I feel like I just looked up from my work and suddenly it’s fall. The mornings are cold, the leaves are changing… and I feel a sense of impending doom about the fact that it is almost October. Damn it, world, stop turning and let me catch my breath!
Last week’s depression, anxiety and frustration culminated in an epic meltdown followed by a sudden snap of “I am over it”-ness. Yesterday I decided that I just can’t care anymore about what so many other people think. I have to filter out the noise and focus on the voices I respect the most. I have to stop feeling guilty about my hobbies because they a) don’t take up that much of my time and, more importantly, b) keep the depression at bay. I was full of determination and revived spirit, ready to go out and tackle my workload and feel good about myself.
Of course, today is a new day and I have no idea what I was thinking last night, because today I am full of misery and woe and spent at least an hour reading about leaky pipelines, the two-body problem my husband and I will face, and leaving academia to find happiness. I came home wanting a stiff drink, which doesn’t make sense because I don’t drink, so I had a glass of water and some “Rescue Remedy” I just bought for Cerberus and now I’m going to write about our awesome Sunday and hopefully not cry (more).
Going out to Karen’s every Sunday (well, most Sundays – things come up) is my version of going to church. The drive out there is time for quiet thought and appreciation of the beautiful rural scenery. The roads to her farm are sheltered by trees that line each side of the road and brush the tips of their branches together far above my car as I cruise through. When the trees part, yellow fields stretch endlessly in every direction under the wide blue sky. It’s scenery made for wide-angle lenses and I pay my dues by pulling the road and using mine. The views make my heart soar.
Once we arrive, it’s time for physical labor. We move the wheeled cart up and down the barn aisle, we lift the enormous roll of carpet from its storage place and roll it along the concrete. We heave thirty-pound bags of sand and gravel from one place to the other, thousands of pounds in total. We get covered in dust and slobber and dog hair and we talk. We talk and laugh and cheer each other on. Then it’s time to pack up all the weight pull gear again – thousands of pounds of sandbags off the cart and back into their storage stall, carpet re-rolled and heaved back up onto the wall again, cart set back in its place and dogs stripped of their harnesses.
After weight pull, Karen and I usually work on Rally or some other “thinking” activity with our dogs. It’s been Rally lately, as Karen’s training her little Mollie for trial and I am… I don’t know. Training Cerb for trial, I guess, though the idea is so nerve-wracking that I have no definite plans yet. This week we mixed it up a bit, though.
Cerb’s been doing well with his mat work in Karen’s class, so this Sunday we decided to have him do some mat work in a new place. While Mike was pulling Chopper, I spread Cerb’s mat in a quiet spot in the barn (walled off from where Chopper was pulling) and we worked on being calm and relaxed. It was difficult. Cerb could hear Mike cheering Chopper on as he pulled and could see (and otherwise sense, I’m sure) people moving around on the other side of the aisle door. He could occasionally see Karen moving around in the barn aisle, which was extremely exciting for him, so we played the Look At That game. Once Chopper was finished and back in his crate, we opened the door and played more Look At That, moving closer and closer to the other trainers (Karen, Mike, and our new friend Linda) until Cerb could sit right by all those exciting people and still keep his focus on me. Then he was released to go and greet everyone, which was a rowdy little adventure.
He pulled well, but he was frustrated. Weight pull is such a mental sport and Cerb was responding to all the attention and “newness” of doing his Control Unleashed games in this new place. Every touch from me or from Karen sent him into a leaping, wiggling explosion. Karen held his harness and tried to do some T-Touch with him, but he was so responsive to the excitement of being touched that he was throwing himself around trying to engage her in physical play. We pulled a few more times and then gave him a break while we put all the equipment away again.
After pull practice, Mike and Linda left and Karen told me to bring Cerb into her indoor arena. She wanted to do some “reorienting” work – letting Cerb run around off-leash in there and rewarding him for checking back in with me. Once we went in and released Cerb, though, she realized he didn’t need that work. He’s already great at reorienting and checking in with me. Thus began one of the most interesting conversations and sessions I’ve ever had. Karen and I walked around the arena, completely ignoring Cerberus (well, observing him and discussing him, but not interacting with him at all). Karen shared her thoughts with me: Cerberus has no idea how to not take direction. He is a fabulous working dog and loves to be told what to do, but he has no idea what to do with himself when he’s not being asked to do something. He has no idea how to relax or how to handle his boredom. I could see it as he loped around the arena, checking out the equipment Karen had set out for her horses. He would trot away, getting as far as the opposite side of the arena, and then stand and look at me as if to say “… Well? Aren’t you going to call me back?” After a few moments of this, he would come racing (seriously – absolutely hurtling along) back to me and look up at me with great expectation. Then he’d wander off again and repeat. He sniffed. He peed on things. He tried out the horse teeter-totter and thoroughly surprised himself when it teetered under him. He jumped over the Cavalettis. He jumped on Karen in frustration, trying to get her attention by leaping at least 4′ into the air. He barked, whined, sighed. He even scared himself with the sound of his own gas (bulldogs, it happens) and went racing off around the arena again.
“I want to know how long it will take him to get bored and lie down,” Karen mused. So we waited. We talked about other dogs we know, we talked about training, we talked about finding meaning and purpose in life, and we waited.
And Cerberus came back to us, sighed, and settled down with his head on his paws.
“What time is it?” Karen asked. It was 5pm. “It took him one hour.”
ONE HOUR. It took my dog an entire hour to finally realize nothing was happening, there was no cue or direction coming, and that he should just relax. Mind: blown.
“Now ask him to heel.” I called Cerberus to my side and we moved forward. Karen called out a heeling pattern: “Forward. Halt. Forward. Right. Fast. Normal. Left. About-turn. Halt.”
He was flawless. Well, in my eyes, anyway. He stuck close to my side, head turned up and eyes on me. He tucked his back end into the left turn, he extended himself through the right turn, his halts produced square, straight sits. It was stunning.
“THAT’S the dog you want,” Karen proclaimed. “THAT’S the dog we’re working towards.”
I drove home exhausted and dirty, with dust and sand under my nails and cuts all over my fingers from Cerb’s snaggle-teeth. We came home, I gave Cerb his dinner, and he wandered into his crate and passed out with the door hanging open. He didn’t move for the next five hours, and even then it was only to take himself upstairs and get into our bed, his normal night routine. My dog was completely, utterly exhausted by the important work of Doing Nothing, the hardest thing he’s ever been asked to do.
I feel like there’s probably a life lesson there for all of us.