Is It Because I’m a Jerk?
Through the pandemic’s doldrums, we welcomed home our son, a handsome mini goldendoodle named Bodhi. And no word of a lie, I instantly regretted it. Yes, he’s sweet. He’s smart. He’s a jerk.
Truth be told, it’s my fault. I half-assed my responsibilities. My fantasy about dog stewardship didn’t match its reality. Out of the gate—stupid YouTube—I expected him to be an exemplary citizen: frisbee champion, ocean lifeguard, and protector of children and the elderly.
Instead, I got a dog who humped my pillow and chewed baseboards. Go figure. This is probably because the day before we ripped him away from his family, he had slept in a cozy pile with seven siblings. He was learning how to conduct himself as a dog, among dogs. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, there are no bad dogs, only bad owners.
Humans, Get it Together
Bodhi needed straight-forward dog simplicity, something that I was ill-equipped to give him at first. Dogs live in the eternal present, inhabiting a do/don’t do, go/no go world, nothing more. You can’t fake it with them, and Bodhi knew I wasn’t meeting him in the moment.
He became uncertain of his boundaries. Without clear lines defining acceptable behavior, Bodhi came to rule the house, only he didn’t want that role. To compensate, he picked up every neurotic dog behavior you can imagine—put ‘excessive’ before each one—tentativeness, guarding, and barking. He needed his humans to get their crap together, and fast.
Enter the Boss…Walk
Skipping over my poor dog parent phase, here’s one thing we learned: the boss walk. Boiled down, a boss walk is nothing other than a walk with structure. It has rules, and Bodhi’s humans, that’s us, must have a plan, keeping him, but mostly us, in check.
Because dogs respond positively to confidence—super obvious but not obvious—our actions must be assertive and sure-handed. To improve our confidence we know our exact route before we head out the door. Turns and crosswalks, once problematic, are much smoother now. It really works. Try it.
And for 45 minutes Bodhi and I hustle—eyes front; no distractions, aka squirrels—blazing down the middle of the sidewalk. For a reward, he gets to sniff around for a few minutes and do his thing. Then, we charge on home. It may sound severe, but he loves it and the trust between us grows everyday. He feels important and knows someone is in charge.
Check Your Head
Here’s what I learned, dogs pick up on our energy through the vibrations in the leash. They sense whether we are calm, anxious, or angry, and reflect it back to us. To keep us steady, the most important thing I can do is get my head right before we walk.
Ever since my puppy intervention, our man/dog relationship is definitely on the upswing, but it hasn’t all been perfect. Some walks are absolute disasters. When this happens, I invariably complain about how he’s regressing and that he needs more work. Ah humans, we love our stories. That’s when I catch myself. Bodhi is fine. It’s me who isn’t right, invariably caught in a swirling anxiety tornado of pointless crap. This is when his ‘bad behaviors’ pop back up, like barking at the elderly, direct fallout from him sensing my lack of presentness.
So we stop and give the human a timeout. Bodhi is incredibly patient. While I gather myself together, he seriously just sits beside me. He has nowhere to be, and, honestly, I don’t either. I only think what I need to do is important.
After I take a few breaths, we get going again. Even though my speed doesn’t slow down, the energy behind my steps is much smoother. My limbs loosen up. The tension drops from my face and neck. Then without fail, Bodhi tests me, nipping at my hand to see if I’m really serious.
Leave it. Off we go.