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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2011 36 the caregivers kind enough to label her “shy,” rather than “a killer weasel.” She air-snapped the other dogs and yowled and screamed on walks. She also got herself blacklisted at my local big-box pet store. Considering the amount of money I was spending there, that’s like getting thrown out of Macy’s for sobbing over the mer- chandise. Then she bit me, leaving an inflamed circle of tiny tooth marks and a black and blue stain on my arm. It wasn’t personal. My arm got in the way of her crazed charge at the car window when a German shepherd jumped in her face. As one by one the best dog trainers in town gave up on us, I desperately tried to develop a plan to save Ani’s vocation. under hospital conditions, she would most likely bark at a wheelchair or oxygen tank—not to mention someone using a walker, or a man- nerly therapy dog. Clearly, training her was a job for Kwan yin. THRee MonTHS InTo ouR TIMe ToGeTHeR, Ani has learned the meaning of “go to place,” but I don’t order her onto the meditation mat beside my cushion. When she follows me into the meditation room, I put a treat on the floor in front of her. It’s the same principle Jewish mothers use when they offer children a spoonful of honey with the Torah. I sit on my cushion and ring the bell. When she comes anywhere near me, I place a treat on the floor. Within two days—to my surprise—she is seeking her meditation space, flopping down and lolling with soft eyes. My high-strung dog needs relaxation to keep her below her panic threshold; she’s quickly at ease in the meditation room, but her practice develops slowly. Sometimes she lies quietly on the padded mat, sometimes she chews it, sometimes she potties on it. but she shows up. “Small dog, small brain, small bladder,” says the vet as she runs her hands over Ani’s supple muscles. I have just confided my puppy’s unwillingness to housetrain. “listen, you have to have different expectations for these little dogs. They are not on your border collie schedule.” About Ani’s barking, the vet offers a diagnosis: she is “highly reactive.” Also, she is short. Ani greets bigger dogs with a blitz- krieg of shrieking, which makes them retreat with their paws over their ears. In other words, the behavior works for her. now at one year of age, she is, at least, no longer aggressive, and she joyously bounds into “Pint-Sized Play” to romp with small dogs off-leash. no more snaps at people or canids, and, 95 percent of the time, she potties outside. What’s left? Mainly the soprano shrieks with which she meets other leashed dogs, bicy- clists, and, indeed, anything untoward. Therapy dogs must pass a Canine Good Citizen test, and they cannot pee on the floor 5 percent of the time. I go to a workshop for “aversive and reactive dogs.” The teacher encourages us to introduce our animals by complimenting them while stat- ing our goals for the class. “Ani,” I say, “is joyous and affectionate. And funny. I think she would do well as a therapy dog, if she could stop bark- ing at everything that moves.” The teacher is a specialist in Tellington TTouch, a kind of doggie massage that aims to calm the animal’s nervous system. Two hours into it, ca- nines are snoring left and right. The humans are pretty calm, too. Rubbing finger circles on your pet is a powerful meditation. The teacher is also an “animal communicator,” or what might be called a “pet psychic.” At the end of the workshop she “reads” each dog. “Please ask Ani whether she wants to be a therapy dog,” I say. It’s dawning on me that I need to let go of my big ideas. our teacher immediately replies, “The flash I get from Ani is of nausea and dread. The phrase going out into the world.” “So, she’s agoraphobic?” “Something like that.” My own little emily dickinson. “If you’re patient with her, she could handle a small number of people,” the teacher says. “but you’ll have to take it very slowly. With her, it’s like trying to train a butterfly.” Maybe it’s like a butterfly trying to train a butterfly, I think, for in sharing time with Ani on the cushion and mat, I’ve realized how we mirror each other’s feelings and how slowly we both go “out into the world.” I have a boundless capacity to screw up and fly off center. I take in too much information and have to train methodically on a few basics. emily dickinson is my favorite poet. When I had to write down her breed at the puppy socialization class, I carefully inscribed “hellecat.” “Hmm,” said the trainer. “That’s a new one for me.”