I’ve been posting about CONTROL (somehow, that word deserves all caps). There is more to come, but such a heavy subject deserves a breathing break.
I want to introduce you to my latest teacher about control. No, not my partner, though truly our relationship has offered me an entire curriculum on the subject. I am happy to say that I’ve mostly tested out of the lessons of that very rich course of study.
Here she is. She’s our new dog, Belle.
Here’s Belle with her pack on. We were experimenting with giving her a job, which really means we were trying out another way to “drain her energy” (a phrase from Cesar Millan, aka, “The Dog Whisperer). Belle is a 55 pound Malamute mix who has seemingly boundless energy (clearly, our family needed more exuberance).
We’ve had Belle since July. She’s 3 1/2 years old, from the Longmont Humane Society. Belle was “surrendered” by her previous human when he lost his job and his home. Belle doesn’t seem to have had much experience on a leash. She also managed to appear to be a medium dog when she was all folded up in her cage at the pound, so that, by the time it was clear how big she is, it was too late. We were hooked.
Oh, and Belle has one eye, giving her the jaunty look of a pirate. (She doesn’t always wear the eye patch.)
Belle will not be controlled. We’ve learned that through quite an exhaustive series of trials and errors. We’ve rewarded her with loads of slimy hotdog bits (that worked pretty well); we’ve alpha-dogged her (well, we tried–she won, squirming her way out of our hold with her long and very strong legs); we’ve pulled her and she’s pulled back.
And now, we’ve all stepped into a peaceful, loving relationship with each other.
What happened? The first big learning was that dominating her did not work. Even with her genetic connection to millenia of packdom, she was not willing to submit.
Sound like anyone you know? In my experience, that’s just about all of us.
So, what did work? I think we all finally settled in when I was able to step into my own power. Millan calls it sending out “calm, assertive energy.” Somehow, Kathy had already figured that out, and Belle respected her. As I practiced holding my own, there was an immediate shift between Belle and me. Suddenly, she calmed down and became part of our home. She began to play; she was palpably more relaxed. Our walks became enjoyable (using a short leash and a special collar helped that).
I teach what I most need to learn. And I’m fascinated that, even in the world of human to animal connection, real power (that is, power with, not power over/under) is what has led to a relationship of love and respect.