Several months ago I wrote about Bella, my late mother-in-law’s Shih-poo. (To read this blog see https://www.michellemdavis.net/home/bad-ass-bella) We promised that we would take care of Bella, so now my husband and have three dogs.
First, some background on our family’s dogs… they are big, loyal, and adaptable. Since we’ve been married, we’ve had four black labs and one golden. I know how to raise these breeds, I understand their schedules, and I appreciate their unconditional love and affection. That’s why I nick named Bella “Bad Ass” in an attempt to help her shed her “princess behaviors,” encouraging her to better fit in with our motley crew.
Well apparently little dogs are a bit different, or so we found out.
- They don’t “do well” when scolded for having an accident in the house.
- They don’t like to go outside when it’s cold, rainy, or just not their type of weather.
- They give affection when THEY want to.
- They like to sleep on your bed, by your feet.
- They also prefer the sofa to their dog bed and act indignantly when you suggest that they “get off.”
- They like to hump other dogs – for instance, our fifteen-year-old lab, Mia, who is deaf, going blind, and can barely walk. We just tell ourselves that Mia enjoys her “back rubs.” (Mia does smile and wag her tail.)
- They have a thing for the UPS guys… apparently the idling sound of UPS trucks drive little dogs nuts.
- They bark incessantly, to the point where I need noise canceling headphones.
- They hate being confined (and will scratch relentlessly at the closed door)… because they don’t see themselves as dogs - they consider themselves your equal.
Needless to say, it’s been a learning process for everyone. And Bella wasn’t the only one who needed to make changes. Apparently I had some work to do as well. First, I had to stop running from one activity to the next and simplify my day because this dog must be let out every four hours – or else. And, she’s not like the labs – I can let them in the yard by themselves, and three minutes later they’re at the door having done their “business.” Nope, Bella operates on Bella time, and she prefers to be walked.
Not only has carving out time for Bella had a positive effect on me planning “less” during my day, but it has also helped me become more present to my surroundings. Spending small pockets of time outside allows me to observe nature, listen to the birds, appreciate the blooming flowers, and feel the cool breeze on my face. And I’m also getting better at dealing the nasty weather, realizing it’s only water (or snow this past winter) - cold, sometimes frozen water, but still, it’s just water. Needless to say, Bella’s been a good teacher, perhaps one that I’ve needed for quite some time.
While observing Bella, I’ve had some “aha” moments. First, she doesn’t bark to be obnoxious. She’s afraid, so when she sees people working outside, she yaps non-stop to let us know that danger is looming. We’ve learned that if we put her on a leash when there is action outside, she feels a sense of security knowing that she is safe while tethered to one of us. We’ve also discovered that she hides under tables not to be aloof but because she doesn’t want to be stepped on by our dog, Mac, who weighs in at 105 pounds. And I think that she likes our couch (and bed) so she can see. When she is elevated, she is closer to eye level with the other dogs. Plus, she then is better able to look out of the windows, making sure that we are all secure.
For me to understand Bella, I’ve had to alter my perception of how dogs are “supposed to be.” When I took the time to consider how she sees things then I was able to realize that she really isn’t being a pain in the butt, she’s just terrified and needs to be heard. That coupled with the fact that she left the home of an older woman – where she was adored and treated like a princess – and came into our household – where she is one of three, well that can be pretty unsettling. Plus she suffered a loss, just like we did, perhaps even more in some ways.
So, Bella and I are doing just fine. In fact, we have a special pact. She can sleep in our bed – at my feet – as long as she does “her business” outside (that is the one area I won’t budge on).
Sometimes I think that Bella was meant for me as much as she was for my mother-in-law. This little dog has forced me to give up some of my controlling tendencies. For example, I cannot “make” a dog go to the bathroom when it is convenient for me. She has also helped me simplify my life. Now my days are more open, granting me the ability to write frequently and attend to other things that I’ve been ignoring. I’ve also been walking more often, as it’s much easier to take Bella on walks with friends than an incredibly strong seven-year-old lab. And, I am becoming more aware and appreciative of my surroundings. Having Bella in my life has definitely caused me to surrender, slow down and be present - three things that I’ve struggled with in the past.
But perhaps Bella’s greatest gift so far has been to recognize that another’s behavior may not stem from what I think it does. Sometimes people act in certain ways because of hidden reasons, ones we cannot see. Once I understood Bella’s fear, then I could better sympathize with her, understand her “misbehaviors.” Now, I try to anticipate situations when she may become fearful, mitigate her anxiety, and help her feel safe.
If I can do this for a twelve-pound dog, could I also offer this shift in perspective to those around me and not take their actions to heart but rather realize that what they’re doing is only a defense mechanism? Can I search deeper to see others’ true selves, the ones not masked by fear, anger, jealousy, or a host of other emotions?
When I think back to some of my own “less than stellar moments,” I now know that there was always more behind my behavior. Like Bella, I was fearful. And instead of communicating my apprehension, I showed a different emotion – one that was most likely misunderstood, just as I’d been unaware of the cause to Bella’s actions.
After spending almost six months with this this persistent, sensitive, energetic, stubborn and fearful little Shih-poo, we’ve established a kind and loving relationship. I better understand her needs and she seems to “get” what I expect from her. In fact, now that I think of it, maybe the two of us aren’t that different after all…