Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Just the other day, one of my closest friends said to me, "Yeah, I like your dog, but he can be a little pushy, a little loud, and a little obnoxious. Come to think of it, he's kind of like you!"

Not even a week later, as I was demonstrating the Beast's uber-excitable behaviour whenever someone comes to the door, another friend burst out laughing and said, "Ha! Who does that remind you of?" He was, of course, insinuating that the Beast's behaviour reminds him of my own.

So I've been thinking about this for the last couple of days now. There is, after all, a popular concept in the doggie world that says that your dog has a tendency to mirror your own behaviour. Is the Beast just the canine version of me? Do I have to change my own bad habits so that he can become a polite young man instead of a frenetic nut bar? And more importantly, am I a frenetic nut bar?

To get to the bottom of this, I should start by describing the Beast. He derives many of his behaviours from his genetic profile. Indeed, he reflects both the best and the worst of two highly-intelligent, hard-working, and high-strung herding breeds (the Australian Shepherd and the Border Collie, for those of you who may have forgotten even though I probably mention his breed in every single post...)

Let's start with the good qualities. He is extremely intelligent and has a very strong work-ethic, making him a very willing pupil, very eager to please, and quick as a whip. Find the right motivator (like a tiny piece of kibble), spend a few minutes a day with him, and he'll be rolling over and giving you high fives within no time at all. He's also fiercely loyal to his pack, never straying far away when he's off leash and making sure that no harm comes if one of us is, say, running down a dark street at 6:00 in the morning and someone unexpectedly comes out of a parking lot, catching us off guard (that poor man might have suffered a minor heart attack, but the upside is that anyone stupid enough to mess with me wouldn't get away with much).

But there are also not-so-good qualities that come with these breeds. First of all, as a dog bred to work, even when humans are not around to supervise, the Beast instinctually likes to take control and make his own decisions, meaning that he likes to challenge authority on a constant basis. And when his herding drive kicks in at the dog park, he tries to control every dog by barking and running circles around them, driving everyone - canine and human - more than a little bonkers. And because he is such a hard worker, he focuses so intensely on this task that it is almost as though he is in a trance. No command that I utter has any effect at such a time. And then there is the incessant barking whenever someone comes to the door, which increases in crescendo as his excitement mounts to the point where he just cannot stop himself from jumping all over said innocent newcomer.

In other words, he is an extremely excitable, overly vocal, control-freak who likes to be the centre of attention at all times.

As for me, well, let's just do a little side-by-side comparison, shall we?

Extremely excitable
It does not take much to get the Beast excited. Simply picking up his food dish sends him into fits of Tasmanian devil-like pirouettes. Coming through the front door propels him to jump and maul hubby and I. Opening the car door for him to hop in leads to excited yelps and major bum-shaking. And his entire body is a lightning bolt of tension before we let him off-leash at the dog park because is just so ready to go.

Now we have worked very hard on calming him down over the last seven months, and we have had major success at teaching him how to relax before we let him get what he wants. But he can flip the excitement switch on like that with a nanosecond's notice, and his entire body will convulse, his tailless bum will wag, his face will break out in a silly grin, and he will pant and bark and whine uncontrollably. He really can't always help himself.

And neither can I. Good news makes me positively giddy. Great news makes me lose complete control of all of my cognitive and bodily functions. I essentially break out in the human version of bum wagging, panting and uncontrollable barking. Like the time that my husband called me at work to tell me that he had secured tickets to our first Grey Cup game, and I jumped out of my office chair, simultaneously crying and screaming, while a colleague looked on in horror convinced that I'd just found out that a loved one was struck by a car. Or the time that I met my favourite quarterback of all time and probably scared the hell out of him as I stood in the middle of the bar, heart racing, waving my hands in front of my face (I really did try to stop them but I couldn't) and shouting, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!!! It's you!!!! It's really, really, really, really, really you!!!! I'm your biggest.... Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God..." Or when I stood in line for hours to buy tickets to my first Springsteen concert and exclaimed to the ticket agent when I got one of the last pairs of seats available, "Holy shit!!!! I am so happy that I could kiss you right now!" while jumping up and down in the same spot.

So yes, we are both slightly excitable...

Overly vocal
I've said it before. The Beast barks. A lot. High-pitched, sharp, and incessant. When he has something to say, the whole world knows about it. Or at least my neighbours do...

But it's not just the barking. When he wants anything, he will find a sound to make to get our attention. Sometimes he whines. Sometimes he yips. Sometimes he makes sounds that can only be described as wookie-like. And he'll keep going and going and going until he tires himself out (because we refuse to give in and reward such bad behaviour). And since he is so persistent, that can go on for a while.

As for me, well, I've been a chatter-box my whole life. I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk. (Ever notice how long some of these blog posts are?) Loudly, at times. I always have a story to tell, or an opinion to express, or a sentiment to share. When I feel something, you will know. So will everyone else within at least a block's radius.

And when I want something, well, I hate to admit it, but I will nag. "Honey, can we get a dog?" "Honey, when are we going to get a car?" "Honey, how many times do I have to tell you to pay more attention when you wash the dishes?" And so on, and so on, and so on. I'm sure that my husband is too much of a gentleman to admit it, but my constant vocalization of every little thing I feel and thought that I have must be as annoying to him as the Beast's best Chewbacca impersonation.

So we are both a wee bit expressive...

According to that great bastion of knowledge, Wikipedia, a control-freak is someone who attempts to dictate how everything around them is done. That sounds like the Beast to me.

Now in fairness, he was bred to move large herds of livestock, so he needs to be confidant in his ability to control a situation. The trouble is that he doesn't actually herd sheep for a living, so there is no need for him to be such a pushy and persistent control freak. Still, he likes to be in control. In the dog park, he likes to tell all the other dogs what to do, which includes barking at them when they don't follow his precise instructions. And at home, he ignores hubby and I when he doesn't feel like doing what we ask him to do, sometimes requiring a correction or twelve to remind him who is the boss.

And, well, I don't herd sheep for a living either but I do have control-freak tendencies. Thankfully for my staff, not so much at the office, where I seem to have no trouble delegating. But at home, I can be a drill sergeant. I don't mean to be, but I like things to be done the "right" way (as in the way that I would do them). Which is why, since the day I saw hubby throw the pasta noodles in unboiled water and put it all on the stove at the same time - without even salting the water!!!! - I gasped and kicked him out of the kitchen, and have refused his generous offers to help me cook dinner every day since. It's also why he is not allowed to help me paint rooms in our house. Because, well, it doesn't look as nice as when I do it. I like things done a certain way. My way. And only my way.

So the Beast and I have that in common too...

Likes to be the centre of attention at all times
When the Beast comes into the dog park, or meets another dog while we are hiking through the Arboretum, he makes his presence known. With wild abandon, he will bound right into the centre of pack of dogs, leaping in the air like a ballet dancer, and practically screaming, "I'm h-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-r-r-r-r-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e!!!! Look at me! Look at me! Look at m-m-m-m-m-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e!!!!!" (Then he'll try to take control of the situation by barking and telling every dog what to do. See above...)

And as eager as he is to please others, he loves to be recognized for a job well done. Once he figures out a new command or a new rule, he is so proud of himself. He just sits right down in front of you, puffs his chest out, and looks up at you with his great big brown eyes as if to say, "I'm so good, aren't I, Mom? Don't you think I deserve an ear-scratch for that? Maybe a big juicy steak?" He likes to get his gold stars, that is for sure...

As for me, well, I am usually one of the loudest people at a party. I like to tell jokes. I like to make people laugh. I like to be noticed. It's why I wore a weird asymmetrical haircut for three years, and why I have such a vast and colourful shoe collection. But I especially like it when people tell me that I am good at something. When I sang on our wedding day, I literally shone with glee when people came up to me to tell me that they had no idea what a good singer I was. And I still have an e-mail from my boss thanking me for my role in a particularly difficult file hanging on my office bulletin board. I like people to pay attention to me, to know who I am, and to know that I am a good and capable person.

So yes, Beasty and I are incorrigible attention seekers as well...

The question, then, is: has my dog always been an extremely excitable, overly vocal control freak who likes to be the centre of attention, or did he just become this when he met me?

I think that I was likely unconsciously drawn to the Beast because he reminds me of myself. I also think that he has a hard time controlling some of his less-than-preferred behaviours in certain moments because I don't always set a stellar example. Either way, we are two different species, but we are also two peas in a pod.

The real question then is: how on earth does my husband stand living with two of me?

You'll have to ask him that question the next time you see him.