The number one cause of house plant death is overwatering

If you know me well, you know that my number one dog is my female Akita mix named Taya.  I have had her for 8 years and she means the world to me.  In my own way, I always try to let her know how special she is to me.  Whether it is taking her on special outings, or giving her special food or attention, it is always clear that she is the number one dog.  I do my best to bring her with me everywhere and do all the things that I think will make her "happier".  In the last few years she developed Addison's disease, a lifelong illness that greatly affects her ability to manage her stress levels.  Recently I have had to really ask myself what truly promotes a calm state of mind in her, and what honestly just doesn't.  With such a deep emotional connection I have to her, this is not always easy to see.

If not for all the work I have done working with nervous and fearful dogs, I would never have guessed I would ever say what I am about to say.  Maybe just doing "more" for your dog isn't going to make it reach its highest potential.  Maybe just spending more time with your dog and trying to be emotionally or physically close to them is not enough.  Maybe we need to really ask ourselves what our dog actually needs to be in balance, and what is just not working.  With my dog, for example, I previously thought that she would be happier if she went with me everywhere.  At a certain point I just started to notice that she had anxiety in the car, and that no matter what I tried to do this anxiety just wouldn't go away.  I honestly started experimentally leaving her home and noticed that she actually seemed more at ease during our time we spent together, if we weren't together all the time.  I noticed that it wasn't the time we spent together , but what we were doing during that time that really makes the difference in her ability to be a happy and confident dog.

Another example of this is a dog I just recently trained.  It was a dog that had been aggressive towards little dogs it's entire life.  The more I worked with the dog and spent time with it the more I realized that most of her aggression stemmed from anxiety.  As I watched the owner interact with her and saw how they reacted to her displays of anxiety I realized that this state of mind had been supported by the owners for many years.  The people honestly meant well, they really had done their best to give their dog the "love" that they thought she needed to work through her anxiety.  However, every time she cried and they pet her or comforted her with their soft words the dog remained anxious.  Only after seeing their dog come back to them after a few weeks with me did they realize the connection between their "love" and the dogs anxiety.  For them, the success with their dog's aggression came only when they could put their own emotions to the side and see what the dog really responded best to.  They found out that simply telling her "no" when she was crying actually helped her stop being anxious much more than hours of comforting words or physical touch.

This is definitely not to say that we need to stop "loving" our dogs or bringing them with us everywhere we go, but we do need to be honest with ourselves and our dogs.  In addition, as important as it is to be a leader to our dog, we need to listen to them and see the way that our behaviors influence them.  Possibly our dog needs 2 structured walks a day, more than they need to drive around in our car with us all day.  Maybe its the case that our dog needs more mental challenges like searching for food we have hidden or learning to wait calmly their dinner.  Possibly, they need the challenge of learning how to calm themselves down, vs. having to rely on us all the time to do it for them.  It is my opinion that our dogs can show us what really makes them balanced and calm dogs, as long as we are willing to listen.  More than anything tho, they need us to watch them and listen to them, and still be the leader.  

I know that I love my number one dog, and I am sure that she knows it as well.  Most of my life is devoted to helping her and other animals reach their highest potential.   This journey is not an easy one, and not one for someone who cannot put their emotions to the side sometimes.  Just a bit of food for thought, on a seemingly unrelated topic; gardening.  The truth is the number one reason most people fail at gardening is from over watering.  For us as humans, we assume that if we just water the plant more, it will grow.  Inevitably this sometimes actually suffocates the plants roots and causes it to grow weak, so we water it more, thinking that it must have not had enough to drink.  The plant may need more shade over it so it doesn't over heat, or perhaps it needs more nutrients to feed the yellowing leaves.  Maybe it just needs time to fully dry out in between watering cycles, or maybe there is a pest that it needs us to help it eradicate.

In a similar way, when we just give our dog what we think "should" make them happy and balanced, sometimes we are actually doing the opposite.  Sometimes, we need to really take a step back and slow down, take a moment or two to tune into our dog see what they really "need" to excel.  Maybe it is more structure, more exercise, less exercise, less treats, more treats, more guidance, less freedom, more freedom, less affection, more "jobs" to do, less time being our "therapy dog", or even more time alone where they can truly unplug and just be.  Whatever it is, the best thing is that our dogs are our best teachers.  If we can tune into them and also be open to interpreting what they are saying to us to mean more than "pet me more", or "give me more treats", or "take me with you", we might find ourselves and our dogs reaching our highest potential; together.

Eric Stokell