Recently, something strange started to happen. My kids pointed it out to me—“Mama,” my oldest daughter said to me one day, laughing, “Cholula’s not just scared of the hallway to the kitchen, she’s scared of the stairs and the hall upstairs too.” “Yeah,” said my other daughter, “she’s scared of the whole house.” It was true. In direct contrast to continuing progress in her training outside, Cholula was getting stuck at various points all over the house, so stuck that she would whine from her various perches until one of us went and either walked with her past the frightening spot or called to her until she got so excited she could dash past the spot all skittery nails and splayed limbs. I wrote to Kevin Behan on his website and asked him about it. He responded (in short), the entire exchange is here—
I suspect you’re now dealing with the first instances of fear in her life as [she looks] to find a predator to justify the release of pent up energy. The bark will be really important to get her to release her fear. She’s processing fear outdoors (i.e. her improved abilities and behaviors outside represent a new ability to move through her fear) but still experiencing it, and so it needs to find an outlet and so [she] concocts a predator from innocuous stuff within a context from her past.
I’ve been continuing to work on the bark on command. This too is quite something to see—she will curl back her lips, gnash her teeth, shake her head, sneeze, emit a short growl—watching her these past weeks work to try to find the noise and not quite get it, I’ve realized that to ask her to bark on command is to ask her to give up everything she learned about life before she came to our house, when unhinged barking at real or imagined attackers was a primary means of stress release, while silence and subduedness in the face of her owner was how she avoided trouble. Although, of course, she didn’t actually avoid trouble with these coping strategies—in fact, she became trouble, ending up in the shelter twice and then attacking a dog outside my house shortly after I brought her home.
Her newly neurotic behavior has mostly faded in the weeks since I wrote Kevin. Cholula is back to her old way of being now, with only the one hallway between the dining room and kitchen still bothering her. It is quite something to see her trot up to it, come to a sudden, foreleg-splayed stop, turn around and tiptoe backwards through it, lifting each leg higher than necessary as if pulling her paws out of something sticky. While Kevin gave me some tips to help her through it, I think her neuroticism in the house subsided largely because we are at something of a new plateau. That is, when she first mastered her calm sit/stay, when she started reliably sneezing on command, with her corresponding increased ability to handle and even play with dogs we meet out and about, she was living in the outside world in a mode past her comfort zone, and it freaked her out. As Kevin wrote above, it freaked her out so much that she manufactured bogeymen all over the house to take out her fear on. Now, we have been doing these things long enough that we have established a new comfort zone. And so she’s back to her one old fear in the house and the rest of the house has returned to innocuousness. For now. Until we make another leap. I’m still working towards that real bark.
Working with Cholula’s fear has helped me understand how I get caught in my own. I know her feeling, of moving forward in one area only to find that other, previously easy tasks have become seemingly insurmountable. Take my website redesign. I’d been wanting to redesign my website for a long time, and because I don’t have many technical skills or much time, I’d decided I should hire someone to do it. Both committing the money to it and finding the right person were hurdles that kept me from moving on this for a long time. But recently, through a combination of readiness and chance (a post for another time) I got it redesigned. The redesign is almost everything I hoped for. But I found myself obsessing over minor details that bothered me and, even worse, feeling on the one hand filled with new content-related ideas for the site and on the other hand, having a new difficulty finding the time to create any content at all for the site. Following through on my own commitment to improve the look of the site pushed me out of my comfort zone and sent me into my own neurotic panic. And part of coming out of it is accepting that, like Cholula, I don’t have to—and maybe I can’t—make the whole transformation at once. I can pause at this new plateau, and practice, and trust that eventually, I’ll be ready take the next step.
A death in the family, husband travelling, sick child, intense work week. Because I hadn’t had time to walk the dogs before getting the not-sick kids to school, the dogs went with me in the car and got a walk around the school block. When we got home, instead of following me inside, Cholula, who hadn’t yet been fed, found the sunniest spot in the yard. Thank you, Cholula, for reminding me how easy it is to find joy.
Sometimes it’s when you least want a dog that you most need a dog. February is typically the hardest month for me to enjoy in D.C., even in an unseasonably mild winter like this one. It’s cold, the days are still short, and while you can hope for a crazy big snowstorm with snow days and sledding and snow forts and snow men, you’re more likely to get an icy mess that might, if it stays cold, turn the sidewalks into the corrugated, pitted menaces I remember from my childhood in this city, when I swear I spent weeks walking back and forth to school over rutted, treacherous ice flows. We had one of our more typical February weeks last week. A half a centimeter or so of snow dusted our landscape one morning, and then there was cold, and wind, and spitting rain. Most people stayed in when they could. And yet the dogs had to be walked. And so every day I headed outside, and not just to get to the car or metro or bus. And, thanks to the dogs, this is what the winter weather brought me: the sight of my old dog Pundit flipping onto his back at the first sight of that half-centimeter of snow and sliding down the hill in our front yard, just as he’s responded to every snowfall since we first moved into the house in 2000. A run with Cholula in the park so emptied of people by the spitting rain that we had our own quiet woods in the middle of the city. And this, glimpsed as I hurried the dogs home—the winter light catching one of my favorite architectural elements of the city—the turrets on the old row houses.
When I had my first telephone consultation with natural dog training founder Kevin Behan after Cholula attacked a little white dog, his primary advice was to teach Cholula to bark on command. As I remember it, he told me that if I could get her to bark on command, I could have her bark as soon as I saw her getting anxious about a dog, and the bark would release her fear and dissipate her need to attack. Or, as he put it in a recent blog post, “The point of training a dog to bark on command, is that it becomes a way to stress the dog, and then he resolves the stress by a clean, clear, deep bark. Why is this important? Because it gives the dog a way to express fear without having to act on fear.”
So it’s over a year later, and I still haven’t been able to get Cholula to bark on command. However, recently, after a hiatus of many months, I’ve started working with her again on this skill. Just about a year ago, I wrote about my earlier efforts. I didn’t seem to be making much progress, and so I eventually stopped working on it, except that during our walks, when she got overexcited about another dog approaching, I would bug her into pushing for food and as I did so I would say, “speak.” Just recently, a couple of times, when she was VERY excited about a dog on a leash, when I did this she let out a bark—not the full-fledged bark I’m looking for—more of a tortured, high-pitched “I’m freaked out and want to go attack that dog,” kind of bark, but it was a bark nonetheless, and so I realized that there was a little bit of energy flowing out of her into a bark and it was time to start up the bark training again.
During my early attempts to get her to bark on command—and these efforts went on for several months—she would stretch, paw the ground, and jump up on me in response to my command, but she never really opened her mouth. A combination of believing in Kevin’s theory and seeing Cholula’s efforts led me to visualize a blocked pipe running through Cholula—a pipe that should be open for her energy to move freely through her body into a bark but that was blocked with something like sandbags, bottling up her energy until it burst out unpredictably in moments of aggression, and keeping her from being able to translate my command into any kind of vocalization.
And then suddenly I realized that what I was visualizing was nothing more or less than her windpipe. That asking a dog to bark on command is asking a dog to control its breath—to breathe in and then breathe out in a bark rather than simply releasing air through its nose. It’s one thing for a dog to bark instinctively, and quite another for it to be able to respond to a command to produce a bark.
We’ve all heard of the many studies showing that breath work—through such efforts as meditation or yoga, for example, or even natural childbirth breathing techniques—can be key to reducing stress in people. In fact, last week in my yoga class I was trying to do something at the limits of my yoga abilities, and just after I’d made it up onto my hands, my yoga teacher said, “Now do it again without clenching your teeth.” She was completely right—my jaw was aching—when I’m trying to do something hard that makes me nervous, I have a tendency to clench my teeth and even hold my breath instead of working with the breath. Which is exactly what Cholula used to do when she saw a dog on a leash—I believe Kevin called it “lock jaw” when I first described to him how she would silently and with utter focus gaze at the oncoming dog, her entire face clenched.
Breath control, as I now think of bark on command, is much easier for some dogs than for others. Pundit is an example of a dog who picked this up with relative ease, even at the age of 12. But for Cholula, with her extreme inhibition and generally quiet nature, to ask her to bark on command is to ask her to leave all of her past coping mechanisms behind. To ask for transformation. A transformation that, as Kevin has said all along, could be key in truly resolving Cholula’s problems. Which is why I’m so excited about our recent progress.
I’m including links to three video clips below. (Note: my daughter filmed the clips of me working with Cholula, so you can hear her commentary in the background. Also, I’m fully aware these clips also show the limitations of my training abilities—I’m no expert, and my timing is not always right, etc. However, I want to share them not only because I think they reveal Cholula’s progress, but also because I think that Cholula’s extreme difficulty doing this and her slow progress towards it illustrate how, as Kevin Behan claims, getting a dog with aggression problems to bark on command gives it a way to release its stress without aggression and thus can resolve the aggression problem.
Video 1: Pundit Barks: One challenge I’ve had with training Cholula is that Pundit is fully aware that when Cholula and I go into the back yard for training, there are treats involved, and he wants to be part of it. While sometimes I can accommodate him as a training partner, with the bark-on-command work, it really doesn’t help Cholula when Pundit is only too willing to bark every time he hears me say “speak.” But when I put him inside, he stands at the back door and barks like a maniac until my irritated husband throws him back out with us. The only way I’ve found out of this cycle is to bring Pundit out with us, and then rotate the commands “bark” and “quiet” as I walk Pundit back towards the door. Eventually, I open the door, put him back in the kitchen, give him his “quiet” command and treat, close the door, and like magic, he waits for us inside without barking. So in case you are interested, here is Pundit barking and being quiet on command (what I hope eventually Cholula will be able to do). It also the method I’ve been able to use to enact Kevin’s promise that if you can teach a dog to bark you can teach him to be quiet.
Video 2: Cholula Working on Her Bark: This clip is from early in the training session. I include it because it shows some beginning steps she has to take to bark—she opens her mouth, she wrinkles her nose, she breathes out of her mouth—all pieces of the breath control she needs to bark—and all things that were beyond her last year.
Video 3: Cholula Getting Closer: This clip is from towards the end of the training session. Warmed up, she is actually huffing—that is, while it’s not quite a bark yet, there are times here where she opens her mouth, wrinkles her nose, and makes a noise! She is learning to respond to me with her breath. Also, at the end of the video clip I ask my daughter to back up so you can see Cholula’s body. This is because in this recent work with Cholula I’ve been goading her to get her to bark by lightly pinching her cheek. As she started opening her mouth in response to this goading in earlier training sessions, it actually appeared to me up front with her head that she might bite me—the wrinkling up of her nose, the opening of her mouth—the expression on her face was that of a dredged up frustrated hostility that she has worked to inhibit for too long. While it didn’t make me give up, it definitely kept my hands moving quickly. But then at some point I noticed that while her face was reflecting this intense struggle to release something she usually holds back, her body and tail were smooth, supple, excited, wagging. There is something about this work, hard for her as it is, that simultaneously gives her joy. And so we continue the work, in the hope of fully unlocking her heart.
February resolutions: Read more, write more, work with Cholula. I got so caught up with various unending projects over the holidays that it took me all of January to even approach finishing some of the things I’d started. In fact, the projects still aren’t finished, but now that it’s February, the Christmas tree has long been dutifully taken down and left on the front walk for the tree-recycling, the late holiday cards have long been mailed, and there are no major family celebrations or travel on the immediate horizon, I’ve decided to add back in these other efforts as well.
While the dogs have been more or less benignly ignored over the holiday season frenzy, I’ve been intermittently working on a couple of areas with Cholula–the sit-stay and down; the tug of war play; and yes, back to the bark on command–and I think I’m on the verge of some breakthroughs that with a little more focus I could describe here usefully.
In the meantime, I love watching our shadows run together, especially when the light hits so as to cast the shadow of her ears on the path before us. Does this look like a dog who still gets so anxious and befuddled by the short hallway that passes the door to the basement stairs that she still routinely stops, turns around, and backs up past the door with big awkard dog steps? And yet it is. Where does that quirk come from? And why does all the other progress she’s made in other areas not translate to any more normalcy when it comes to passing a closed door that happens to lead to some stairs? She is a work in progress, my Cholu, as we all are, as am I.
This fall, Cholula’s deer nature, identified by Kevin Behan when he met her, has been on full display, along with the falling leaves, now brown, curled, and crisp, the clear, cool days and chilly rains, the inexorably diminishing hours of daylight. In photos of her in the woods, I’ve been struck at how she melts into autumn’s landscapes. In the midst of the leaves and dappled light, the dappled dog gazing out over the horizon or sitting perfectly still in our yard is not fully among us, she is just about as invisible as the two bucks she flushed from the woods across the creek one day while we were running together.
At other times, she has literally disappeared, leaping over fallen logs down and across ravines while the other dogs off leash in the same woods wander around each other and their people companionably. At these moments, there is nothing to do but wait until she comes back, and come back she always does, eventually, her body so supple and graceful as she leaps back up the ravine with the same speed and certainty she took off with, a huntress perfectly attuned to her landscape. She seems to simultaneously embody the deer and the huntress at these moments, and yet when she races up to me and pushes enthusiastically into me, it is as if she is re-entering a force field of domesticity and her wildness falls from her as if it was a dream. Sometimes she returns stinky and I have to bathe her before letting her in the house. If it is my husband she has run from, I get a lecture about my terrible dog, and what good is a dog who—okay, granted, no longer presents much danger to other dogs, but who runs off without a backwards glance or a hint of remorse, who loses herself to the woods.
We don’t let her off leash for these adventures very often—once a week or so. And after her latest, we agreed to stop letting her off leash at all while I try to get through the training I still need to do before getting her to come when called. I haven’t tried to get her to come when called yet, because we haven’t gotten there. She’s got a great heel and a good sit and stay. We are working on the down. I hope to get to the come by New Year’s.
When I run with her, I don’t let her off the leash at all. We enter the woods together, and run side by side, longer than I’ve run comfortably for years, five or so miles. She’s not a perfect running companion—in the beginning of each run, I still often struggle to get her in tune with my gait rather than pulling on the leash, which is disheartening after all this time—and occasionally a squirrel or deer will cause her to veer wildly off course, once straight across my legs, which resulted in me flying over her and landing on my chin.
But there are moments these days, on pretty much every run, where we disappear together. Where, instead of being on a run, we simply are the run, she and I, as one. That’s what it feels like from the inside. From the outside I imagine it looks like a woman is running happily with what at some moments appears to be a dog and at other moments might just be a shadow thrown across the path by the few remaining leaves rustling on the trees.
Recently, dog-trainer Kevin Behan wrote on his website—“I’ve never taught any of my dogs not to bite. I taught them what to bite.”
It’s such a Kevin statement—provocative, counterintuitive—and so right it sent shivers down my spine. In part because when I first got my shelter dog Cholula, I couldn’t get her to bite anything—she would barely even bite her food—and in this state of extreme aversion to biting anything I offered, she did bite—and put puncture wounds in—a tiny white dog walking by our house.
When I visited Kevin in Vermont this summer to work with him on Cholula’s dog aggression problems, I realized that an important part of dog training is problem solving. That sounds ridiculously obvious when I write it down—what I mean is that I realized that an important part of effectively problem solving the big problems that cause an owner to bring their dog to a professional dog trainer in the first place is at least in key part a matter of solving any number of little problems that have vexed the owner (i.e., me) in trying to solve their dog’s particular issues.
For example, natural dog training relies a lot on tug of war as a way to get your dog to bite something appropriate and invest all of its energy in playing with its owner (let the dog win!) From reading natural dog training and naturaldogblog and talking to Kevin, I knew I should get Cholula to play tug. I don’t want to think about how much money I paid for all the dog toys that ended up piled up in a cabinet in our yard—rope toys, fluffy toys, rubber toys, squeaky toys, realistic toys, absurdist toys—which I’d bought to tempt Cholula, but the dog would not tug. In Vermont, even Kevin didn’t get much of a reaction from Cholula when he tried to tempt her with a stuffed animal. And, as I’ve written about before, although his rope work with her had amazing results in reducing Cholula’s charge towards other dogs, he never got her to tug on the rope as other dogs he worked with did while I was there, and as he likes the dog to do as a positive step in its rehabilitation.
But I’d brought Cholula’s one beloved toy with me to Vermont to show Kevin—a battered but still whirring zu zu pet. As I’ve written before, she had adopted a zu zu pet that was given to one of the kids and started carrying it around gently in her mouth, sleeping with it, nosing it when it whirred and clicked next to her when she bumped against it while snoozing. When she was happy to see us at the end of the day, she’d lope around the living and dining room until she found the zu zu pet to bring us as a greeting. And I’d found that I could tease her with the zu zu pet and get her to chase me in the house and the yard—I’d snatch the zu zu pet from her and race away from one end of the house to the other or one end of the yard to the other—and she would run after me in great excitement, jump on me with about the highest level of energy she was willing to give me at the time, and gently pluck the zu zu pet out of my hands. Over and over. It was the closest I’d gotten to any kind of tug from her at all.
As soon as I pulled the zu zu pet out of the bag to show Kevin, he said, “tie a rope around that and see if you can get her to tug it.”
And so, after our trip to Vermont, I tied a rope around the zu zu pet, and sure enough, Cholula started to tug. With vigor. On a recent camping trip with the family, we ended up at the last available site—right next to the playground and on the way to the restrooms—and Cholula got anxious (tense ears, barking) at all the people walking right by where we had settled. And so I pulled out her tug toy, and she tugged. And stopped fretting about the people. These are a couple of photos from that morning, taken by my daughter—I love the crazy pose in the last shot (also a good image of her lion nails).
And, in case you’re still interested, my daughter shot a short video of our playing tug at a park this evening. I can’t tell you how much progress this shows—this was a park I haven’t taken her to recently, with dogs walking up and down around us—and still, she tugged—with vigor! And I hope you see as I do in the little clip her puppy energy glimmering in her wagging tail and playful pawing. I’m so glad to be catching that puppy in her at last—I so know she needs to fully integrate that squashed down puppy inside her heart to truly heal.
I’ve also been thinking about the tug as it relates to my own life. What do I glance away from, refuse to engage in, avoid, that really, I should grab onto and pull with all my might? I’m not ready to reveal where these thoughts are taking me yet, but I’m thinking them.
We went to Puerto Rico for a week. Our friend and professional dog-sitter, Jim, took care of the dogs for the first time since last April. He walks and feeds them twice a day, and the rest of the time they hang out in the house doing whatever dogs do when they are on their own—sleeping, barking at the mailman, sleeping. We started leaving the dogs home when we can’t take them with us instead of taking them to a friend’s house or kennel after our old dog Ubi got so stressed out at a doggy day care a friend took her to while we were away (this seemed like a good idea before we tried it) that she almost died. Literally. We came home to a quivering heap of fur and bones. Clearly, in her elder years, if she couldn’t be with us, Ubi just wanted to be at home, waiting for us.
I texted Jim a day or so after we left to make sure he had gotten into the house okay and he wrote back, “Everything is fine. Cholula is so mellow on the walk now!” Of course, this made my day. I know Cholula is generally doing great these days, so much better than last spring, but it’s hard to see it sometimes when it happens day by day, and it’s easy to focus on the negative—the time I pushed her past her capability and she charged a friend, the time she ran off (again) into the woods for 20 minutes before coming back.
But I had to wait until we got home to get the full story of Cholula and Pundit’s week without us. This was left for me by Jim on our kitchen table, one note per visit. Our family loved them so much I’m sharing them here, for your reading pleasure:
We had a wet walk. Pundit and Cholula kept looking at me as if to say, “Where are the hot dogs?” (Last spring I was still using hot dogs on walks to get Cholula’s energy away from other dogs). We saw another dog across the street. Cholula hardly noticed!
We took a leisurely walk. No issues.
Pundit and Cholula were on their best behavior with other dogs. I didn’t hear a peep out of either of them!
We had a very pleasant late evening walk. No poop.
Everybody was full of vigor this morning! Still no poop from Cholula.
Everybody ate. Everybody pooped! All was well!
We had another very pleasant morning walk. Cholula was a bit more riled up, but I didn’t have any problems.
Cholula came racing down to see me. Pundit jumped up out of the chair. Everybody was very, very excited! Pundit got some kind of bone on the walk and crunched it up before I could extract it.
Everybody was in need of a good scratch behind the ears and some love, so I gave it to them.
There were a lot of squirrels, cats, and other dogs about. Cholula got pretty excited, but I got her to calm down.
We had a damp and rainy morning walk. Cholula was still looking for that cat! All business was attended to.
We had a rainy walk.
We took a brisk morning walk. Everybody pooped. All was well!
I came bearing food! Cholula and Pundit were very, very excited!
And then we came home. And Cholula and Pundit were very, very excited! For a moment it was a toss up as to whether Cholula was more excited to see me or her rat holes in the back yard, which she hadn’t had access to all week—but then I won! Over the rat holes! Cholula pushed like crazy and raced like a demon up and down the yard jumping on me with full doggy joy while Pundit ran from one to the other of us barking like a maniac—and we were glad to be home.
If you live in DC and want Jim’s information for dog walking or sitting, let me know. He’s the best.
I know that most of the readers of my dog-related posts come to sweet slugabed through natural dog training in some way, but a few of my readers may not have this background, and I’ve been thinking I should try to articulate what natural dog training means to me. Of course, if you’re interested in learning more, you should also go to natural dog training founder Kevin Behan’s site, www.naturaldogtraining.com, and Neil Sattin’s site that includes some step by step instructions on some of the key techniques used in natural dog training: www.naturaldogblog.com. In addition, several commenters on my last post asked me to describe more specifically how I’ve been goading and irritating Cholula into responding to me, and while I certainly don’t feel qualified to tell anyone what will or won’t work, and I think this goading activity may be a tricky area, I realized when transcribing the statements from Kevin’s recent radio interview on “On Point,” below, which I think very clearly capture the essence of his methods, that they in part relate to this goading.
When Kevin was interviewed by Tom Ashbrook on “On Point,” on June 2, he articulated the difference between natural dog training and the “dominance method” (Tom Ashbrook specifically referred to Cesar Milan), by saying the following. (I’m paraphrasing slightly, cutting some things out, and putting together quotes from two different parts of the program that really spoke to me about what natural dog training is about.)
“Through my work as a police dog trainer, I came to recognize that states of dominance and submission are states of emotional insecurity, and we never promote emotional insecurity in a police dog. Moreover, trainers using the dominance model are training the dog to have reduced energy, and I always want the dog to have lots of energy, because when channeled properly, that energy always comes out with sociability. I learned through working with police dogs that the variation in a dog’s response to stimuli depends on how free flowing the dog’s emotion is. When a dog’s emotional energy is blocked, it comes out in negative ways, but when a dog’s emotional energy is open and flowing, the dog focuses on the positive, and its emotion is always social.
My basic mantra is there is no such thing as bad energy. Often, when we see a dog doing something bad, instinctively we try to control and repress its energy. In contrast, I’ve developed a series of techniques to encourage the dog to express more and more energy. This causes the dog to feel so released and safe and comfortable that the dog gives me credit for that release, and goes from wanting to bite me to wanting to be in harmony with me. From that mindset its very easy to shape and influence him and lead him to the answer, which is how to be part of a group for the purposes of a collective goal—not just to work to please somebody else, but to be part of a collective group, which is a goal the dog can put his heart into. That is why it’s so important to understand the hunting evolution of a dog, for the hunt is what he can put his heart into, and “the hunt”—whether it’s a car ride or chasing a Frisbee or agility training – can become anything that leads the dog to a goal that connects him to the owner.”
The other quote of Kevin’s I wanted to share is from his first book, Natural Dog Training. I was re-reading the puppy section the other day because a friend just got a new puppy, and I came across this sentence, which he had thoughtfully underlined in the book—“The more of the puppy that survives into adulthood, the happier and healthier the dog.”
To me, these concepts are so beautiful and powerful. The idea that you are working with your dog not to suppress its energy or to force your will on it or to squash its puppy energy but to bring its energy out to the fullest—its full, puppyish, uninhibited desire to explore and learn and work—while shaping its energy so that the dog responds appropriately to people and other dogs, and is fully obedient in that it will always come back when you call it—that’s a beautiful goal.
Moreover, having had my dog Pundit for 13 years now, the puppiest dog I’ve ever known, and now having had Cholula for one year, the truth of Kevin’s statement about wanting the puppy to survive into adulthood has become vividly clear to me. For Pundit’s ability to hold onto his puppy directness, his puppy love of uninhibited action, his puppy enthusiasm for pretty much everything even now that his spirit so far surpasses his hobbled body has made him a fantastic companion dog for our family. In contrast, I know so certainly that for whatever reasons, nurture/nature, etc., Cholula lost her puppyhood too soon, and that much of my work with her is trying to resurrect that puppy inside her adult body so that she can be with our family in a fuller and more open way.
So regarding my goading and irritating of Cholula, I think Kevin’s statements on “On Point” articulate a lot of why this works. When I wrote in my last post about goading or irritating Cholula, what I meant was simply this: often now, on our walks, when she gets over-focused on a dog across the street or on a rat in the bushes, focused so that her jaw locks and her ears are tense, she’s completely looking away from me, her body straining towards that other object in some combination of fear and longing, instead of waiting or jerking on her collar, I will grab her hind leg, or pinch her haunch, or if I can get to it, I’ll tug or pinch her ear or her cheek. Not enough to hurt her—I’ve never made her cry out from it—but enough to get her to whirl around to me, the “attacker.” And she whirls around with that same focused energy she’s been giving the other dog or the rat in the bushes, an energy she’s never willing to give me in any other circumstance, and when I’ve surprised her into showing me that fierceness she usually hides from me, I (doing my best to copy Kevin’s brilliant timing, use of body language, etc., which I can only roughly approximate), immediately soften my body, move away from her, praise her in a sing-song voice, and as she pushes against me, give her food (which I’ve been holding in the same hand that pinches her).
And Cholula loves it. It’s just as Kevin said to Tom Ashbrook, there is a palpable release and comfort and joy in Cholula when I catch her energy in this manner. And while I can’t say I’ve been completely successful yet in solving Cholula’s (or my) problems, I can say that the energy I’ve been able to release by doing this is a happy energy. It’s her puppy energy peeking out from the layers and layers of inhibition and control that have served her well up to a point but that also have been the making of her disastrous hostility towards other dogs and occasional outbursts in other settings as well.
I’m ending this post with a photo of Pundit. The photo itself is not of great quality—I actually stole it off my friend’s facebook page, and I think she may have taken a digital photo of a print in the first place—but it’s a beautiful photo—and when I was trying to come up with a photo that illustrated any of this, this is the photo I thought of. I believe it was taken when my oldest daughter was one and a half, so just about 6 years ago, when Pundit would have been about 7. What a great image of an adult dog with his puppyhood fully intact, fully energized in harmony towards a goal with his people. When I can capture Cholula in a moment of such harmonic joy with people—and this still a long ways from where we are now—I will know we have succeeded.