Monday, April 19, 2010

Where does wisdom come from?

Where does wisdom come from? From age? Experience? Or, as in the pages of a Richard Bach book, is it already inside of us, waiting for us to realize and embrace it? It does seem like the most important life lessons I’ve learned, I’ve known all along deep down.

**Here are my earliest pictures of Rowdy, from his foster home.**

Reading back my last entry, I can’t help but think that Rowdy is not just changing, getting older, but he’s getting *better.* Wiser maybe. When given the choice, he’s choosing to do more of what brings him joy, and taking more joy in whatever he’s doing. He’s letting things bother him less, and it seems like he feels slightly less responsible for keeping the whole world in order. Sometimes he flows like a stream around the rock, rather than taking a sledgehammer to it. (If you know Rowdy, you know that a sledgehammer has always been his tool of choice.)

His constant motion has been replaced not simply by a lack of motion, but by something richer. While I doubt he is lying in the sun reflecting on his life, I do think he has discovered that motion for motion’s sake isn’t necessary, and sometimes while you’re calm, you notice interesting things that you might otherwise have missed. Along with subtle physical changes of age, there’s been a more marked change in his outlook. He is a happier and more easygoing dog today than when I met him 5 years ago, a happier dog than just last year. Though I still would not describe him as “easygoing” overall.

For people, and for dogs, there is a difference between enjoying something and doing something joyful. There’s something very work-like about the seriousness with which we go about some of our hobbies, working toward goals, planning our progress. It’s good, but it’s different from the joyful abandon we find in other things. I think we benefit from having both in our lives, along with a complement of peaceful calm. It seems that Rowdy has reached a place where all three pieces are beginning to fall into balance, with work taking a more modest role than in previous years.

Rowdy considers agility to be work, I think, and does not have the same joyful celebration in his runs many other dogs have. He is obviously having a great time doing something he wants to do, but he is also very serious about it, about getting it done, accomplishing the task. (I must admit, he is far more serious about it than I am, which I think has always been somewhat frustrating to him. We’ve been on a bit of a break from agility, and I’m anxious to get back into it – when I do, do I embrace his passionate work ethic, or try to help him share my view of it as a lighter, more playful enterprise?) Being a demo dog while I teach class is most certainly work, and boring at that. On the other end of the spectrum is hiking – there you can see Rowdy’s unbridled joy, every miniscule discovery part of a grand adventure, look mom, look what’s over here! No responsibilities, no agenda, no expectations, just joyfully living in the moment. Now add the third element – peace. Small things – a moment of looking at one another from across the room, sharing a smile, neither spurring the other into action (replacing a zoom across the room toward no actual end). Continuing his enjoyment of rolling upside down in a patch of sunshine on the floor, undisturbed by a bark heard in the distance. Watching, observing, enjoying togetherness. Taking a moment to enjoy What Is, instead of frantically searching for What’s Next.

Rowdy and I both share a preference for an active life, but more than a change in the volume of activity, I see a change is in order in the quality and nature of the activities we do together. More joy. Less requirements.

Is it possible that I have helped him make this journey? I hope so. He has taught me to communicate more clearly; to be an active observer; to exercise patience; to more often choose more enlightened and effective options than meeting fire with fire; and when his canine Machiavellian opportunism leaves him unwilling/unable to abide by my human morality, to accept and love him for the dog he is (the toughest lesson of all.) Have I taught him something, something more than tricks? Dog Scouts and Clicker training (among other things) have opened up a world to both of us full of options, where Making More Thoughtful Choices Brings Improved Results. We play games, attend classes, engage in activities where we practice this truism over and over again, with me striving to make more thoughtful choices as a trainer, and him making more thoughtful choices about his behavior and responses to cues. Maybe this has had more impact on both of us than I thought. Maybe our inner wisdom is revealed through practice.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Pirate Looks at 50.

or, a Rowdy Bones looks at 7.  Since early this year, it has become apparent that I have been ignoring some subtle signs of aging in my indestructible, tireless cattle dog.  Either a graying muzzle is easy to miss on a red speckle coat, or I've been in denial.  Probably both.

     Don't get me wrong, Rowdy is in great shape, and I am fully expecting at least another 7 years from my little red Bones, given that the oldest dog on record is a blue heeler that made it to nearly 30.  But I think Rowdy has been moving into a different stage of his life, while I've been largely oblivious.  Time for me to evolve along with my dog, I think. 

     We want different things out of life at different stages, so why wouldn't our dogs?  Rowdy has always been a workaholic, thirsty for truly amazing amounts of mental and physical challenge.  My efforts to provide those challenges have taken us on a journey full of new knowledge, new friends, new sports, and we have a busy schedule of activities.  But in recent months (once I opened my eyes to see it) I think he has moved into a place where he'd prefer a sort of active semi-retirement.  We're not anywhere close to sitting in front of the TV at the nursing home doing crossword puzzles - but he's ready to quit his rat race corporate job and open a little bait and tackle shop by the lake, per se.  Maybe even spend a little less effort controlling other dogs' behavior even, hell let's go ahead and let the grandkids run ragged all over the park.  Some other dog can take over as the fun police.  Rowdy is taking much more interest in napping together on the couch, and sleeping in, where in past years he has not been able to lie still long enough to make it through one press of the snooze button.  He seems to be enjoying just being together with me, without doing anything in particular, which is gratifying.  So far this year, while I'm doing yard chores, after a few quick zooms, he seems to have taken over Louie's old job of pruning back plants and weeds, lying in the grass, and generally monitoring the quality of my work.  Apparently he has done such a diligent job with the chipmunks that they are now self-policing.

     For all of Rowdy's hard work, I think he deserves the kind of middle-age-into-retirement he'd like best.  I have a lot of dog activities, between attending classes and workshops as a student, demo dog while I'm instructing, Rally-O, hiking, Agility, Dog Scouts, etc. and Rowdy is my main workhorse.  Long before Rowdy decides that sometimes he'd rather stay home, I want to be able to say OK without there being any pressure to force him to attend the 4th dog event that week.  And that's going to take some doing, to get a dog ready to even begin to shoulder some of the awesome things Rowdy does.  Enter Piper, Rowdy's new apprentice...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

and the journey begins...

or at least any kind of coherent documentation of the journey.  New to the world of blogging, I'm not sure exactly what this page will hold, but I am guessing it will have a lot of dogs, and wine.  Hence the name.