You know that awful feeling you get when your friend falls hook, line and sinker for a total douche bag? You just know it's going to end in tears but you also know there's nothing you can do about it........except sit back and watch the car crash unfold and hope to God that said douche bag hasn't managed to completely balls up every area of her personal and professional life, spend all of her money, get all of her assets and alienate all of her friends (you included) before it's all over.
However long the process takes, at some point she's going to turn around and realize that the life she is living isn't one of her choosing, that he's just living off the fat of the land and yet somehow calling all of the shots, and that there's a grave disparity between the passion she felt at the start and the subordination she practices every day now.
As her friend, you kinda know you have to just shut the hell up, wait for the circle to complete, and then, be there to help her lick her wounds and let her sleep on your couch when she's broke, miserable and feeling stupid.
But wait....what if the guy was not just controlling her friends, but wouldn't even let them enter her home? What if he threatened anyone he didn't like that walked into the house? What if he took a pair of scissors to her dresses every time she left the house without him? Peed in her shoes? What if every time they went out together, he was ready to fight anyone, literally ANYONE, that came near her? You'd want to take her by the shoulders, shake her til her teeth rattled and force some sense into her, before calling the Police to come and remove this guy, wouldn't you?
I know a woman called Leslie, a very intelligent woman actually with a hugely successful company (I have to make that point lest you think that she's a complete idiot) whose life has become very much like this.
The male in question is very handsome, super intelligent, has gorgeous hair (soft, lustrous, tousled curls are an instant turn on for lots of women as we all know....well, as long as they’re not in a millennial man-bun) and won her over from the get go with his shy smile and 'little boy lost look'. He was in her bed within two hours.
Before you go thinking that this woman is a total ‘Ho-bag', I'm just going to point out that the male in question is a Wheaten Terrier, he's three years old, he weighs 35 pounds and his name is Dick. I've changed names to protect the innocent but somehow that name seemed oh so appropriate.......
Dick had been languishing at the shelter for a good few months before Leslie laid eyes on him.
An owner surrender, the shelter staff knew there must be a reason that he had been dumped, but he just seemed to be a normal, unhappy shelter dog, sitting there in the cold, damp confines of his cell with nothing but a raised bed and a food and water bowl to call his own.
Glad for any attention, Dick would wag his tail happily whenever anyone came to pet him or occasionally take him out for a walk. Too often though they passed him by, and he would wallow in his own particular little pit of misery wondering if he'd ever have a person to call his own. Very important, this phrase, in this particular situation; 'a person to call his own".
You see, some shelter dogs very often have previously experienced a life of plenty, and then, in the blink of an eye, it's been cruelly snatched away.........a beautiful home, access to food from loving hands, a soft bed, walks in the park, a family to love, company, all the things he maybe took for granted. Sometimes, they have never had anything at all, but from their chain in the yard or their nasty old dog house, they can see what a home and a family means, the riches therein.
So, on that fine sunny day when Leslie popped over to her local shelter looking for a sweet medium sized companion to enhance her life, Dick couldn't believe his luck when he walked out of there with her.
Even better, after letting him pee, she brought him straight into the house where they snuggled on the bed, she kept fawning all over him, cooing at him like he was a baby, telling him that his life had been awful but that she, Leslie, was going to change all of that. He was never going to be hungry or lonely again, she would always be there for him, she thought he was the most beautiful dog in the world, he would be completely free and he could do whatever he wanted, and ..........
Wait....what?? Whatever he wanted? Well knock me down with a marrow bone, Baby Girl, you can just call me 'Daddy! You mean, I ain't gotta work for none of this? I just get it all? Handed to me on a plate? Well, alrighty then, I guess that means I'm the new King of this castle!"
You see, what Leslie didn't realize is that dogs are programmed to earn their way into a pack situation through modes of prowess, ability or ease of adaptability, in any one of a number of different ways. Maybe a dog is a great hunter, or a great protector, or a wonderful teacher, or a great fighter. Maybe he is just easy to have around and good for bumping up the numbers because he is a willing pair of hands...
In the wild, inclusion in the pack means that the dog first has to demonstrate his usefulness and he will remain peripheral for a time while that is happening. His ability to draw near to the rest of the pack while they settle hangs on the rest of the pack giving their acquiescence. The only dog in a wild dog pack who has access to everything, and gets first dibs on everything is the Alpha figure.The Alpha is the leader, the benevolent and wise one who watches over the pack and acts in the interests of their welfare at all times, the architect of the hunt and the one who procreates with his chosen mate. He normally eats first or gets the choice cuts, because for the pack to stay strong, the Alpha must stay strong, for where there is weakness at the top, the pack will crumble and descend into chaos, as in any organization.
So, Leslie, in all of her innocent sweetness, instead of just giving this dog a home, did what lots of humans do.....she gave him, albeit inadvertently, the job of being CEO of Leslie Inc; by bringing him into her house, plying him with goodies, allowing him on the hallowed ground of the bed, the couch, access to everywhere. He, of course, being a dog with all of the above hardwired thought processes, presumed that if she was giving him Alpha status, he was expected to be in charge!
And so, he took to the job with gusto, seeing off any potential predators by lunging at people they met on walks, barking the place down at the sound of the doorbell ('Fear me! I am in charge of security!), attacking people's ankles when they popped over for coffee ("This is MY bitch, don't even be thinking about coming in here and getting in on this sweet lil gig I've got going on!'), peeing in her shoes when she left him to go to work ( "I'm supposed to be protecting her, where did she go? I can’t cope with her being out of my sight... Is she alright? Will she ever come back? Who will make my dinner? Imma pee in her shoes partly because I’m nervous and partly because I need to mark this shit as mine!’) protecting everything of value that he had missed for so long and was now prepared to fight to the death to keep.
It's not Dicks' fault. Dick is just doing what Dick thinks Leslie asked him to do the minute she gave him the keys to her kingdom. In the same way that if you take a guy and offer him an office, gleaming company car and a grandiose title, it's for a dead cert he's going to want to take that job.
But, looking at it from another angle, quite apart from the fact that Dick is annoying the crap out of everyone in Leslie's circle and ruining her home and her social life...is it even fair to put the dog through this? Isn't being the CEO of the corporation when you really are only equipped mentally to be, at best, the coffee boy, a hugely daunting task? Dick is protecting an environment that he doesn't even understand.
He doesn't know what a fridge is, what a microwave does, how radios make that funny sound, how food gets on the table.......he doesn't have a clue. And yet, he thinks that, because Leslie has behaved in a certain way, which according to his own species‘ unique way of thinking, means that she wants him to be in charge of everything, that he's being a good boy. So he can't even catch a break when he does as he THINKS she wants, and she doesn’t even seem happy about it. Poor, poor Dick is very confused.
Her inconsistency in that regard drives him even further into despair because when everyone is gone and it's just the two of them alone again, she picks him up, holds him aloft (you know where this is going, you've seen 'The Lion King') and tells him time and again that he's beautiful, that he needs to come cuddle on the bed with her and maybe even bursts into tears when she thinks of how bad the evening was.
Crying while loving on the dog just makes Leslie seem like a needy, weak and feeble pack member and so, Dick resolves to work even harder to protect and guard this woman because clearly she's very weak, is emotionally deranged and needs a big man around to sort things out. Can we say 'mixed messages??????'
It's so awful it's painful isn't it? And yet, it's a story we hear every single week at the Ranch, and every single week, without fail, I think this to myself; 'Know who you are inviting into your home. Take some time, do some research, make an informed choice.' You wouldn't invite a cobra to come and share your home, because so few of us understand herpetology, we'd be naturally wary of having a snake wandering around our dining room. Yet, because you had a dog growing up, and you like puppies, it's all going to be okay? It’s all going to play out like a Lassie movie? Easy to forget that they descend from wolves, one of the greatest predators on the planet, isn't it? Easy to forget that they have a unique language that we need to understand.... I know, but there it is.
Despite the fact that dogs are domesticated, doesn't mean that when the shit hits the fan they don't revert to their primal behaviors. For a dog like Dick, who fears he will lose everything most dear to him, and misreads every situation, the shit is CONSTANTLY hitting the fan! So....what should Leslie have done? How could this have been avoided?
Well, how things start in a relationship is crucial to how they develop; she should have first taken him for a walk around the neighborhood, calmly and quietly, having him sit upon command in return for treats if possible, then allowing him to sniff and explore, so that he understood from the get go that compliance to her wishes brought treats and good things, and also that she is the leader. She should have had him sit or wait at the door before granting him entry into her home, only allowing him in when he did so. She should have walked him around the home on a leash, letting him explore the home at her direction, and then come in and out multiple times to reinforce that firstly it was not a prison, that the door does open up and he can come and go, but secondly that she is in charge of all of the important movements in his life.
At this stage of the proceedings, these things are of the most fundamental importance to him. She should not have talked incessantly to him, telling him what a gorgeous little dude he was, rather she should have issued commands in a calm, kind but firm voice and used her body language to guide him as to what she wanted, encouraging him to check in with his new owner visually to get an idea as to what she needed from him. She should have previously set aside an area in the home with a baby gate that was just his, like the laundry room or the mud room, where all of his important resources were, like water and a soft bed etc.
Giving this dog too much too soon completely overwhelmed him after months at the shelter. Bit by bit, she should have increased his exposure to the rest of the home over the ensuing two weeks, insisting upon good manners at every juncture, not allowing him to jump on the furniture or the bed. Why? Not because I don't believe that dogs should be up in the couch or the bed, I sleep with five dogs in my bed every night, but because it's important that over time she grant him PERMISSION to do so, once he had mastered the more basic requirements that she had of him sharing her life. She should have had multiple guests come and visit in the early days after his arrival.
He would have been behind the baby gate, having previously had a walk and all of his basic needs met; her guests would have been instructed to completely ignore Dick until she gave the okay, some ten minutes or so after their arrival. He would then have been able to come sniff and 'explore' her friends but would have been popped back into his area well before they left her home. Lesson to her new dog? People come first in this house, they have freedom of movement but you don't.....not until you've earned it.
All of his meals would have been hand fed to him by her, underlining who is the provider in the relationship, and that she is kind and bountiful. This would have gone on for about two weeks, with treats being given for great behavior during their training sessions, which should have taken place for a few minutes twice a day, teaching him to sit, wait or come on command. It didn't have to be boot camp, it just had to be kindly instruction and lots of praise for getting it right. Praise is supremely important, way more so than treats, when building a relationship with your dog, and remains that way for life.
Lots of exercise on a long line so that he could run and get rid of his pent up energy, always coming when she called him and getting a big handful of rotisserie chicken or some other fresh meat or cheese even, for his trouble. In short, a series of boundaries in place right from the start so that he knew without any shadow of a doubt who was in charge from the get go, and what he had to do to please her.
While this may seem cold and unfeeling, and not the way to start a loving, warm relationship with your dog, let me tell you that the shelter is full of dogs like Dick, who have been returned by owner after owner when these Dicks just keeps misreading the signs. (See what I did there?)
It wasn't necessary or appropriate for her to be mean or harsh in any way to her new dog, but she did have to instill some boundaries from the start, taking care of all of his basic needs and giving him increasing amounts of freedom and affection while he adjusted to this life in her very human world.
Had this been the case, he would not have become completely and utterly overwhelmed and then consequently made poor choices. He would have slowly but firmly come to terms with what was expected of him and felt a gradual inclusion into this pack of two, without ever having to lean in his own understanding and falter so badly. Two weeks or so, and the possible future problems would have been if not eradicated, minimized greatly. Instead, poor Dick has to start all over and unlearn all of these behaviors which is way more painful and way more lengthy a process. I feel for him, I really do. He had the best of intentions, but the most ill prepared and yet best intentioned, loving parent.
So, back to the human aspect of this story........when your by now very annoying friend is laying on your couch, complaining for the millionth time about her miserable life and the fact that the douchebag has left her, that her bank account has run dry, that all of her other friends have lost patience with her and that she simply can't believe that this has happened to her ('And he had SUCH nice hair!') just smile politely, offer her a Kleenex and nod your head. Then roll your eyes behind her back and silently scream into your couch cushion that she was a bloody idiot! Just as great fences make for better neighbors, well placed boundaries make for better relationships...every time.