Sunday, August 14, 2011

Taming the screaming banshee

I'm not very superstitious, but I do think that there is something to the whole theory behind the full moon and the impact that it has on human behaviour. Certainly, some of my most memorable "bad days" have fallen on a full moon.

I've not read up on whether or not there is a marked impact on dog behaviour, but were I to judge from the way that the Beast acts during the few days surrounding the full moon, I'd say YES. DEFINITELY.

To be fair, the Beast has been with us for only two complete lunar cycles. So maybe I am jumping to conclusions. But he certainly appears to be more ornery when the moon is full. He is far more defiant. Openly so. He does things that he absolutely knows without a doubt that he is not allowed to do. Like bringing the garbage bag and its contents to his bed and shredding it all. Or jumping up onto counters to get at dishes that he can lick clean. Or jumping on us when we are sitting on the couch reading. Behaviours that he have otherwise successfully trained out of him.

Perhaps the full moon just brings out his basest, most primal alpha instincts. Perhaps he is part werewolf. Who knows...

What I do know is that his defiant attitude, whether it is caused by the full moon or not, is forcing me to come to terms with some of my own worse faults: my impatience, my temper, and my tendency to over-emote.

I come by all three of these traits very honestly, having inherited each and every one of them from my father. Great man that he is, his fuse is extremely short. And when it goes, you will know it. This isn't a blog about any dysfunctional family adventures that I may have had throughout my life, but the point is that I grew up with the understanding - whether right or wrong - that it is natural to get frustrated when things don't go your way, and that such frustrations should always be vocalized as loudly as possible.

Although I've worked very hard over the years at curbing these instincts, today served as a reminder of how much more work I need to do.

The Beast has spent the last couple of days earning his nickname (full moon being just yesterday, and all). He's essentially decided that he will not obey one single rule that we have established for him. I'm prepared to cut him a little bit of slack because he's not feeling well and is still having to wear that silly-looking cone. But the one area where I refuse to compromise is with respect to mealtime. No matter the circumstances, whenever hubby and I eat, or whenever we are preparing his food, he must lay down nicely on his bed.

Teaching the Beast this rule was not easy. In fact, it took three straight days of hour-and-a-half long mealtimes (which also caused me to be late for work three days in a row). We would say "Bed!", make him lie down on his bed, go to the dinner table, and start eating. Seconds later, he'd get up and come beg at our feet. So we'd repeat "Bed!", walk him back, make him lie down, and come back to the table. He'd whine, whimper, bark, and inevitably get up again to come over to us. Over and over and over and over again, we'd repeat the command and make him go back to his bed and lie down. We refused to give up because it is important to us that the dog not be allowed to beg at our feet when we - or any guests that we might have over - are eating.

By the fourth day, Beasty was only getting up off his bed once or twice during a meal. Within two weeks, he had the rule down cold. These days, as soon as he sees me go to the kitchen and take a dish out of the cupboard, he immediately goes to his bed without me having to tell him. And he doesn't leave until he sees me get up to put dishes away in the dishwasher or until I tell him to "Break!"

With the exception of today. He just wouldn't stay on his bed while I was trying to eat. He was uber-excited about something, and kept getting up, running around the living room, and barking. Being ravenous, I just wanted to eat, and was getting seriously impatient. Each time he'd get up, I'd say "Bed!" a little more loudly, frustration dripping from my voice. Until finally, after about the 6th time, I stood up, pointed at his bed, and from somewhere buried deep inside the most ferocious corner of myself came this very loud and very unpleasant screech. "Beast! I said get to your bed RIGHT NOW!"

Here I am... A grown woman... Intelligent... Successful... Accomplished...

...And I'm standing in the middle of my living room, losing it because my dog won't sit down on his bed.

This, my friends, is what I like to call a WTF moment. As in "What the f&$k is the matter with you?!?" or "What the f&$k happened to being the calm and assertive pack leader?!?"

Here's the bottom line. I made a conscious decision to rescue a dog and give him a good life. That means a little more than giving him shelter, food, and a few toys to play with. It means giving him rules to live by so that he can be a good doggy citizen. It means teaching him what is good behaviour and what is bad behaviour in every circumstance. It means figuring out the best way to communicate with him in a clear and concise manner so that he understands what I expect from him. It means having to earn his trust and his respect. And it means understanding that he is not going to get it all within the two and a half months that he has been with me. I owe it to him to be consistent with all aspects of his training, to understand that he will have good days and bad days, and above all, to be patient with him.

In fact, I owe it to him to be a better role model.

And I can't do that when I'm running around my own house like a screaming banshee.

I know I quote him far too often, but Cesar says that you never get the dog that you want. You get the dog that you need. The Beast is proving that statement to be true every time a full moon rises across the sky (and a few days in between). As he did today, he reminds me that frustration, impatience and anger are never an appropriate way to resolve a problem. If he and I are going to have a long and happy life together, I am just simply going to have to learn to take a deep breath and park those default emotions when things don't go my way.

One full moon at a time, the Beast is bound to make me a better person.