Smothered By Love

Not all things that are simple are easy. (some smart person once said)

It’s 2017!!  Whoooo Hoooo!! 

It sounds like some crazy futuristic movie time.

Well, this is my first ever newsletter for a New Year. Did you have any expectations? Just curious :) 

I wasn’t sure if I should have rockets. Dancing cats. Pictures of puppies wrestling.

I’ll plan all that for this year. Maybe I’ll get my chickens involved, too.

Anyway, welcome back! You see that little white dog above? YEAH! I know, cute - right? Holy Crap! This guy and his family will be the focus of this article. If this was a movie (right now) this would be the flashback scene. Cue the dream sequence and music. 

We open on my front porch facing West on a beautiful sunny LA morning. A desperate man in his early 30’s, we will call him Alex, sits and explains how his little 6lb dog is controlling his life. After watching him earlier carry his dog from the car to my porch, yes - carry him like a stuffed animal under his armpit as if he’s incapable of movement, I could feel this would be a fun consultation. 

I asked Alex my normal array of questions - listening and watching them both intently. I asked him if carrying him was normal. “Not much,” he starts with, but fairly fast he realizes he carries him more than he thought. He tries to rationalize: “Maltese frequently have hip issues so we need to carry him so he doesn’t injure himself.”

As the conversation progressed to the end I asked Alex, “How do you show Fluffy Love?” 

He smiles for the first time, the question breaking a little of his armor.

“Well,” he responds: 

- “He loooves these organic liver treats. After a walk, of course after he poops.”What he was saying basically was “I don’t know really, we just give them to him because he’s so damn cute and we want him to love us. I mean, did you see his face!!”

- “Fluffy loves Belly rubs (whenever). He jumps right up in anyone’s lap for a scratch. He always has to be in our lap. You know one of those dogs.” 

- “He has TONS of toys - ropes, balls, mental food games, stuffed Kongs. He REALLY loves his seat cushion toy - pillow thing. He chews it, barks at it, and humps it after dinner. Is that ok?” Alex smiles, showing his obvious enjoyment of that nightly activity. 

- “We play chase me, then we chase him. He loves that In the yard, in the hallway, in the apartment. Oh yeah, he never comes to us when we call him, could you help us with that?”

All these things are very common answers I hear, and all make the human very happy . Let’s give you a little more context to why Alex came here. 

Fluffy suffers from life altering separation anxiety, acts like a complete idiot when he sees dogs on leash (big dogs especially), barks at every noise in the house - which drives the neighbors crazy, tries to eat and chew anything not nailed down (rocks, grass, sticks), never comes when he knows he should, and a few other merrymaking activities that take away the joys of pet ownership. For me, all of those problems are superficial surface symptoms of much bigger issues. (I don’t focus on those little things, but they are helpful clues to gain insight.) 

Do you know a dog like this guy? Do you or a friend own a dog like this? Could too much love be the problem for dogs like Fluffy and many others? From what I have learned and experienced…YES!

This family struggles to live a normal life even though they provide so much love only to be controlled by a confused 6lb dog who has been unknowingly taught all these detestable skills in the name of goodwill. Complaints from neighbors about barking have them living in fear. If they were into scratched up doors and walls they would be in heaven (instead of Home Depot) and a dinner night could be a fun event made on a whim, not carefully planned out like a broad daylight bank robbery.

So what does Alex’s story mean in the bigger picture? EVERYTHING! Look at that dog’s picture. I would do anything I could to take that thing, squish his head, bite him, then take a nap with him cuddled in my armpit until night time - then we both go pee, have a snack, and then hit the covers again. Double bonus points if it is raining. 

Everything the family has been doing for “Fluffy Head” was with nothing but unconditional love and the best intentions in mind for him. It wasn't lack of love Fluffy Head was suffering from, it was owner knowledge about how to be around him so he wasn’t confused by the human things they were doing for him.

My friend Brandon tells a story of a dog he had in for a consultation years ago. He brought the dog into the office loose as he sometimes does after the days evaluation. After a short check out session of the space, and an excited reunion with the owners, the dog went back and laid by Brandon. The clients recognized it, obviously, and commented on it. 

“Why is he laying by you Brandon, they asked?”  

Brandon, wise as he is, says something like: “Interesting isn’t it. Let me ask you a  question, do you think I could possibly love your dog more than your family does?” 

They explained, “NO of course, not.” 

He answered back, “Exactly! So what’s love have to do with it? It’s the knowledge that we should focus on.” He’s so right. 

I was able to get Fluffy to do what they had been dreaming of for months, in hours. He slept quietly in his crate the first day, he met 14 dogs the first day (big and small), and walked all around town without an incident. 

So was it the dog or was it the environment? For this guy… both! 

Look at that face. If he had a movie track it would be called “Smothered by Love” by James Brown. A dog like this should come with a dog 104 certification requirement. I do this every day and you heard what I want to do with him. How is an owner going to accomplish the things for him to be his best if they are only working from love? How hard is it going to be to give that dog exactly what he needs if the owners are only acting from their story? Consistent boundaries, emotional stability, direction, protection, personal space, and the freedom to experience the world like a curious young dog are the things he needs to feel loved. It’s so clear and simple to some who don’t need the emotional fulfillment from their human-dog relationship. For this family it’s going to be hard. I proved that it was 90% environmental by accomplishing the things I did so fast the first day. Nature vs Nurture. Who will win in this case?

So what was their homework to rebalance little Fluffy? It was cheap, NO TOOLS REQUIRED!! 

  • It’s not the 60’s. No more free love. They had no idea what he was thinking most of the day (if at all) so they were directed to stop touching him so much. (Stalker Alert!) Brandon once said to me: “how many owners pet their dog right now for something the dog did 6 weeks ago?”  Ever hear or say: “you were soooo good at the vet last week puppy face!!” The amount of unconscious physical contact with Fluffy, and most dogs, is staggering. If you don’t know what your dog is thinking, don’t touch them! It’s important for the people to form this new habit so the dog has less stimuli to be confused by.

  • Teach Fluffy how to walk properly on a leash. For him, far behind, not next to, behind like a 1 ton horse. Do dogs believe in equality? No. They live in a world of hierarchy. So how can we walk side-by-side with them thinking we are accomplishing leadership? What does that exercise in equality mean to them? We can try to rationalize it as humans, but to make real strides we have to start thinking like the animal we are working with. Animals are only capable of thinking the way they think. We can’t disrespect that.

  • To help with the naughty leash behavior, Fluffy needs free time off-leash around controlled dogs big and small. Fluffy has the nervous system of a Malinois in a 6lb soft white cloud body. He needs the freedom to move in when he is curious of something, and move out when he is feeling the stress or pressure without the humans emotional interference in the situation. Meeting dogs on leash (with the owners) is a disaster for Fluffy like I mentioned. His path to the goal is different. He doesn’t know how to make sense of it all yet. He needs to work it out by moving, not by being trapped on leash. He is young and curious. Once he has worked through his socialization issues (off leash) he will easily be able to stay away from dogs on leash when asked without the devil dog from Satan coming out. 

  • Finally - I’ve saved the biggest for last - it is more important for Fluffy to understand what you don’t like than what you do like. I have found (since learning this concept) clients who practice this mindset really see results. This family spent so much time teaching their dog how great life is and never letting him experience the natural balance that learning from choices and the consequences his choices bring. That thoughtfulness will help shape his education and puts the responsibility on him to be accountable for his actions knowing the owners are watching and present. 

This case was interesting for me because it was proof again how visual humans are. If this dog wasn't so cute, if the owners weren't fulfilling some need within themselves, this dog would live as a perfect socialized member of society instead of being a misunderstood outcast. Fluffy is a reminder to me how much our best intentions (if not based in knowledge) can cause harm and the opposite of our desired intentions.

Do you find as an owner, trainer, and/or animal lover that the addiction to the emotions for many is stronger than the need for the situation to change? When does/will the change occur? In my podcast with JP Sears we talked about some strategies he uses to get clients to understand the consequences for changing or not changing. It got deep. 

Happy New Year

Belly Rubs and Head Scratches