Lesson #1: Living In The Here And Now

I think we’re ready. At least for Fergus’ arrival Wednesday evening. I gave up my painting space for his puppy pen. Just until he is house trained. We pick him up at this foster home in A Coruña in a few days. He will be the first of his litter to be adopted. It will be a rough transition and we will sleep downstairs near his crate for a few weeks, to take him out at night. And to reassure him. I will bring a blanket he will sleep with and will rub it on his brothers and sister before we leave. So he will feel more comfortable in the car and when he gets to our house.

We have had dogs before over the past decades. We still miss them. And invested in top-notch professional in training. Not for the dogs but for us. There is an amazing training school in Issaquah, WA called River Dog. And the first thing they taught us was that the training was more for the family than the dog. Because dogs don’t think like we do. And humans will mess up a dog faster than you can say ‘fetch!’

Since we haven’t had a dog in a long time, I needed to brush up on my training classes. And my dog psychology. I joined some dog training FB groups. Especially for puppies. And YouTube has been a lifesaver. Practical tips and videos of exactly what to do, and more importantly what NOT to do, so Fergus, Jeff and I get off on the right foot. It’s about love, consistency, and boundaries. First up, we need to teach him how to live in our house. And to do that he needs to feel safe and secure.

It’s easy to find yourself down a YouTube rabbit hole. The first video begets another video. Then, another one. Late Friday I ended up watching Cesar Millan – the famous Mexican – now American – Dog Whisperer of tv fame. He can correct any problem with a dog, because the problem is almost never the dog. It’s the owner who needs correcting.

Cesar says that the first mistake people make with their dogs is treating them like they are humans. And projecting their human feelings onto the dog. In this way we send dogs so many mixed signals they become unruly. Dogs, like children, need clear boundaries. But dogs are not children. They need love and companionship. But they need a purpose. Something to keep their minds busy. Bored dogs are destructive dogs. And it is not their fault.

Labs, like Fergus, are some of the smartest dogs around, and he will need exercise and a job. But he will also need lots of love. They are an affectionate breed.

At the close of my lost Friday of YouTube, on Cesar’s last video he sat down for an interview. He told his story about being an illegal Mexican immigrant and crossing the US border at Tijuana. He spoke no inglés and while desperate living on the streets in South Central Los Angeles, he taught himself to speak english listening to the radio. Also, living on the streets and washing limousine’s for movie stars, he learned all about dogs and people. And that dogs are always a reflection of the owner.

Over the years Cesar has studied the psychology of humans and animals, and he finds a curious difference. Dogs need a stable leader. A pack will not tolerate an unstable leader. They will oust them quickly if the leader makes decisions that negatively impact the group. He says most species are this way. Including elephants. When the male leader goes into musk the females immediately oust him from the group because his behavior is erratic and unstable. They won’t stand for it around their calves.

It turns out that humans are the only species in nature that will tolerate an unstable leader. And this is because humans do not work together for other people’s highest good. We are in constant competition with each other. ‘Just look at social media.’ And this is due to our constant focus on the past and the future. Instead of the present. Animals in nature are present focused. Humans are not. We are constantly trying to game the future by using the past. And, we are money and power driven – something that doesn’t exist in nature, where animal prides or packs share resources for the good of the group.

He laughed, shaking his head. ‘Poor people try to get into the US to become rich someday. I did it myself. But billionaires fly to caves Peru in their private jets to sit in the mud with a toothless, penniless shaman to learn why they aren’t happy. To get back to basics. It’s because humans refuse to live in the present. Dogs already know this. The present is all they have. Humans are messed up.’

I am certainly guilty of this myself. Mindfulness has definitely helped me. But I am about to start a journey with little Fergus. Training a puppy couldn’t be anymore of a right-here-and-right-now activity. And something tells me that in the process I will learn as much, if not more, than my new buddy, Fergus’.

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