for him.

We were having a perfectly nice walk this morning, discussing the Olympics, the rocket launch, and other innocuous subjects. I had Sierra off leash, as we walk very early and when there are no dogs in the area, she’s free to romp around. I saw another dog coming, and put her on leash. After we passed the woman and her dog, this conversation happened:

Him: You know, Sierra’s never going to be good with other dogs if you don’t let her go up to them.

Me: She is good with other dogs. I just don’t let her run up to dogs she doesn’t know.

Him: Why? When I first got my dog, he wasn’t always good with other dogs. You know that lady with the pit bull? I saw her one morning and her dog was on leash. I asked if the dogs could play. She said she didn’t know if her dog was friendly, but okay, she’d let him off the leash. (Insert cringe here.) The dogs sniffed each other and then they were fine.

Me: Lucky for everyone!

Him: And you know that one guy with the big dog that you always say is really aggressive? I saw him one morning and both of our dogs were on leash. He moved off the path to let me pass and I asked if I could bring my dog up to his. He said no and I asked why, and he said he knows what he’s got, his dog is not friendly with other dogs.

Me: Well good for him! He was being a responsible owner.

Him: No! It’s his fault the dog is that way. It’s always the person’s fault. The only way that dog is going to get better is if he takes him up to meet other dogs. You could give me Sierra for a day and I could take her up to any dog.

Me: (trying to stay calm and civil) Okay, let’s not get personal. So you’re saying I could give you any dog, any dog at all, and you could get him to be okay with other dogs.

Him: Yes! Yes! From everything I’ve read and watched, it’s always the person’s fault.

I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation. Suffice it to say that this man has a very hot temper and although I remained polite and calm, he worked himself into a frenzy that ended with saying that I clearly thought he was an irresponsible owner. Well, if you really want to know, yes. I do. It’s ignorant to believe that you or anyone else can “fix” every dog’s aggression issues. Yes, you can absolutely work with dog-aggressive dogs and get them to tolerate or even be friendly with other dogs. In my professional career, I’ve helped hundreds of owners to rehab dogs like that. But to blame it all on the owner? Where does that come from, do you think? Could it be television shows that purport, in 30 minutes or less, to completely change the temperament of a very dog-aggressive dog, working with the dog away from the owner, and then blame every bad behavior on the owner? Those shows might make for good drama, but they’re not doing anyone any favors.

I really try to avoid arguments about dog behavior. There’s just no point. I will absolutely have a civil conversation with anyone about it, regardless if their opinions are different than mine. But trying to gently educate someone, given the amount of misinformation out there, can be frustrating. For the record, there are dangerous dogs out there. Sure, owners contribute to some problem behaviors in dogs, absolutely. But are they completely responsible for a dog’s issues? No. Telling an owner whose dog had to be euthanized because he was flat-out dangerously aggressive that it was her fault would be cruel and untruthful. Let’s stop blaming owners for everything, open our minds, and work together to rehabilitate the dogs.
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Speaking of aggressive dogs, my latest book “Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home” is now available for pre-order! Click here to read the full Introduction, view the Table of Contents, and pre-order. Books should be out in April!Keeping the Peace cover for web newest

 


Why No Warning?

December 26, 2017

I love scared german shepherd pixabay smallmovies. In a world where there’s all too much to be stressed out about, and too much work to be done at any given time, movies offer a wonderful escape. Besides, I just plain enjoy watching a great film.  However! If there’s a dog in the movie—it doesn’t need to be in bad shape, or stray, or sick, mind you, just a happy, friendly family dog—I spend the entire film worrying about whether something is going to happen to the dog. If it’s a suspense film, that goes double.

My husband and I are a Netflix-loving couple. This past Saturday night, we settled in to watch our latest choice, Wind River. The trailers we’d seen showed a gritty drama with good acting and an intriguing story. We were both looking forward to it. After a brief, dreamy opening montage featuring a young woman running across a lake as credits rolled, a stark opening scene appeared: three beautiful coyotes stood at a distance from a herd of cattle. A man with a rifle crouched in the bushes. Before I could say, “Oh, crap,” the man had shot one of the coyotes. There was then an immediate closeup looking down upon the bloody carcass. I can’t tell you whether the coyote was dead or still breathing, because after the first split second of seeing it, I couldn’t watch. I also can’t tell you the rest of what happens in the film, because we turned it off.

Movies have ratings for a reason. Parents don’t want their kids exposed to sexual or violent content. While PG-13 cautions parents in a general way that some material may not be suitable for children, we are also now seeing more specific warnings regarding things like brief nudity, foul language, mild violence, and so on. So why not have a warning about violence to animals? Surely animal lovers make up a large enough segment of the population to warrant it, and yet there seems to be no concern whatsoever about violence toward animals in films. It’s a sad reflection on our society.

As an animal lover, a warning would be appreciated and would have saved me from seeing many things I can never un-see. There was the film Fear, where teenagers invade a home and torture the family. Hmm. Whatever happened to the dog, who went missing early on? Wait! He’s coming back in through the dog door! Oh, sorry, that was just his head. Yes, his head. WTF? Sorry, I understand the concept of shock value, but what would happen if that level of graphic violence were applied to a kid? Would a scene featuring a headless child have ever make the final cut? Then there are the times nothing bad has happened yet but you just know it’s bound to, like in the film Signs—the one about crop circles and unseen, possibly alien monsters. I was all but yelling at the screen as the family left their German Shepherd tied out in the field as they took cover indoors. And you just knew in Secret Window, where Johnny Depp was a writer living alone in a remote cabin, that nothing good was going to happen to his dog—and you were right. Did I spoil some of the suspense for you? You’re welcome. Now you can avoid those films entirely.

Look, I understand the need for dramatic tension in films. It’s usually a good thing. I even understand the need for bad things to happen to good dogs in a storyline—if it’s really called for in the overall plot and serves a purpose. And I realize that not everyone is as sensitive about violence towards animals as I am, and as many others are. Still, it would hurt no one and would help many of us to have some sort of rating to warn us, so that we could at least make an informed choice before deciding where to spend our movie dollars.

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You can find my books and seminar DVDs here, and my art here and now here on selected products.


Who Knows What’s Best for Your Dog?

December 13, 2017

Nic n Sierra hike When I first adopted Sierra from the shelter, I was told she’d been there four times previously. No one knew whether she’d had the same owners each time or four different ones. Regardless, she had been brought in as a stray this time. Once home, I quickly discovered that she had a combination of separation anxiety and mad skills as an escape artist. And so, we began a program of behavior modification for the separation issue and lots and lots of obedience training, particularly on the recall.

I was careful almost to the point of paranoia about not letting Sierra off leash on our local park trails until she had a rock-solid recall. At the time, a group of owners who regularly walk with their dogs off leash invited me to let Sierra go running through the hillsides with them. I declined. I explained about having just adopted her and her not being trained yet. However, my concerns were quickly dismissed. It would be fine, they said. I replied that I just wasn’t going to take the chance that she’d run off, especially given her history. Still, each time I saw the group, they asked. Each time, I declined. Was there whispering going on about the lady who was so overly worried about her dog? I’m sure there was. Do I care? Not one bit.

More recently, there’s been a new person we see at the local dog park. Sierra and I stay on the small dog side (which is empty, save for us) while he and his two large dogs inhabit the big dog side. It’s a good arrangement, as the dogs all run the fence together and get some exercise. The first day we met, he suggested that I bring Sierra over to the other side to play with his dogs. I told him that while she’d be fine with one of his dogs, chances were that she wouldn’t be quite so fine with the other one. He said, “Nah, they’ll be okay, come on over.” I politely declined. He insisted a few more times and I said no a few more times. This went on day after day. I’d told him five different ways that a fight might result, and yet he kept insisting. I finally said firmly but nicely, “I appreciate the offer. The thing is, I know my dog better than you do. Trust me, it will not be fine.” Will this stop him from asking? We’ll see.

It’s a strange thing for someone to think they can predict a dog’s behavior better than the person who lives with that dog 24/7. Perhaps it’s partly due to a lack of understanding about canine behavior in general. It certainly seems as though there are plenty of people who believe it’s fine to allow their dogs to run loose in non-legal public spaces even when encountering other dogs, as though a fight is the farthest possibility from reality. Or, they regularly allow their dog to romp together in parks with tons of unfamiliar dogs without a second thought. Of course, there are dogs who get along with pretty much anyone, but a little caution goes a long way.

While it can be difficult socially at times to stick to our guns and to refuse offers of these sorts, we must do what we can to keep our dogs safe. It’s part of being an advocate for our dogs, something I am very passionate about. When an old-school vet slams your non-compliant dog on his back or a trainer says you need to “show him who’s boss,” it can be difficult to speak up, especially because there’s an authority figure involved. But you are the only thing standing between your dog and the big, bad world, the only thing keeping him safe and secure. He counts on you to not put him into situations where he could get hurt, and to keep him safe when someone is threatening him, whether physically or emotionally, regardless of whether it may be socially awkward for you.

Okay, I’ll step down from my soapbox now. But it must be said: You know best what’s right and wrong for your dog. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise!
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In other news, happy dance! My artwork is finally available on products such as mugs, notebooks, totes, fleece blankets, phone cases and more (in addition to prints, of course). Most is animal-related, and they make great gifts for yourself or someone else! Check it out at www.nicolewildeart.com.
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Pre-Grieving Our Dogs

October 31, 2017

lying look of loveThis is a difficult blog to write, and one I hesitated to write or share. I’m not one to post my every emotion on social media or share my private life publicly. But there is a topic relating to our dogs that I have never seen addressed, and it’s something I believe a lot of us experience.

As our dogs age, especially if they’re ill or infirm, it’s difficult not to think about their eventual passing. When my dog Mojo–a 120-pound malamute/shepherd/wolf mix I’ve always referred to as my “soul dog”—became a senior, I began to watch him as he slept. He’d lie there peacefully on his side, blissfully ignorant of his owner’s anxieties. I’d watch for that beautiful rising and falling of his furry chest that told me he was still alive. Once seen, only then would my own breath return. Although it might sound strange, it became almost an obsession to watch for those breaths, to make sure my precious boy was still with us.

When Mojo passed in 2008, it was the end of a very rough year. Not only had he been ill, but I had lost my two remaining wolves (yes, wolves—go read Hit by a Flying Wolf if you really want to know about the insanity of my life with wolves and dogs), lost a close friend to cancer, and lived through a fire and other assorted traumatic experiences, all in one year. And then Mojo died. Nothing, not even the death of my brother years ago, could prepare me for the crushing grief. I barely got up off the floor for the first few weeks. I literally spent a month and a half crying from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep, to the point that I almost lost my voice. My hair began to fall out in clumps. Needless to say, it was one of the darkest times of my life. That it came on top of all the other tragedies didn’t help, but it really was due to how very much I loved Mojo, who was like a child to my husband and me.

Now, years later, we have Bodhi and Sierra. While I love Bodhi, of course, Sierra is my heart. As much as Mojo had been special and always will be, I have never been so close—so attached—to a dog in my life. It’s not just that I both love and like Sierra, or that’s she’s a wonderful, amazing dog, which she is. While I’ve always had an empathy and sort of sixth sense with animals, it’s incredibly strong with Sierra. We share some vibrational frequency; it’s a strange and beautiful connection. If I’m standing in my office, I know without a doubt when she’s standing by the bowl in the next room waiting for water. When I rub her tummy and give her cuddles, I can actually feel the love coming from her, and I know she can feel it from me, too. It’s our own little sacred circle of love. When we take our morning walks, I can feel her joy at running free and being out in nature. And she senses my moods as well. But it’s really more than just having an empathetic, psychic link with each other. To say we are connected would be an understatement.

In 2015 I had another tough year in which I lost both of my parents and a very close friend, along with experiencing other assorted tragedies and traumas. Weirdly, the same day my mother went into hospice, Sierra almost died. I came home to find Sierra standing there looking somehow not right. Although there was no vomiting or other outward signs of illness, I knew in my gut beyond a shadow of a doubt that something was very wrong. I rushed her to the emergency vet, where they ended up doing surgery to save her from a burst liver abscess. My mother and my dog had gone septic on the same day—what’s the chances? I’m pretty sure all of that loss and almost-loss has since heightened my fear and apprehension at the thought of even more loss.

We don’t know Sierra’s exact age, as she was a shelter rescue, but we estimate her to be around 10 or possibly even 11 years old. The day I did the math and realized that was a jarring one. I’m not yet quite at the point of watching for her chest to rise and fall, but I admit that I think way too much about what it will be like when she finally passes on, how the world could possibly exist without her in it. That’s a terrible thing to ponder, but I know I’m not alone. It’s very difficult, especially once your dog becomes a senior, not to think about that sort of thing. Some of us worry about it now and then, while others become obsessively worried about it. The only thing that really helps is, as with pretty much everything in life, to try to live in the moment and enjoy it for what it is. After all, we all have limited time here. What’s the point of tainting the joy of these moments with worry and fear? I try to spend as much time with Sierra as I can, and to make the most of our time together. There are times when I’m working at my computer and she gives me that look that says, “Isn’t it time for a cuddle?” Although I sometimes simply need to finish what I’m doing, there are many more times I look at her and think she’s right, that I don’t want to miss this moment, and that work will wait.

In the meantime, I take lots of photos of both Sierra and Bodhi, as photos are often the only things we have to hold on to after our loved ones are gone. I try to stay positive. But each time Facebook brings up a “memory” from a year or two ago, I wonder about the dagger I’m going to feel once my dogs are gone and Facebook brings up those photos. Speaking of Facebook, maintaining a live-in-the-moment attitude isn’t made any easier by the fact that my news feed is constantly full of posts along the lines of, “It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to…” My heart goes out to every one of those posters who have lost their beloved dogs. It hurts my heart, not just for them, but for what was and what will inevitably be again with my own dogs. I see tributes written about the lives of these dogs, about how wonderful they were. And that’s a beautiful thing. But we all need to put that much focus and energy into appreciating and enjoying life with our dogs while they’re still with us. We must accept that, as the saying goes, grief is the price of love. So for now, let’s take the time, and make the time to spend with our dogs, to make sure they’re safe, healthy and happy, and most of all, to let them know how very much they are loved. Because in the end, that’s all any of us can really ask for.

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