There is nothing more comforting than the sound of four padded feet plunk-plunking up the stairs behind me as I retreat to my den to write. Pup is always there with me. He takes his place on his cushioned bed in the corner, lets out a deep sigh, and dozes off. I know if I glance back at him he will lazily open his eyes and return my gaze. How does he know I am looking at him? Perhaps it is the cessation of my typing that cues him or the sound of my body turning and the quiet pause as I watch him. Another deep sigh issues from behind. I pause, sip tea, and listen to the rain. I treasure these moments of calm quiet with pup.
In the kitchen when I cook he lays on his blanket and regards the entire process. Every time I look at him, his eyes are wide and fixed on me. He waits for me to finish so we can play. “Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you,” Kavir jokes that this is Rio’s song as he watches us so intently and unceasingly. It makes me laugh and I sing quietly while I chop summer squash and tomatoes, peppers and green onion for stir fry.
Rio and I went to John Bryan State Park this morning to do some walking and training. Lately we have been working on developing our loose leash walking and attention exercises in more challenging environments. Woodsy trails are very challenging environments in which to keep Rio’s focus and once water is involved it becomes even more difficult. The trails at John Bryan wind through a hardwood forest down to a river wide and deep enough for Rio to swim (what joy!).
Rio rests on the wood floor by the door with his head on Dr. K’s slipper. His eyes are partly closed and his breathing is even and slow. He finally ignores the muffled voices and sounds of maintenance being done in the adjacent townhome – for the time being the creaks the house makes don’t rouse him anymore. If anything is too fast or too loud he will go from peacefully sleeping dog to fully awake – up on his toes, hackles raised, barking like he can’t catch his breath – in seconds. It still gets me. Even after three years with this creature, my blood pressure goes up just hearing him bark like that. It doesn’t help; the more worked up I get, the more he feels his anxious barking is justified.
We regard each other peacefully for the moment. I have a pouch full of treats and any time I hear a noise rise slightly above the background I say “yes” and calmly reach over to deposit a treat between his paws. It takes me back to his puppy days. I was constantly rewarding him for just lying there peacefully. It helped. The world needs more rewards for peace.
My dog changed my life, and I am grateful for it. The past few months I have been in the midst of that transition.
I left graduate school last fall. My first career of choice was failing to make me happy. I realized how little it aligned with the vision I have for myself and my future. I was living completely out of balance with my values. Of course, not everyone who is working on a Ph.D. in experimental physics is out of alignment with what they want. I’m sure my boyfriend is going to use his physics knowledge to build great things since he is always coming up with such fascinating ideas and he loves to spend time building in the lab. I admire him for these things, but for me, the passion had drained out of the physics path some time ago. I got into it for the wrong reasons and with the wrong expectations. I knew this in my heart for a long time, but it can be so hard to quit something you’ve worked so hard on – when society and almost everyone you have surrounded yourself with tells you to stick it out, it will get better. “Sure, it will be hard,” they say, “but it will be useful; it will be a good career. You will make money.” I am lucky to have had the support of the ones who are closest to me – my boyfriend and my family. My mom may be losing her memory, but she will still repeatedly tell me that I need to do whatever is best for me in my life, and that she wants me to be happy. So I got out, with their support, and the willful encouragement of that little black dog who set the whole thing in motion when he came into my life. Now I am building my life around dogs.
This is all incredibly new to me. Starting a blog is exciting and terrifying. I love to write, but releasing all those thoughts out into the world is new for me. But everyone has to start somewhere! It seems we must always start from the exact point where we are, right in this moment, the initial position.
I read an article on Khan Academy entitled: The Learning Myth: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart. Researchers have found that the brain gets the most benefit when we struggle with something difficult and make mistakes. Neural connections form and deepen most, not when we repeatedly perform tasks that are easy and we know we can succeed with, but when undertake something difficult wherein we have little experience and will likely make mistakes.