When Silas was a puppy, I was determined that he should be a model dog. I started teaching him “sit” and “down” when he was six weeks old. Not long after that, I printed out the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen requirements. I read all the books. I made all the spreadsheets. We went to all the classes. We were going to be a beacon of good dog-ness. Not to put too fine a point on it, I was going to be better than all those other dog owners.
It took me a long time to realize that Silas wasn’t a high-functioning, naturally social dog. It took me even longer to realize that, while we could work on his coping skills, I couldn’t really, truly change his basic personality. Not only that, but because of the particular ways and means of his dysfunction, I couldn’t even try again with another dog. Resentful brain said, “I’m stuck with this neurotic dog who can’t even go for a walk for the next fifteen years. I wanted a dog who could do things.”
What can I say? I love rules. I love following rules. I love for other people to follow the rules. Silas doesn’t work that way. Learning to accept that has been really, really hard for me. As is true for most people who love rules and have had fairly successful lives, making allowances for others, even dogs, doesn’t come easily to me.
Over time, I’ve let go of it being all about me. (Mostly.) Sometimes I look at Silas, panicking over something that doesn’t exist, and I am broken hearted for him. I’m reminded of how brave he has to be just to live his very narrow little life. The world is so hard for him.
I don’t see myself, anymore, as a vehicle for teaching him THE RULES. We aren’t paragons. I don’t get to flaunt how I’m better than other dog owners. My role in his life is to intercede between him and the world. To do what needs to be done, whether that’s giving up on walks, hiding from strangers at the park, never EVER having people over, or letting go of that Good Citizen award. He’s not a lump of clay that I can shape however I want; he is a creature who desperately needs my care. I won’t lie and say that it’s always easy, or that some days I don’t still resent it. Learning important lessons is hard and gross and progress is uneven.
I love my little broken, high-strung dog more than I ever thought possible. I don’t want to reduce him to something that he has taught me. But he is certainly teaching it.