I remember when Lollie was just a pup. She was part of that first litter of puppies we fostered. They arrived just a month after Sadie died, 8 weeks old and dirty. We got 3 of 11 of them, born to a fierce fighter of a mother who scared me down to my toes when I met her at the vet’s office. I didn’t want to keep her. I really didn’t like her much. She was whiny, noisy, cried long and hard whenever she was left alone, and had SO much energy. Mike and I would stay up for hours throwing the ball to her, wondering aloud when she was going to get tired. I remember being afraid of her and for her, remembering her mother and not wanting to have any part of that. When that first family came to view the pups and I saw and heard myself steering them toward her littermate, I knew I was attached. After they left I had to acknowledge that she and I were destine to walk part of this life together. I remember holding her head in my hands, looking into her eyes and saying, “You will be my Buddha.”
I was determined, by willpower alone, to change the course that genetics seemed to lay out for her. I took to socializing her as if it were my job. We went to the dog park nearly every night. I met many kind people there and watched my little baby puppy grow into a lanky teenager, running among the dogs. At about 6 months of age, we stopped going to the dog parks. I dedicated myself to her training, starting her out at 4 months of age and going weekly, every single week, until I decided that she didn’t seem to like it much and I was getting too stressed out. That was about a year ago. If you read my last post, you know I failed to shape her into a different dog than she was. Some things really are destiny.
But I did get some things right: I got a semi-career out of it – I still train dogs on the side. And Lollie has a lot of skills. And I have had an amazing opportunity to learn about myself, life, and for lack of a better word, spirit. You see, Lollie triggers a lot of emotions in a lot of people. Dogs like her will do that. She isn’t an easy or a simple dog. She is fully herself and she has a big self. And she isn’t wall balanced. There is definitely a screw loose in her, a sensitivity, an over-reactive, fear based aggression that comes to the front more times than I would like. Don’t get me wrong – I am not glamorizing her. If I could make her one of those simple dogs who likes every dog she meets I would. In a heartbeat. The one thing, one of the best gifts she has taught me though, is to see what is in front of me.
So, when she attacked Hermes, I had to get really clear about what I was seeing in front of me. I had to sort through all the fears, the sense of failings, the horror stories my mind was telling me. I had to get as clear as I could to see what was in front of me. For a long time I thought I saw the end of my ability to keep my pack safe. I also thought I saw a potential heartbreak or law suit from her attacking a child. I also thought I saw the slow decline of a dog into doggy madness. Mostly I thought I saw myself failing, afraid. But when I finally settled my mind down I saw this: just Lollie being Lollie. Her “attack” was predictable, not unfounded (if you know dogs and how this particular dog’s mind works) and not intended to be so aggressive. No dog targets another dog’s tongue – that she got his was clearly an accident. And I also saw this: Hermes got over it as soon as the pain receded. Within a day he was eating normally and within two days I saw him happy to finally get to play with her again. Five days after the incident I saw all of my four dogs laying side by side in the sun on the deck. I saw Lollie finally relaxing as I finally relaxed.
Here is my biggest realization – Lollie is a mirror for me. Not always, that’s where good training comes in, but most of her incidents of “aggression” were a way for her to embody the stress of what I was carrying inside me. A lot of you won’t understand this. But those of you who’ve lived with an aggressive dog that you’ve worked hard with may. When I was stressed, she would pick up on it and become more agitated. When I was afraid, her eyes would dilate to nearly black as she also felt fear. When I was frustrated at home, she would turn on one of the other dogs lying innocently in her path. The aggression I was putting out into the world, she was showing up with. And it wasn’t just the aggression I was putting out, it was my perceptions of the world, how it works for me (or against me as was my usual story line) that was coming back to me in her behavior. It wasn’t until I consulted a spiritual adviser, Mary Muncil that I really understood this. She helped me hold a deeply grounded place while I searched for my answers. It soon became clear that this issue had more to do with me and my dissatisfactions, my left over issues from childhood, my fears and worries that I don’t get to be happy or have an easy life, than they do with Lollie. Lollie was simply being Lollie, my very predictable very present Buddha.
As I got clear with this she settled immediately. She seemed happier and more at ease. She was careful and non reactive around the other dogs. I started taking her out to run more and she liked it. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is no way I think that she is “cured” – she will likely do this again, be reactive with an overly stern level of correction to what she thinks is a slight to her, a disrespect, or a play for a possession she thinks is hers. But it won’t shake me to the core like it did this time. This time things are more clear inside me. Sure I still have an enormous amount of work to do. I am clearly in the middle of this thing with myself – still needing to listen, observe and be brave. But I am no longer afraid. I’m not afraid of her or of my truth. I know I can handle whatever comes my way. The fear was the hardest part for me, because it left me feeling so young, so cut off from myself, so helpless. Now that the fear is gone I have access to all my training, my skills, my intelligence and my instincts. As long as I can keep myself clear, I believe things will be much better. And I also bought a great book (Brenda Aloff’s “Aggression in Dogs”) on working with aggressive dogs, just to make sure my skills were up to snuff!
So, again, as always Lollie has pointed me in a direction that has been about spiritual growth and healing. For that, for her role in my journey, I will be eternally grateful to her.