Demon dogs and peaceful pugs…

My wife Carla and I have pugs, as most of you reading this will know.  One of our pugs, Pippin, who was something of a bully in her younger days, gets very territorial when we try to lift her onto our laps.  She begins to utter a low growl, and her face seems to turn into a compact ball of bile.  When she gets in this mode, it immediately causes Alice and Phoebe, two of our other pugs, to switch to attack mode.  Without intervention, most times Alice and Phoebe attack, and we have a dogfight in progress, and Pippin gets the worst of it.  The fights, such as they are, do not go on for long, as Carla and I have learned how to break them up fast, separating the dogs until they calm down. 

Another pug, Irma, does not start fights by growling, nor jump into fights once started.  She knows what she wants —  food, lap time, peaceful time in her place, and walks.  She is pretty confident that she’ll get these, though when it comes to the occasional snack, it is Irma who yips the loudest.  We call it the “death scene from Camille, hyperactively enacted by Irma.”  Still, for the most part, Irma is the best behaved of our pugs. 

I think this comes from an internal confidence she has — she knows she’ll get fed; she knows we’ll take care of her;  she has confidence in her own abilities — if we fail to close a door, or leave food within range, it is usually Irma who notices this and takes advantage of the situation. 

Pippin, Alice and Phoebe, on the other hand, work from a lack of confidence and worry.  Pippin, former dominant, and now frailer, figures that by making a lot of angry sounds she’ll be able to dominate the situation.  It doesn’t work.  But that’s her strategy and she’s sticking to it.  Alice, who from her puppy days was intent on rooting out aberrant behavior, is quick to respond in kind, as is Phoebe, who is the youngest, and the most like Pippin when she first joined our family.  Again, the strategy doesn’t work — we intervene, and the dogs get time out.

I know something about anger.  For men of an Irish background, emotion is a tricky business.  Anger, though, is generally o.k. to exhibit, and so much of one’s emotional range gets played out in one angry note.  Anger is the counter to fear, but to rely on anger means to inhabit a world of fear — your anger today gives you protection from, and maybe dominance over others who seem to be a threat.  But one day, those who live in fear of you will find a way to turn the tables.  And knowing that, or fearing that, brings even more anxiety.  A moment of god-like certainty and power comes at an awful psychic cost.  And during that moment of power, if one can step outside and take a look, the powerful angry person looks awfully alone.  Ultimately, it’s a lose-lose situation.

So what do I get out of this — look to Irma for an example.  Try to live life as a win-win game, rather than a win-lose game, or even a lose-lose game.  Assume that you have the skill set (which might include a healthy level of improvisational ability) to do the job.  Be reasonably assured that the universe is not a hostile environment, and that you have the wherewithall within to help you past the bumps. 

In my Roman Catholic days, I remember a prayer that we were encouraged to say every morning — the “Morning Offering.”  For most of my grammar school days, I had a copy of this stuck on the headboard to my bed.  Occasionally, I’d look at it.  In it you offered up yourself, with all your gifts and all your faults to God.  I don’t make such an offering every morning any more (I didn’t as a kid either, though the prayer stuck to my headboard was always there), but I do think that it’s not a bad way to look at things.  There are times when we feel overwhelmed, cornered, trapped, incapable of meeting the day.  But we’re the only means we have of meeting those challenges.  Running away doesn’t work; anger may keep those troubles at bay, but troubles at bay begin to look more and more terrifying.  So, ready or not, we’re ready — we were “born ready.”

Irma would certainly agree.

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