Monday, April 7, 2014
Frustration: The Root of All Evil
I've been having issues with my dogs. Defensiveness with strangers (i.e., pack behavior). Some escapes, some aggression, some fights. One of my dogs, little Sasha, has been to the vet a few times already for stitches.
That's not good.
So I called a couple of trainer friends for help. What am I doing wrong? What could I do better? Most importantly, what's the source of the tension, and what can I do about it? Can I do anything about it?
After an hour observing the dogs here at home, they told me: it's frustration.
Yes, said they. The three puppies (fifteen months old now) were born here, right? They never left?
Right, said I.
That's the problem, they said. When dogs aren't exposed to new things on a regular basis, especially early in life, they never learn to deal with change.
Change being, well, anything new. A new noise. A new person. A new dog behind the neighbor's fence (the current catalyst). Instead of adaptation, change produces major freak-out.
Several years ago, I was hired by a hotel company and sent for a two-month training to one of their resorts in Dominican Republic. Another new employee, a girl from Curaçao, was there at the same time. She had never lived outside of Curaçao, and was horribly homesick. (I say "girl", but she was perhaps 28.)
She spent two hours on the phone every night with her mother. She never smiled. She lost weight.
This was one of those all-inclusive places that serve everything--Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Greek. All-American burgers and hotdogs. A variety of fruit beyond belief. An omelette bar. A salad bar. A Brazilian evening with cuts of buttery beef. A seafood evening with more giant shrimp than I could eat (that's saying a lot).
But my new colleague wouldn't eat any of it. She'd never had it before, wasn't interested in trying it. "Why should I? In Curaçao we're fortunate; we don't have to leave our country to make a living."
And yet there she was, stuck in an alien place for seven weeks. (And I mean, really, how "alien" can a Caribbean island be from another Caribbean island?)
By Week Three she'd had arguments with every one of the employees who were supposed to be training us. Instead of spending weekends at the beach, she locked herself in her room and talked 24/7 with her mom.
Frustration. Major freak-out.
Hers is an extreme case, but aren't we all guilty of this, in smaller or greater measure? Of pretending our lives will continue the same way they always have, of rejecting new things (people, food, ideas) because they're different from what we're used to?
We find comfort in routine, but--at least in this--there may be such a thing as too much of a good thing.
On the trainers' suggestion, I'm now taking one dog out every day to do something new. Walk downtown. Explore a new beach. Get lost in the Kabouterbos (literally: gnome forest) that's about a mile from the house. Expose the dogs to something new every day so that change will stop freaking them out. After a full week, I'm already seeing results.
And not just in the dogs.