Walking The Dog, Walking The Dog

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So my Mom is visiting for the holidays – yay! – and she brought her adorable dog Koshi!  Yay!
Koshi and Shasta are going tooth and claw at each other!  Boo!
So we hauled them off to our dog trainer – we have a dog trainer – for an emergency negotiations, and within half an hour she had them sorted out.  Koshi and Shasta are by no means buddies now, and we do have to watch them closely, but we’ve learned the signs of impending aggression and know how to cut them off.  They’re dogs, so a brief “HEY!” at the right moment can completely knock them off track.
The most revealing aspect of it, however, was when the dog trainer was talking to my Mom about how to work with her dog.
“We’ll work on this,” my Mom said.
“No,” said the dog trainer sternly.  “You will work on this.”
Which is the weirdly fascinating thing about dog training.  The dog has tendencies, but mostly?  The dog is a product of their environment.  Give the dog a situation where the dog feels no one is in charge, and the dog starts to break down.  The dog has to take over, and the dog is simply not equipped to deal with modern life.  The dog does not understand the context of a car, or know what this mailman is, or comprehend how the food gets here.  So the dog makes doggish decisions, freaking out from the stress, and becomes a neurotic doggie mess.
And those decisions have to be made from the dog’s perspective.  From my Mom’s perspective, whisking Koshi off when she starts barking at another dog is mere courtesy; who wants a yappy dog in their presence?  But from Koshi’s perspective, she just started screaming her head off THERE’S A THREAT, THERE’S A THREAT, and the pack leader just picked her up and ran off, and my God, what a horrible place this must be, we’re always retreating from life-threatening dangers, I must be alert.
But if you make the right decisions for the dog, the dog is fine.
Which is a little discomfiting, really.  Is a dog nothing more than an organic program?  Put in good input, the dog behaves appropriately; put in bad input, the dog goes berserk?  And the answer, to a distressing amount, is “yes.”  There are factors of temperament, of course, and some dogs have been irreparably damaged, but in general Shasta has behaved vastly differently depending on how we treat her.
And if Shasha can be so altered, what about us?
I know Gini used to be a different woman.  She used to go skiing every other weekend.  She used to quilt a lot, nearly an obsession.  She never used to watch TV.  And now, she doesn’t ski, she doesn’t quilt, and ZOMG SLEEPY HOLLOW IS ON.
I have altered her with my presence.  She is, in many ways, an entirely different wife than she was to John, simply because I reward different things.  And I too am different; this house is far cleaner than it would be without her, and I go to many more parties because she is the social one.
Gini and I are not merely a married couple; we are a shaped unit.  We would be, to a very real extent, totally different people in the hands of other spouses.  One of the reasons we adore our marriage is not just that we make each other happy, but we make each other into people that we like better.  I’m wiser, more compassionate, and more resilient in the presence of Gini than I ever was dating other people.  There are many wonderful people who, if I dated them, would make me more neurotic and panicky.
What we surround ourselves with is who we are.  And to think, “Gee, I’m not much different than a dog” is a scary thought, as it brings up all those tangles of free will and our core personalities and humans are more than animals and whatnot.  But it’s true.  You surround a dog with firm leadership, the sense that the right things are handled for the dog, and it thrives.  Give it a place where, for whatever reason, it feels out of control, and the dog spins apart.
I don’t like to think that I’m a blend of external forces.  I like to think there’s a core of immutable me-ness, a fortress of unalienable personality that is never touched by other humans.  And that exists, to be sure; I’m always going to be a little neurotic, I’m always going to be stubborn, I’m always going to be thoughtful.
But that core is much smaller and more malleable than any of us want to admit.  We, too, are input machines, functioning according to what the world hands us.  And we don’t want to admit that maybe, if we were placed in someone else’s situation for a decade or too, we might become very much like people we despise.
I don’t know who I’d be if I’d grown up poor, or molested, or black, or gay.  I most likely wouldn’t be talking to you now through blogs, and I’d certainly be saying different things.
I’ve been trained to be who I am.  I’m glad I like that.  I’m glad I got that luck, because we certainly don’t choose our environment.
Which isn’t a bad thought to have as the holidays arrive.

1 Comment

  1. Rachel
    Dec 23, 2013

    Realizing that seems like a good way to remember to be compassionate or at least sympathetic to everyone.

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