I am a perfectionist. This is a valuable trait when it comes to proofreading reports at work or cleaning the bathroom, but it also means that one of my challenges is to learn to let things go and not care so much what other people think. I really don’t like for people to see me fail, or to be perceived as weak or inadequate in any way (even though I absolutely AM those things, at least sometimes and in some areas). However life has a funny way of throwing curveballs at us, probably just to see if we can adapt and move forward or if we’ll find ourselves stuck in our bad habits (damn you for that, Life).
For me, those giant curveballs recently came in two furry forms: my dogs.
I have two delightful beagles whom I love to pieces. They are fantastic in the house; they play together, they share food and water and toys, and their destruction level is minimal (we have learned to keep the shoes and slippers safely stowed away in closets, a small concession I think). They are the world’s greatest cuddlers and their big brown soulful eyes melt hearts wherever we go. One of them we got as a puppy, from a purebred breeder; the other we adopted last winter from the local humane society.
We first brought home that adorable little beagle puppy, named him Copper (from the Fox and the Hound of course!) and wasn’t I your typical helicopter-parent. I laugh at myself in retrospect… out there buying all the puppy books and DVR-ing every Dog Whisperer show I could find. I made up a little chart of the dog’s schedule so my husband (poor, tolerant man) would know exactly what to do in my absence and I lectured him incessantly about the proper ways to do pretty much everything with the dog. I signed him up for Puppy Kindergarten (the dog, not my husband) and Beginner Obedience at exactly the prescribed ages and we never missed a class (and yes, I put his doggy certificates on the fridge). I was determined to raise not just a good dog, but naturally – a perfect dog. I believed that if I followed a precise formula and did specific things at specific times, if I was in fact the perfect dog owner, then voila! I would have the perfect dog.
Well, that little puppy was quite the little bundle of excitement, and when he was about one year old, we decided that perhaps getting a playmate would be a good outlet for his considerable puppy energy. I was determined to rescue a dog from the pound, knowing how many animals there are out there who need good homes.
So off we went to the humane society and after going through all the required steps (naturally), we brought home a second beagle. This one was three years old, and had some housetraining issues. Well, I’d dealt with housetraining quite successfully before so I figured a month or two of consistent training and rewards and we would have the perfect two little beagles.
Indeed, the housetraining took a bit longer than I expected but it has come along quite nicely. And as I mentioned, the two dogs are fantastic together. But pretty soon we encountered a problem that, not only did I never ever expect, but one which we have been virtually unable to fix.
Finnigan, our older dog, is extremely leash reactive. Don’t know what that means? I didn’t either, but boy did I learn.
Basically, even though he is fine with most dogs when off leash, when we are walking and encounter another dog walking innocently with his owner… Finnigan loses his beagle marbles. Jumping, spinning, barking, snarling… it is not pretty and is more than a little stressful. Many many times I came home flustered and crying because I just couldn’t understand why he reacts this way and once it starts I am powerless to stop it. And to top it off, our younger beagle has started following suit.
Needless to say, as a perfect dog owner this has been difficult to accept. I searched endlessly for solutions, I visited a behavioural specialist, I have watched every YouTube video out there. Not much seems to work, except keeping a keen eye peeled for oncoming dogs and plotting our timing and our routes in order to best avoid all known neighbourhood nemeses.
It turns out, I’m not the perfect dog owner and I don’t have perfect dogs. Sometimes things happen in life and we just have to cope with them. Am I frustrated and embarrassed when these spectacles occur in front of our neighbours? Yes, but I just have to accept it. Do I still search for solutions and do we try new techniques? Yes, but when they are not successful I just have to accept it. Do I wish I had dogs that I could happily walk through the neighbourhood? Yes, but I don’t and I just have to accept it.
Learning not to get upset when the dogs act out, just to get out of the situation and move on, has been very difficult for me. Some days are better than others and I do occasionally still come home crying. But I know that working on this part of myself can only be good for me in the long run. No one but me expects me to be perfect, and it is pointless to ruin my day over something I can’t control and which really, isn’t a huge deal in the grander scheme of things.
Acceptance is definitely still a work in progress, but it feels a whole lot better than stress and frustration and it means I get to just enjoy my beagles that much more, doggy quirks and all.