I’ve written before about my dog Zoe, who has been having a hard time ever since we moved this summer. Despite our new condo being a major size upgrade from our little apartment, with big bright windows and lots of space to sniff around, I’m pretty sure Zoe misses her old neighborhood, old friends, and old rhythm. The way she’s expressing this lately is in a newfound reactivity to other dogs. She’s always been a little “iffy” with meeting new pups, something I attribute to her suspected year or so in dogfighting before she was rescued. Never humans – she loves ALL of those – but frequently dogs, and it’s markedly worse since our move.
We work hard on this, all the time. And I’ve tried lots of strategies – we cross the street when we see other dogs we don’t know, I distract her with treats to stop any staredowns (from either side). We’ve learned some adorable and useful tricks, like standing in between my legs, or spinning in circles, or shaking my hand, to get her mind off the other dog and her stress level down.
I’ve also tried yanking her leash, pulling, yelling, scolding – you name it. Not that these “techniques” have helped at all – and I certainly don’t rely on them anymore, but sometimes I get frustrated and they come out too.
But as I’ve learned more and more about dogs experiencing reactivity, I have stumbled upon really helpful resources and suggestions.
The latest was this: when your dog gets triggered into a big reaction while out on a walk, consider ways that you can help them reset. Dogs can do this on their own, through behaviors like giving a big shake or stretching their body out in a play bow. Or you can do this simply by heading home, resting, relaxing, and trying that walk again another time or even another day.
Well, this morning it happened again. We were reintroduced to a dog we’ve encountered several times before, and while Zoe took some time to sniff him and think about it, the situation ended with her lunging and snarling. I was devastated. Sad for us, that we’ll continue to struggle meeting new doggie neighbors as long as this persists. Sad for her, because she’s such a sweet, snuggly pup around humans or at home. Sad for all of the work we’ve put in that doesn’t seem to help. Wondering where to go next and what to try differently.
We went home, and I put on some coffee, made a few calls, did some work. Zoe climbed up next to me on the couch, and snuggled right in. There were lots of pets, lots of hugs, lots of quiet time.
And after lunch, we tried again.
I kept a careful eye out as I usually do for oncoming dogs, but this time when I turned a corner to evade a black lab and his owner – they followed us. And came right up, asking for an introduction. My heart sank, and I tried to explain that Zoe was quite selective – only to watch her sniff this puppy, jump back, and then exuberantly start to play with him.
And five minutes later, a couple blocks from home, she met another dog – and did the same.
I was so excited, so proud of her, so relieved – and Zoe was so happy, too – that we ran most of the way home.
I will never again doubt the power of a reset.
Not for my dog, and not for me.
Not for any of us, really.
It’s been a hard couple of years, since March 2020. We’ve been through the mill a couple of times, particularly as a church, and it can be hard to remember what brought us together in the first place. All of those long-simmering disagreements and festering resentments can combine, like Zoe, to keep our stress levels up and our patience with each other down.
But I wonder how we might reset, even as we’re likely to experience more interruptions to our life together as we continue to live through a pandemic.
How do we find spaces and times where we can simply be and have fun together?
We have hard work to do, and we’ve spent so much of our time lately doing it – through business meetings and discernment sessions and open forums. Through boards and committees, through listening sessions. But what about the fun of being a church family? What about singing in the upper room, watching our kids dance, sharing a cup of coffee, playing in the gym? What about gathering on Facebook to bake something delicious, or bringing flowers to someone in Brandel?
We need those things, too.
We need our resets. Moments to remind ourselves what we love about each other and what we simply enjoy about each other too.
Our God is a God of delight, and we were created (among other reasons) because God delights in us, and wants us to delight in each other.
Let’s not forget that, in a difficult season. Let’s not forget that we need each other, not just for wisdom and help and courage, but for love, for laughter, for joy.
So as we continue in a difficult moment, let’s also remember to take our pauses, our resets; to find our refreshment and seek our joy – together.