When Henry was a puppy, we took him to puppy kindergarten so he could learn some of the basics.
We had taken Theo a few years earlier. It hadn’t worked out so great for him, but we decided to give it another try. Theo is smart but stubborn. Henry is more easygoing. Perhaps being a bit dumber may mean Henry might be less easily distracted.
But as with Theo, Obedience School didn’t exactly work out for Henry. This suboptimal result made us realize that it wasn’t the fault of the dogs. Or the trainer. The fact is, I am the worst disciplinarian in the world.
The dog I had for seventeen years when I was a kid was a wonderful dog, but it wasn’t thanks to me. Sarge just happened to be a good boy. And my expectations were low. If my dog didn’t poop in the house or bite anyone, I was satisfied.
Theo and Henry don’t bite anyone, and Theo never poops in the house, and Henry, now 4 1/2, only poops in the house occasionally (I charitably believe that it’s because he hates to bother me).
They listen if I have a cookie in my hand.
But they counter-surf. They rudely talk back when I scold them. Their leash skills have come close to dislocating my shoulders. They bark at everything. (I want an app that mutes all doorbells on TV.)
But they love us.
That’s what I want in a dog.
With a tad more listening ability.
Which brings me back to puppy kindergarten.
Theo had attended two sessions of puppy kindergarten. It’s not like he flunked out the first time. He performed admirably – for the teacher. I was rather embarrassed to tell our nice and highly competent teacher (who became a good friend, by the way), that his behavior at home remained slightly lacking (which is a synonym for atrocious). So about a year later, we re-enrolled him in a different class, with a teacher who didn’t know him (or us).
Theo was his typical little psycho-self. Wonderful and terrible – about evenly divided. I remember the parting words that the teacher, Marty, gave us. She said, “Theo is extremely smart, but he’s almost never listening. When he’s engaged, he’s anticipating; not listening. He knows what you are going to ask next. He’s one step ahead of you.”
I guess that was a compliment of sorts. Theo was a genius. On the other hand, I was not.
When we decided to try to teach Henry something (anything), we went back to Marty.
It had been a few years, but she recognized us. Although she was happy to see that my husband and I had returned, I could see she was surprised too. I imagined her wondering what in the world we were doing with another dog, when the first had been so obviously beyond our ability.
Marty’s first class – her introduction and overview – was done without the dogs. She wanted to meet the parents, and outline the course without the distraction of unruly, untrained, adorable puppies.
There were many of us. All happy new parents. All overwhelmed by our little ignoramuses.
Marty divided the group into three classes for training – little dogs, bigger dogs, and crazies. Totally irrelevant to the story, but amusing, were the crazies. When Mary asked which dogs should be in the crazy group, a good third of the attendees voluntarily got up and joined the group. One guy wasn’t sure, so Marty asked him what breed of dog he had. He said, “Airedale.”
Marty laughed, “You’ve got an Airedale and you aren’t sure whether he’s crazy? Are YOU in for a treat!”
Back to my story.
And this has been a long way to get to one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received in my whole life.
Marty had her little schipperke with her. He did all kinds of cute tricks, showing us how fun it would be to have a well-trained dog. And in between his performances, he’d run back to his crate and jump in happily and lie down.
Eventually, Marty brought up crate-training. She pointed out that a crate was not a punishment. And treats can be given in the crate, so the crate becomes an enticing place for a dog. And dogs should feel that crates are their safe place. A sanctuary.
However, Marty said, dogs don’t have to spend the night in a crate. It’s okay if they do, but they don’t have to.
Marty explained, “Your dog can sleep with you. Think about this. Sleeping together is about the most bonding experience you can have. And you don’t even have to DO anything! It’s the easiest thing in the world. Why, you can sleep through the whole thing!”
And I had a revelation. Maybe a minor revelation – what some call an “aha” moment. But that idea – that you can bond without effort – made so much sense to me.
That’s all it is.
When I was a teenager, I loved my dad, but as happens with teenage angst, I didn’t exactly know how to relate to this hard-working quiet man. But I stumbled on a wonderful activity. On Sunday afternoons, Dad loved to watch a game on TV – basketball, football, baseball – whatever season it was. And I could sit with him and watch. We occasionally shared comments, mostly with me asking questions – “Why is that a penalty/foul/out?” But we didn’t even have to talk. We just watched together. So I got to be with Dad, and it was so easy.
Not everything has to be deep and soulful. Sometimes just BEING THERE is enough.
Visit loved ones. At home, in the hospital, in nursing homes. Just go. My sister used to go over to our parents’ house every day at 7:30 for “Wheel of Fortune.” When my father needed to be in a nursing home, she went there for “Wheel of Fortune.” And then it was my mother’s turn in the nursing home – “Wheel of Fortune.” They didn’t have to have meaningful conversations. They just guessed letters together.
Go to funerals and wakes. Some people worry that they won’t know what to say. Just say, “I’m so sorry.” Sit in the back if you want. But stay. Be there.
It can be easy to talk to good friends. But how about acquaintances? A co-worker going through a divorce? Go to the movies with her. Sit by her side. Watch a sad movie.
A wedding where you won’t know anyone? Go. Get all dressed up. Smile a lot. Thank the bride and groom for asking you to share their day.
A family party with relatives who argue? Bring a game. A deck of cards. Help with the cooking. Or better yet, clean up.
Sit on the porch with a neighbor. Give a kid a ride.
Yes, it’s incredible to have a profound connection with someone.
But don’t minimize the importance of your simple physical presence.
Your presence counts. Words can be secondary.
You can bond with the dog while you sleep. And you can bond with a human watching TV.
It doesn’t have to be complicated.
It’s effortless bonding.
Another terrific essay. No wonder you are one of my favorite authors!
But really Nancy, what is sleep with 2 dogs of that size in bed with 2 humans? How does that even work!
Luckily, they are hairy dogs and usually get too hot, and get down after a bit.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I sucked at trying to train our dogs although one dog we had “Dot Dot” was well trained how I don’t know
Loved this Nancy. Maya sleeps in the bedroom with me. I think the moment we really bonded was when she had a terrible nightmare and yelped in her sleep. We hadn’t had her very long, and I reached over and held her firmly but not tightly, talking to her all the time, telling her she was safe, and no-one would hurt her. Eventually I felt her relax and she lay down again. I kept my hand on her flank until I knew she was asleep. We’ve taken her to classes and she has responded well though we don’t go any more as the fields used are shared by alpacas and sheep, and sadly Maya seems to be allergic to them.
Very good advice! Ah…My mom was in a nursing home for 3 1/2 years….every night as I walked down the hall to visit her or on my way out, the tv’s were blasting Wheel of Fortune or the theme from Cops. By the way, I’m re-reading “Lucinda’s Solution”, and am enjoying it as much as the first time!
Thank you, Dianna. I’m glad you are enjoying the book! (and yes, Wheel of Fortune is must-see TV in the nursing home!
I like the idea of ” effortless bonding.” It fit right in with our sermon today which was about “Attachment Styles.” The lack of bonding between Caine & Able. Looks like your two dogs don’t have that trouble. Looks like they love each other as well as your family. We were sooo attached to our funny, lively, little 12 pound 13 year old Boston Terrier who died just before Christmas. Like your dogs, she would start her night under the covers with us, but the get too warm and crawl out to spend the rest of the night at the foot of the bed. We miss her!