Today, Jun was discharged from Dr. Duxbury's care back to our regular vet. Dr. D is quite pleased with her progress, and to be honest, so am I. While the progress was excruciatingly slow and there is still work to be done, looking back at where we were when we started this behavior modification journey two years ago, it is clear how far we both have come.
Take as an example, her behavior at her first exam compared with today's. Two years ago I brought a very unhappy and perpetually stressed dog for her first appointment with Dr. Reichl. Though she was terribly afraid of Dr. R she pulled at her leash to go investigate and when Dr. R moved a finger, Jun snapped at her hand before running back to me, tail between her legs and ears low. She was hypervigilant and unfocused and fidgety.
Today, I brought a happy, calm dog with relaxed body language into Dr. D's office. She was mildly concerned about Dana, the assistant, but other than a brief stare, she felt no need to interact, kept her leash loose, and kept her attention on me. She offered looks at Dana for treats, comfortable with the rule structure of "new people" and trusting me to keep her safe. After a minute or two she laid on her mat, flopped on a hip with a loose body and soft eyes and mouth. She kept her attention 100% focused on me, glancing at Dana obligingly when cued, for no other reason than it would earn her a treat. When Dr. D came into the room, Jun looked, as cued, and stared a moment. After a couple of stares to satisfy her that there was no danger she went right back to relaxing. When she got bored she picked up her mat and offered it to me to play tug with. She was relaxed, happy, and playful, even in the presence of two strangers. Yep, we've come a long way.
Dr. Duxbury asked what I believed made the biggest difference in her transformation. The medication has clearly helped. Trazodone takes the edge off of her general anxiety. Clomipramine, while not eliminating her fear, has allowed her to learn ways to cope with it, such as the "look at that" game. But the thing that made the biggest difference, without a doubt, was my adjustment of my expectations.
I have high expectations. Of myself. Of others. Of my dogs. Of who they will be and what they will become and accomplish. Yet slowly, each in their own way, they have taught me that they are who they are and not necessarily who I want them to be or who I think they should be. And the more I fight to mold them to my ideals the more damage I do not only to them but to our relationship. Jun was to be my dog sport rockstar. We were supposed to travel the country competing in disc. She was supposed to get obedience titles. She was supposed to be friendly and outgoing and confident. She had been all of these things so WHY could she not just snap out of it? WHY could she not respond to classic behavior mod protocols? WHY was she so difficult?!
But wait.......I am asking the wrong questions. WHY can I not accept what my dog is trying to tell me? That she is afraid. That she doesn't want to be touched or interact with people. That while she may like going places and doing things she finds it all very overwhelming and stressful. That in fact, really, she would just like to stay home, thankyouverymuch. And I don't know where the shift happened or why or how. But somewhere along the line I changed ME. And when that happened my dog began to blossom.
Now rather than demanding change, I simply create opportunities for it. Rather than expecting progress, I am grateful for it. Rather than wishing my dog was something else, I embrace all the good that she is. And rather than fearing the loss of what I hoped she would be, I realize I have lost nothing. In fact, I have gained----a deeper and more trusting and more real connection than was possible when I imposed my expectations on her instead of accepting and appreciating who she is. And in the end, that's really all that matters.