Bergie gets trained! (And I did, too)

photoWe had Bergie’s first training session last night!  It was great, and she was most delighted by the sudden proliferation of liver treats in our living room. The trainer, Nayiri, gave us language lessons to help us communicate with our sweet pup, tips for new behaviors to replace things that we don’t like, and detailed answers to our questions. Nayiri is fabulous, and I definitely recommend her if you’re looking for dog help.

Originally, I’d planned to enroll THIS DOG in group obedience classes, the way I did with THAT DOG back in the day.  I imagined Bergie socializing happily with Basset Hounds and Golden Retriever mixes.  But when I told this plan to the vet, he said, “Well,that’s one idea…But you might want to consider one-on-one training.”  Turns out he was right.

Like most rescues, Bergie has been through some stuff that has resulted in some issues.  And, more importantly, she has her own personality and individual reactions to things she likes and doesn’t like. Because she’s almost 90lbs, these reactions carry some weight, so to speak, and make it extra important for us to learn about her and help her know what to do when stressful things happen.

Fortunately, not much stresses her out. She’s a mellow girl. She loves people, sleep, and having her burly chest rubbed. (Looking through pictures to add to this post, I realized that 98% of them are of Bergie lying down. She is the most lying-down dog I’ve ever known.)

What she doesn’t like are other dogs. Thankfully, her reaction to her fellow canines is not a violent, “I want to eat you!” thing, but there’s a definite tone of, “I”m going to bark really loud until you realize YOU NEED TO GO AWAY.”  Which is awkward in a neighborhood where almost EVERY house has at least one dog. (Seriously, I’ve never lived in a place where there were so many dogs. Our streets looks like they could film a Cesar Milan video out there.)

The trainer’s advice surprised me: rather than teaching us how to socialize Bergie to desensitize her from this response, she suggested we focus on other things to help Bergie learn about her new life. Dog interaction? Not vital, at least not right now. We worked on techniques to change direction quickly, block her view of things that might set her off (she’s not terribly fond of cats or rabbits either), and get her to look at us right away when we say her name.   In a new neighborhood where we don’t know the dogs (and I’ve learned that the giant beast of a boxer might be gentle and sweet, while the little yorkie is vicious) this “lets avoid the stressors” approach seems so much more doable than trying to remain calm each time we see a dog, pretending I know things will go well when in fact I have no such certainty.

Which has me thinking…

Conflict avoidance gets a bad rap in our society. But it can be an effective strategy for leading a balanced life for people, too. Outside of financial or contract negotiations, I’ve rarely seen engaged conflict go well. Frankly, it takes way more trust than most relationships have. If really trust you, things rarely escalate to conflict, at least as I think of the term. We might disagree, or not understand each other, or be frustrated or hurt. But real trust keeps the level of agitation low. To put it in Bergie terms, trust means that I don’t want you to go away, I want to figure out how we can continue to occupy the same space happily.  But with conflict, honestly? I want you to go away.

You can’t fake trust. We try, all the time, especially in Christian circles where there is so much pressure to be nice and loving that we lose sight of how to be honest. Conflict is not resolved just because you have a long conversation, then smile and hug it out.  We don’t really know how conflict is resolved. I’m pretty sure it involves God, and His methods and timing rarely work the way ours do. The Bible talks about reconciliation like it’s both a gift and a miracle. We can desire it, and even pursue it. But only God can make it happen. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to handle relationships more honestly, particularly within my faith culture, and situations where I relied WAY to heavily on the power of nice and fake-cooperation when I should have crossed the street to get away. This post is a reminder to me that much of what I’m learning with Bergie might help me answer those questions.

Someday, I believe Bergie will happily play with Basset Hounds and Golden Retriever mixes. But it’s okay if today is not that day. In the meantime, there’s no shame in saying, “There are a lot of sidewalks here. Let’s walk on different ones.”