Cooper the Perfect

She is definitely getting bigger. And badder.

(Yes, I know “badder” doesn’t sound proper. But as I know English rules, I get to break them. The end.)

I took her to the vet yesterday for her second round of shots. She’s gained over 4 pounds since we’ve had her (despite a nasty case of worms–yuck!), tipping the scales around 12.5 pounds. Let’s just say she’s a hearty eater. Her taste is rather nondiscriminatory, too–kibble, treats, peanut butter, bugs, leaves, tree bark, rocks, you name it. You can imagine that some of these choices make me happier than others. THANK GOODNESS she hasn’t discovered my boots.

My Momma’s joke is that I am reading Cesar Millan’s How to Raise a Perfect Dog. She finds it amusing that I didn’t choose a title like Make Your Dog a Good Dog or Helping the Average Puppy Adapt to Your Family. No, she says, I insisted on perfection. But I think, why try to raise a puppy without having high standards? When I teach English, I don’t shoot for average. I shoot for the best. It’s in my nature–it’s in my gene pool. Mom is this way. I am this way. Maybe that’s why she thinks it’s so funny…right, Momma?

Well, that’s what I tell myself.

So, how’s this quest for excellence going, you may ask?

Not so peachy on most days. HB and I have been battling with Cooper and each other about how to get her to listen, to obey, to do what we’d like when we want. This usually ends with me gritting my teeth (another recently discovered trait that I get from Momma), saying “NO!” and wondering why in the WORLD we thought it was a good idea to bring a puppy into our sweet, peaceful summer life.

In my finer moments, though, it hits me: are we just being selfish and domineering? Have we really given her a reason to listen to us? To respect that we’re boss?

If you’ve read or seen anything produced by Cesar Millan, you know that he’s big on “energy”–the nonverbal message you project from the inside out. In order to have a balanced dog, you must project the energy of the pack leader. Your dog is then comfortable and settled, following your guidance. The pack leader is confident and unwavering, what Cesar calls “calm and assertive.” When this doesn’t happen, the dog assumes leadership of the pack, but she becomes stressed and anxious. Her healthy and more natural state is to be a follower.

So what I’ve been thinking is this: are we acting like pack leaders?

When we brought Cooper home, I just wanted to snuggle and love her. She was so cute and cuddly, and her puppy smell was intoxicating. I thought she was precious. But she needs more than love and snuggles. She needs trust in someone who knows more than she does, someone who protects her from things and situations that are harmful and dangerous. When we don’t project the energy of pack leaders, she’s confused. Why does the person who wants to snuggle and love her one minute yell at her the next for biting and playing?

But being a pack leader is harder than it seems. I think this is a fascinating and beneficial part of owning an animal: you have to check and control your energy. There’s no fooling Cooper–she’s like a mirror. If I’m excited, she’s excited; if I’m frustrated, you can bet she’s frustrated. So I may outwardly try to convey that I’m in charge, but if I don’t really believe it, she’s not going to buy it. She’ll feed on the part of me that is frustrated and anticipating the next bad thing she’s going to do.

So in training puppies and in life, I wonder if the messages we tell ourselves affect us more than we think.

I’m not trying to take this whole “pack leader” thing too far–there’s no reason why we should walk around acting like our poo doesn’t smell. But what if we all held ourselves with confidence and poise, really believing all that we’re worth?

In the weeks before we adopted Cooper, I made a personal challenge to be a lady. Ladies are confident, yet their self-assurance isn’t off-putting. Ladies are graceful. They don’t get flustered. They don’t blurt out things they don’t mean before thinking. They’re cool and collected, and that makes them a joy to be around. My friend Judy is like this. When I’m around her, I want to be like her. I try to mirror her energy. Maybe being a lady is the Prissy Pants version of being Cooper’s pack leader.

So we’re not quite hitting perfection around here, but I don’t think perfection in and of itself is the goal. We are learning and growing so that we understand one another. Cooper will never be perfect, and neither will I. But we can push each other to be the best lady and puppy we can be.

And that sounds pretty perfect to me.


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