I was recently talking with a dear friend of mine during one of my many dog walks, and she reminded me that I don’t often share the story of our dog Sam and the lessons I have learned on my journey as a dog owner. We adopted him from a local rescue two years ago. My daughter fell in love with him when we visited and he immediately curled up in our laps.
We jumped through the hoops, filled out the applications, went through the personal interview, then there was the home visit and we even read the required book. After much discussion and deliberation, we decided to adopt Sam.
Sam was and is still anxious. He had already been through the protocol for heart worms but it was not effective and he was still heartworm positive. Both vets and other people recommended that we not adopt him, but we decided to anyways.
We knew early on that clicker training was not an option for our dog. Sam has both a startle and trauma response, which I am very familiar with having seen it so many times when I worked at the hospital. He barked like crazy at every noise throughout the night and during the day when I started to work from home as an entrepreneur. Our walks were extremely stressful as he would randomly lunge to attacks dogs in the neighborhood. After 2 weeks of sleep deprivation and constant barking, I was ready to give him back. And as the weeks passed it got worse. I found myself on the verge of tears and actually yelled, which is not something that I often do. I felt terrible! But I kept going. I hired a trainer, and was disappointed to see that the situation wasn’t getting much better. But I also knew that, just like humans, dogs require time to adjust to new surroundings, especially a dog that was found wandering on a ranch in Arkansas for who-knows-how-long and doing what he needed to do to survive. And the thought of how upset my daughter would be if we returned him broke my heart. I went through a flurry of emotions and judged myself harshly.
I had to take a step back. I imagined myself giving Sam back and how that would feel, the disappointment and sadness, but I also focused on giving myself compassion and love with making a decision that would be best for my emotional, physical and spiritual health. Then, I visualized being more kind to myself. I let go. I stopped judging and I became more detached. This seemed to make a shift for Sam and with me as well. All of a sudden, working with a trainer started to make a difference. This was a journey – a journey of making hard decisions, of learning not to judge and criticize so harshly and give myself the love, compassion and respect that I give to others.
Almost 2 years later, Sam is still anxious, and despite the training he still barks whenever someone knocks on the door. But he is a also a wonderful companion. He and I share gorgeous sunrises, make fresh tracks in the snow in the early mornings, and take walks under the full moon…and he and my husband are pretty cute cuddling on the couch. He is the most patient being when it comes to children and he truly just wants to be loved. In the end, he ended up not only being a wonderful birthday present for our daughter but an amazing gift for me.
Three simple lessons for when you’re forced to make a hard decision
1. Step back and treat yourself with compassion and kindness. Pretend you are giving your best friend advice.
2. Let go of judgement and stop giving your inner critical voice power. It’s still going to be there but there is no need to attach and get involved into a discussion with it.
3. Ask for help. Although we don’t always need to over talk the situation, you may need help or a sounding board. The opportunity to brainstorm and process with someone that you feel safe with and that you trust is priceless. Allocate a specific amount of time so that you don’t repeat yourself and talk for hours and hours, which will waste your energy and possibly cause more confusion.
Also, Sam turns four this month and we are thrilled to anounce he is heartworm free!