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Episode 7 of ISCP member Rowena’s adventures with Cauta, her adopted Romanian street dog.

I have been thinking on how our companion animals can become a lightning rod for frustrations in other parts of our lives.

Something as outwardly simple as pulling on a lead can become multi layered and complex when seen in the context of the external relationship (dog and human) and an internal relationship (within the human’s mind).

There is also the question of what is within the dog’s mind – but that’s a whole other post…

Outwardly the action is that the dog is pulling, but inwardly the meaning that is assigned to that by the human, depends on a multitude of experiences.

What is the emotional tone? The human is being pulled in ways they have not given permission for, and intruded into without invitation.

There is also often an element of public humiliation, whether real or imagined.

Added to that, the human could also pick up on, potentially, the dog’s own frustration, confusion and anger. Taken altogether it’s an extremely potent cocktail.

We may think, it is about stopping the dog pulling. But is it only about that, or is it about attending to other areas of our lives where we feel dragged along?

Being pulled elsewhere could reflect an internal state of mind. Inside we may have decided what to do and where to go, where to put our attention and focus. But then the environment and it’s external pressures pull us this way and that. Perhaps this is about resolutely staying on course, deciding if it’s time to divert, rather than being dragged down a road of someone else’s choosing. Feeling sucked into a vortex not of our own making, the smaller and smaller we become. This seems to parallel how it feels when Cauta rushes away, pulled into an anxiety fuelled interaction, and I fade into the distance.

But maybe it doesn’t need to be this way.

Another way could be acceptance. I have been thinking about this a lot. It has been tough living with Cauta; sometimes the gains we made seem in tatters. There are ways of relating that we may never be able to help Cauta change. But working within this circumference much can be achieved.

He still sounds off in class, but we can retreat to our own adjoining room and play the ‘orientation’ game:

Shifting an internal mind set (mine and his) seems to bring more relief than completing any exercise.

Comparing him to other dogs is futile; the starting point is miles apart.

I may never be able to let him off the long line, but every encounter with another dog doesn’t always now end in desperate lead grinding and jumping.

After three consecutive encounters with him not charging toward other dogs, but lolloping after the treats I am running off with, we sit on the wet grass. Me quietly celebrating. Him nonchalantly chewing on a well-earned chicken stick. Moments like this are few, but enough to keep us going.

Perhaps it is because of his background. Perhaps it is because of his developmental stage. He is an adolescent ex-street dog and pushing boundaries is his specialist skill. Perhaps it is because of our particular make up. We are an unlikely pair. But we have ended up here, and today it seems about accepting what he is, what he is not, and what I can and cannot offer him. I hope it is enough.