Returning clients needed a touch-up on their 5-ish lab mix. Stanley.
I skimmed the email and I thought, oh, it’s just a training problem! I’ll be there 5 minutes then I’ll give them a referral.
Now, this is an ego problem. My ego was “helping” me see I wasn’t really qualified and rather than embarrass myself by doing a bunch of voodoo and failing, I should assume the problem was pack leadership. I could give them the name of a trainer, then I could get out.
In the clairvoyant realms we call the ego the Analyzer, for those of you that enjoy career-specific terminology. But for practical purposes we’ll just stick with ego, shall we? The ego can solve your problem in 5 minutes, just watch! The ego has seen it all, heard it all and if you’ll just go with it–for God’s sake, are you even listening–? Focus! The ego will do all the pedaling! All you have to do is balance on the handle bars!
It’s a really rickety way to work and it only gets you to Point B about half the time.
Now, I’m not a dog trainer as we will soon discover. With that in mind, this was the deal: Stanley greets the family guests with a round of manic barking, garnished with a bit of jumping. Then he dashes to the sofa, jumps on board and sits waiting for the hapless guest to attend to him. If the guest doesn’t comply? More barking, while everybody waits expectantly for the guest to kiss the ring. Yep. He barks at the couple that he lives with, too. Just barks and barks.
My ego provided a diagnosis. Damn dog, she concluded. She showed me an obnoxious, entitled, control-freak, slightly stupid pet. Sure, there could be an initial cause, but really he was barking because he needed to be trained.
I don’t know, I thought. I furrowed my brow. I remember a nice enough dog. Interesting, even.
The ego ignored me. Hair disheveled, pencil behind the ear and furiously poring over a list of the usual causal factors, I watched the ego deconstruct the barking.
Ugh, that list. It’s got about 4 factors on it: not enough exercise, someone needs a doctor, food stinks, blahblah neighbor cat. It’s not an interesting list; I feel kind of snoozy thinking about it.
The ego was satisfied. She tapped impatiently at her list. Yep, it’s gonna be one of these things, then training. The dog needs training. We’re not trainers, the ego insisted. WE WON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. Five minutes, the ego said, tossing her hair. She stalked off.
I wavered, then I told myself: I trust the pet to tell me the truth.
The client? She wouldn’t have contacted me if I couldn’t help.
So what happened? We ran a little over our five minutes; I was there an hour and a half.
I walked in and Stanley did his thing. He jumped, he retreated, he hopped onto the couch. He barked, insistently.
I said oh, you gotta be kidding. I stared at him. No way am I going to pet a dog that yells at me. That is not cool. His mouth clapped shut. There was a pause. Then, he got off the couch. He came to me. He sat. He waited.
Well! I stood there, then the client invited me to sit down and read. It was about halfway through the reading that I looked clairvoyantly at the dog, all expectant and barking on the sofa, I saw the look on his face and I understood about neutrality and the ego.
The dog wasn’t a control freak, nor was he stupid. What he was doing, was trying to make them laugh. The look on his face, bless him, was joyful and open and silly; he was trying to lighten everybody up, in a household that could benefit from that! It was misguided, for sure, but it was honest and sweet and he was giving it all he had. He barked at his people for other reasons, but his controlling behavior was really meant to be therapeutic.
I talked to the client about the need to control the guest thing. Put the dog in another room, don’t let him out until he stops yelling. Tell him what you’re doing. Look, I told her, this dog is so smart, you can make up another, more pleasant job and get him going in a different direction.
Intelligent dogs, and working breeds–if you don’t give them something to do, they’ll often make something up. More often than not, you won’t like it.
Much of the rest of the reading focused on one of the humans, who needed to make better sense of her self and her role in the family. As usual, it wasn’t really about the dog, but without neutrality, I wouldn’t have seen it.