This past Sunday evening, I found myself a little restless. I spent a delightfully relaxing and fun weekend with friends, and after completing everything on my to-do list, I still had some extra energy. Not sure what to do about the antsy state I was in, I decided to take the dog for a walk. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but walking the dog, at least walking MY dog, is really not an easy task. He is S L O W and doesn’t really understand that the point of the walk is to move in a forward progression. I was quite sure this would be a disaster and you know, believing is seeing.
My dog, Bandit (or El Bandito), is a sweet scruffy terrier mix, who despite his independence, has a lot of challenges. His limbs are really short and he has trouble getting those back legs up and down stairs. He is afraid of storm drains and bicycles. He’s easily spooked by the closing of a car door. The neighbor’s new puppy may as well be the Boogie Man. To Bandit, taking a walk is like being on the front lines of a battle: everything is terrifying and we could perish at any moment.
While he has always been a lowrider, he hasn’t always been afraid of everything.
I have read that anxious dogs usually suffer from a lack of confidence. I have also read that dogs do a really amazing job of reading the energy of their human companions. Was it possible that my concern for Bandit and his anxiety was actually making things worse? I’ve been called a helicopter mom more than a few times…
I can’t imagine it’s fun for my boy to be scared all the time.
I have my own issues with anxiety and depression. I know how awful it is to live with constant nagging fear that something isn’t right and it breaks my heart. So, with all of this rolling around in my head, I decided to take action. First, I made an appointment with our local vet (Six Forks Animal Hospital in Raleigh is THE BEST!), and then I leashed up the pup for a walk around the neighborhood. While I wasn’t sure exactly what I would/should/could do to help Bandit, I knew I wanted to help.
We explored the neighborhood as the sun was setting. We moved at his pace and I let him sniff all the things along the way. We stopped to watch ants carry things, we smelled flowers, we even went potty two different times! We came upon a small clearing to the side of one of the buildings. Bandit and I spotted Smokey (our mischievous rebel cat who insists on walking with us) off in the bushes so we settled down in the grass. We stopped to watch life happen for a while.
Smokey and Bandit played while I just took a breath.
As I let myself relax, I began to notice the twinkling of fireflies. At first, it was just one or two, but the longer we sat, the more I discovered. I remember thinking in recent years that there aren’t as many fireflies these days as there were before, like when I was little. As I sat there Sunday night, I had to believe what my eyes were telling me. There were hundreds of beautiful twinkly bugs right here in front of me. I hadn’t seen them before because I wasn’t really looking. I didn’t believe they were there so I didn’t know how to look.
This got me thinking about El Bandito. He’s been through a lot in his almost eight years…
but he is resilient and sweet and a really good boy. I let myself believe that his issues were beyond help and used it as an excuse not to see a solution. I realized that I was projecting my fear and anxiety that something bad would happen onto Bandit. I was assuming the worst and creating a spiral of negativity that was coming to fruition.
I reflected and we spent almost a half hour in the field of the fireflies…
until one sparked a little too close to Bandit’s nose and he started to take off. I felt so bad that he was startled, but it was also kind of hilarious. 🙂
So, maybe we didn’t solve his anxiety in one walk, but I began to grasp that I have to change my mindset about Bandit. I have to believe that his anxiety can be helped and that he can learn to trust me as his pack leader. We are going to the vet this week to get our yearly vaccines and discuss a training plan. I am excited to re-frame our relationship and work with my boy.
The thing about relationships—any and all relationships, is that the way we think about them becomes our reality.
We can choose to see the best or see the worst. We can choose to be a support system for those who are dear to us, or a shelter. When we shelter our loved ones, we take their power away. We don’t allow them to build confidence in their ability to stand on their own two (or four sometimes) feet.
We can’t keep the people and things we love from feeling pain…
but we can help to comfort them. We can encourage freedom and allow trust and confidence to flourish at the same time. We can show up and be present for a dinner, a phone call, even a dog walk. When we believe in the good, when we believe things can change for the better, it is only then that we can start to see just how amazing they can be.