Category Archives for "Kids"

How to stop overthinking

Alllyyyy asks:

I’m a overthinker. I always overthink in every situation. My mind is always disturbed by this overthinking.  Nowadays I’m not able to sleep properly either, from this overthinking.  Please suggest to me what to do.

Hi Alllyyyy –

I have to admit, to us dogs’ eyes, all you humans overthink all the time! That’s one of the biggest differences between us. 

But maybe it’s better to say, you guys think way too much about the wrong things!  See, we dogs don’t have a big sense of the past or future, not nearly as much as you with your gigantic brains.  We stay centered in the moment.

Just as an example, imagine someone gives you a big piece of pizza.  Your mind is going to go ten directions at once:  “Wow, I love pizza!  Yum!” “Why did they give it to me?  Do I trust them to not be drugging or poisoning me with it?”  “If I don’t eat that now, they’ll take it away and I’ll never get it!”  “If I eat it, I’ll gain weight.”  “I wonder if this is as good as the pizza I had at that place on Main Street I loved so much.  I wonder if they’re still in business.  I need to find out.  Maybe if so, I can go there next week.  But who would I take?  Maybe that new coworker who’s so cute?  But I don’t know if I’m good enough for…”

Now, do you know where our minds go?  “YUM!”  And it’s gone!  No more thinking, no more questions! 

Now does that mean it’s easier to sneak a drug into our food than yours?  Sure!  That’s how Handsome gives me my supplements every day (but don’t tell him I’m onto him please)!  But yes, that also means it’s easier to hurt us than you.  And also, our way of thinking would never get us a date with that new coworker, or even finding out if that pizzeria is still around.

So your thinking has a lot of strengths, and there’s no reason to try to stop them.   Most of the time!

But sometimes, you do need to just give it a rest.  To live in the present, to center yourself in your body, to empty your brain of all…

Is this sounding like something familiar to you?

Yes, my friend, I’m going to recommend you try meditating.  I’m not pushing any religious or spiritual agenda on you, but if you can spend even two minutes every morning just closing your eyes, sitting still, and focusing on your breathing, that’ll be great.  If thoughts come to you, let them be there and go, and refocus on breathing in and out.  And if you have a little more time, try shifting your focus to what you’re seeing (I know your eyes are closed, but what designs or light do you see while there?), smelling, tasting, hearing, and touching.  And with each, putting your attention fully onto that sense.

See what you’ll have done?  You’ll have stopped those thinking wheels in your brain for just a few minutes.  And worked to build your brain’s “muscle” of being in the moment, focusing on just what’s there.

The strength you’ll develop from this won’t be that you get stupid or thoughtless.  Rather, it’ll be that you can direct your focus away from “overthinking” when that helps you.  To slow down panicky worrying, to stop yourself from ruminating over useless questions (which, in my experience of people, usually begin with “Does he/she like me?  What did he/she mean when…”)!!

Doing this won’t solve everything, but it will definitely help.  Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

And if that works, maybe you’ll learn our incredible ability to block out all thoughts but one for hours on end, usually involving staring at a tree and waiting for a squirrel to walk back down it!  Now that is a glorious mental skill!

All my best,

Shirelle

Sorry Not Sorry … the nature of regret

            Handsome recently told me about a fascinating movie he’d just seen.  Hard to describe, but in many ways, it was fundamentally about the nature of regret. 

            We dogs don’t deal a lot with regret.  Or rather, we don’t deal with it for long.  We’ll regret something we did because of its immediate consequences (whether that’s the punishment sort, like when I steal food off Handsome’s plate and he yells at me and makes me go outside, or the cause-effect sort, like where I stick my nose too far to sniff inside a hot oven and… OW!), but we don’t carry regrets on for days, or months, or years, the way you do.

            So I look on the whole concept in a different way than people would.  And what I see is… mixed.

            Okay, first let’s talk about the good.  A person does something thoughtless or awful, that has terrible consequences.  They drive drunk and cause an accident with permanent injuries, or they say something hurtful that someone never gets over.  And having realized the effects of their actions, they make a change.  They stop driving intoxicated (or maybe stop drinking altogether), and hold back on comments that might be taken in the worst ways. 

            Well that’s great!  They’ve grown, matured, learned… they make themselves into better people, more useful citizens of their community.  Regret has prodded them to self-improvement. Fantastic.

            And then there’s the bad.  A person does something they regret, and it damages them forever.  A breakup goes badly, and the instigator says “I hurt someone I cared about, and feel awful, so I never want to try romance again.  I’m too harmful.”  Or on a more general level, someone does something they regret and never feels good about themselves after that.  “I’m just not a good person.  I make mistakes that go bad.”  You know the type – the person who never stands up straight, only smiles with a nervousness, and can’t accept a compliment.  It’s not their breakup or mistake that’s ruined their life; it’s their regret that’s done it.

            But then there’s another sort.  Let’s call it “Dramatic Regret.”  The person who wears their regret, makes a show of it, lets it define them by choice.  You know them too.  The girl who is always telling her schoolmates she shouldn’t have broken up with that guy, the young man who’s always putting on a show about what a bad person he is for having punched his dad.  The regret might be real, but, again, these folk tend to make their regret into a new set of clothes for themselves! 

            Of course, what’s the very best is when regret leads one to simply act in a way that undoes it.  I know that’s not always possible, but when it can, I’m for it.  When Handsome accidentally steps on my toes, I yelp, and he collapses down, hugging me, apologizing, and kissing the tops of my feet to make them feel better… it works!  Sure I don’t want him stepping there again, but all the pain has gone away, and I’m fine!

            So, about this movie.  It was hard for Handsome to describe to me, and it’ll be even harder for me to relate, but it’s about a good woman with a bland husband, a rebellious daughter, and a distant father, trying to get through her difficult working day, while facing economic difficulties.  But suddenly she’s enabled to see all the different possibilities out there – of her past choices and her present.  It’s confusing, and surprisingly violent, as she confronts all these different realities.  But in doing so, she grows to learn more about who she is. 

            In other words, to grow, she is forced to face countless regrets.  Even for things she didn’t know were choices she’d made.

            If you’re able to see it, I recommend this movie.  It’s called Everything Everywhere All at Once, and while it’s being compared to superhero multiverse stories, it’s really more unique than that.

            But if you miss seeing it, or you think it’s not your type, that’s okay too.  It’s YOUR choice, and you don’t need to walk around in regret about it!

            What I want most is for you to look at yourself, at your own life, right now.  And see what regrets you have.  Are any of them fixable, like Handsome kissing my toes?  Or “growable,” like the driver changing their drinking habits?  Or if not, are any of them unfair, just pulling you down?  Maybe you can let those go.  (Or are any of them ones you choose to indulge, for attention-grabbing reason?  PLEASE let those go!)

            As a human, you have a huge brain that holds incredible amounts of memory and imagination.  You will never be able to live with no regrets.  But if you handle them right, and carry just the ones that you absolutely have to, then maybe, just maybe, you can live as happy and constantly-refreshingly-happy a life as a dog.

            And that’s something you will NEVER regret!

Why can’t the people who care about us understand what we’re feeling?

Soumyaguna asks:

I want to know why do people tend to show their emotions to us and when we try to say what we have to, we are not understood.

Why do people not care about what the other person might be going through, especially when you are not just anyone….you are someone special.

To be clear, I’m tired of explaining myself every time….I’m tired of making others understand what exactly I feel and how.

But deep inside I’m very sad realizing that I actually don’t have even one person in my life who understands me or with whom I can share things, not even my closest ones.

I ‘m tired of this all happening to me all the time….I’m done with this and cannot take anymore, cause it is causing so much harm to my mental peace where I don’t know how to move forward.

Things have just burdened me a lot, with piles of stress and a lot of complaints with close ones as they are the ones whom I care about and always will. But the ignorant attitude just isn’t going down well with me.

Hi Soumyaguna –

         I know you asked about a lot of things, but fundamentally it seems to me that you’re asking about the problem that people aren’t sensitively picking up on what you’re feeling, or even expressing, and seem to need you to spell everything out for them (if they even care then!).

         Of course I don’t know the people in your life, but I will point out something I’ve noticed about humans, which is that you guys have gigantic brains, and they tend to be filled with gigantic amounts of stuff!

         We dogs are relatively simple.  We feel every bit as deeply as humans do, but our thoughts tend to center on a smaller number of items: our safety, food, play, territory, and giving and receiving love.  That’s largely it.  Even the super-smart dogs you see doing amazing tricks in shows have been trained through love and food.

         Meanwhile, you guys have SO MUCH STUFF on your minds.  The same day your heart is broken by someone dumping you, you might have a big exam in a science class, you’re trying to remember all the lyrics to that new song you like, you’re trying to master how to drive your parents’ car, you’re struggling with conflicting feelings about your dad, you’re wondering if you wore the right outfit, and you’re responsible to remember all the different plays on your basketball team.  That’s SO MUCH!

         And my point is that that goes two ways.  When a dog is upset, we’re clear about it.  Maybe we yelp in pain, maybe we whine and lay our head in your lap, maybe we growl and snarl… whatever it is, it’s clear.  But you guys have so many subtler expressions – sarcasm and silence and distance and begging for attention (okay yeah we do that last one too). 

         But when it comes to understanding what another person is feeling, that gets many times more complex.  A person has to focus on someone else (and not that science exam or their jeans), and then read their feelings correctly, and then respond in a way that lets that person know their feelings have been seen in just the right way…

         It’s hard, Soumyaguna.  It’s hard for everyone.  All the time.

         But I’m going to make one big argument about your concern that no one understands.  With all the complexities of the human mind, the amazing astounding unbelievable fact is that people everywhere are mostly just the same.  There’s a reason certain movies or songs or shows are universally popular – it’s because everyone can relate to those feelings. 

         Now you might have people in your life who don’t understand WHY you feel the way you do.  But I promise, there’s no feeling you’ve had that everyone you know hasn’t also had.  Sadness, heartbreak, ecstasy, hilarity, loneliness, alienation… everyone’s been there. 

         So your job – and I know it’s hard – is to find a way to connect to other people’s feelings, even if your reasons are your own.

         Here’s an example.  A guy falls head over heels in love with a woman who doesn’t love him back.  In fact, they don’t share many interests, and she doesn’t treat him well.  She breaks up with him, and he’s devastated.  He goes to see a friend.  The friend gets annoyed with him for acting so glum.  Now we’re looking at just one of those “no one understands” situations, right?

         So our guy explains he’s just been dumped.  The friend says “Good, she was useless!”

         He explains that he loved her.  “Well that’s just stupid.  She treated you horribly!”

         He explains that that’s true, but he still loved every second with her.  “But that’s silly.  You weren’t doing any of the things you like to do!”

         He explains that that’s true too, but that his love for her was bigger than all that, and her leaving makes him feel hopeless and unlovable.

         OH OKAY!  That friend has felt THAT!  And that’s when that friend, if they’re a good friend, says “Oh man I’ve been there!” and tells them THEIR awful story about when they felt that way.  Maybe they have a couple of beers.  Maybe they talk till they start laughing about their awful relationships.  Whatever it is, a line has been crossed.  And our fellow doesn’t feel alone anymore.

         Sure he still misses her, and his heart still hurts, but connecting with that friend helped him move forward.

         But as you see, the friend didn’t get it at first.  It took some work to get there.

         Now Soumyaguna, you may be right about some of the people in your life, that they’re not interested enough in your feelings to care.  If so, those don’t seem to be the best people for you to put your trust and emotions onto.  Better to find someone who’s better at it.

         And you know where I’m going to go with this – there’s NO ONE better for this than a dog!  We may not understand your reasons or your stories, but we connect to every emotion you have, and WE CARE.  We care as much as we do about ourselves! 

         And unlike your human friends, we’re very happy to lick all the tears off your face!

         So please don’t give up on everyone, and give people the chance and the information they need to connect with you.  But if they can’t… just remember, we’re out here, always eager to give you just what you need.

         All my best,

         Shirelle

What’s the best way to deal with false rumors at school?

Arty asks:

A few weeks ago at lunch one of my friends at school told me that someone who I thought was my friend made a story about me on FaceTime (Maybe she was jealous but she also might have just been bored or feeling mean. I’m not sure.). It was about me having sex with someone else who is now out of our school, and us having a child and giving the child away. When I heard the story I went to someone who’s always supervising us during lunch. She’s someone I guess I trust, and we’ve known each other for however long I’ve been at this school, and my friends and I love her and always talk to her. So I told her everything. And this lady I trust called the girl who made the story about me and told her she was very disappointed in her because the same thing had happened to her last year. Then lunch ended and my teacher called everyone who was involved. She talked to us and the lady I trust also talked to us. I was silent the whole time and was on the verge of tears (I had wanted the lunch supervisor to talk about it to the person who made the story, but not to bring my teacher into it and get people in trouble and stuff like that cause I feel people would call me a tattle tale.), but tried not to show it. When they were done talking, I asked if I could use the restroom. I felt vindicated but also horribly embarrassed.  When I reached the restroom, I started crying. Then one of my used-to-be best friends but now sorta-friends walked in, gave me a hug, and we both cried a little bit. Then we went back to class. I’m sorta over this, and no one talks about it anymore, but whenever I think about it I feel like I still wanna cry. I don’t know what to do anymore and who to trust or who I can trust. My parents don’t know about this and after a few days no one at school talked about it anymore – which always happens whenever something major occurs. Now I feel like I’m wearing a mask and everyone thinks I’m ok. It’s just so hard not to have anyone to talk to (Sometimes when I say stuff, my schoolmates sorta just laugh at me. I feel like I just can’t get personal with them. And I don’t want to dump my problems on them because I’m sure that they have problems of their own.). And right now I myself feel like I’m being dramatic and selfish.


Then… a whole different story happened! Almost all of my classmates were added to a new group chat a few days ago (including me). And they started talking about a kid in my class. I’m going to name him r. Ok. So they were just talking about r liking every girl in the classroom and wanting to date me! And then they sent a picture of r with like a huge grin on his face and below it wrote r when he sees (I’m going to put j for my name) j. And I’m just like ‘ooook then’… I didn’t really have anything to say so I kept quiet. But with my friends (in a different group chat) were talking about it and stuff. Then r texted in the group chat ‘I like j’ and I was just completely shocked but told myself it was probably a dare or he’s just seeking attention and stuff like that. Then one of my other friends who was not in the group chat with my friends but was in the group chat with the entire class texted me and asked me if I saw the text r wrote. I told her yes. Then she asked if I liked him back. I knew that she was going to ask me and when I answered she would send it to her bestie and her bestie would send it to the whole class. So I just ignored her text. That was during the weekend. So come the school week, everyone is asking me ‘do u like r?’ ‘Are you and r dating’ ‘do you know’ and all that jazz. And one brat  told me ‘go kiss r’. My answer for all of those questions except the last one were ‘I’m not going to answer that question’ ‘no’ and ‘yes’ respectively (is that the right word?). Now, my question for u is what do I do? Do I text this boy and ask him why he did that? If it was a dare? Does he actually like me? (But I’m worried that if I do, he’ll take a picture and send it to everyone) or do I talk to him in real life. Or do I just ignore it and wait for it to be forgotten?  I will appreciate any piece of advise you have to offer. Thank you! 

Hi Arty –

Before anything else, I have one big statement for you:  you are NOT being “dramatic and selfish.”  You went through something terrifying with that crazy FaceTime incident, and are still trying to make sense of it, as anyone would. 

But I’m going to give you a suggestion on how to deal with all this that might sound really odd:  Take a deep breath, and do nothing!

Here’s my thought.  First of all, it seems quite clear that everyone quickly forgot about that idiotic story about you and the child.  It sounds to me like your class looooooves drama, and so is always looking for something new to talk about, so that crazy tale was forgotten as soon as some other nutty one came around!

Secondly, with the story about r, all he’s done was to write that note that said he liked you.  Well “like” is a very vague word.  I like you and I’ve never met you!  But he might mean that he thinks you’re cute (which anyone could say, whether or not they were actually interested in getting involved with you).  Or he might mean he has a huge crush on you.   Or, as you suggest, he might have just said it on a dare.

Regardless, he hasn’t done anything more about it.  And while a bunch of people are asking you how you feel about him (and I don’t know – do you actually feel anything toward him, good or bad?), they’ve probably moved on to other, equally earth-shaking questions, in the seven days since you wrote me.  But unless he’s done anything (like talk with you, or even try to get your attention), you have no responsibility in this at all!

You see, you care a lot about what your peers say and think about you, of course.  But what you’re not focusing on, or at least not telling me, is what you want.  In all the nutty stuff you wrote me about, I don’t hear anything about your excitement or hurt or wishes.  And I’m guessing that’s because they aren’t as important to you right now as what the group thinks and feels about you!

So focus on that.  Would you like r to approach you?  Let him know.  Would you prefer he not?  Then keep things as they are.

I know it seems the opposite is true, but YOU HAVE ALL THE POWER HERE!  Someone saying they like you is a nice compliment but nothing more.  People talk all the time about liking pop stars and actresses, who don’t need to respond at all.  Neither do you!  

You’re just fine, my friend.  And what’s cool is that, for the second time in a very short while, everyone at school got focused on you.  Think how it would feel to be one of those kids no one ever thinks about!  You’re one of the lucky ones!

So stay cool, and take that deep breath — and don’t do anything till you have a feeling that makes you do something.  You have the power, and you have the right!

All my best,

Shirellle

2 Acts of Contrition – the importance of apology

In a popular movie of 1970, a famous actress tells her boyfriend Ryan O’Neal, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  A couple of years later, he was in another hit movie, where another famed actress tells him the same line, and he responds “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

I agree more with the second one.

People say they’re sorry all the time, and even though they may not truly mean it at a deep level, it’s usually appreciated.  You interrupt a conversation with, “Sorry to bother you, but…” and it’s accepted.  Or you bump into someone accidentally, and say “Oh, sorry!”  Now do you truly, in these situations, feel deep sorrow about your action?  Of course not.  It’s not that big a deal.  It’s just nice to say.

But with bigger deals, it’s often far more important – and more difficult – to express sorrow and remorse.  To feel and relay it to a degree that changes how others look at you.

This issue got on my mind recently, due to some international political scandals I heard about. On May 20, 2020, a world leader attended a party while making rules that people should stay in and not go to parties.  In November of that year, another leader did just the same thing.  And both then lied when they were caught!  And both got in trouble for their hypocrisy.  But today, one of them is hugely popular, while the other might well be dumped by his own party.  What’s the difference? 

I’d argue it’s all about apology.

In May of 2020, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, attended a party at his home, while pushing the people of his nation to, in caution against the Coronavirus, not even attend funerals, much less parties just for fun.  When asked about the party, he said he hadn’t even known about it.  Then he was forced to admit he’d actually been there.

Then six months later, the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, attended a dinner at a fancy restaurant, while he was pushing the people of his state to stay home and not go to restaurants.  When asked about it, he admitted going, but said that everyone had safely stayed outdoors.  Then when press photos of him showed that he was sitting under an indoor chandelier, he had to admit he’d been inside.

Two lying politicians, hypocritical about the rules they expected others to follow.  So what’s the difference?

Mr. Newsom began apologizing at once.  And then, for the next year, he constantly kept doing so, saying what he’d done was stupid, and made a strong point of not making a mistake like that again.

Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson continued to avoid talking about that party, and has been caught at others, including a celebratory one the night before his nation’s Prince’s funeral!  Finally this week he apologized for the 2020 party to Parliament, and for the recent one to their Queen. 

Both politicians have faced public fury, and attempts from their opposition parties to replace them in office.  In Mr. Newsom’s case, it even led to a special election.  But by that time, he’d apologized enough, and shown his better qualities in contrast to his opponent’s ideas, and won a greater percentage of the vote than in the election that had originally given him the job.

While, in Mr. Johnson’s case, many members of his own party are calling for him to resign immediately.

Again, I’m not trying to say either one is a total hero or total villain here.  Both showed stupidity and arrogance in the first place.  But one eventually handled it right, and the other didn’t.  And as Mr. Newsom approaches his originally-scheduled battle for re-election, no member of his opposition party has even yet publicly announced they want to run!

What’s the difference between the two?  Mr. Newsom might just be saying and doing the things he ought to, but he appears to be legitimately sorry he went to that party, and to see how hurtful it was to the people of his state.  While Mr. Johnson appears to only be admitting his fault to get out of trouble, nearly two years later, in a way that no one believes.

Now I’ll give another couple of examples of what I’m talking about, a bit closer to home: These are about me!

For the first few years I lived with Handsome, I tore up, chewed, or broke more things in his home than I can count – from windows to album covers to plumbing to furniture.  And, young and headstrong, I could see that he was upset about them but didn’t really care all that much.  Sure I wanted him to be happy with me, but that was about it.

But as I got older, I wanted to be more careful.  To stop disappointing him.  To be more of a partner.

But things happen. And sure enough, one day I was near a window when a neighbor I loved to bark at walked by.  I jumped up to let him know I saw him and wasn’t going to take that lying down – and knocked over a large potted plant, that shattered onto the floor, spilling dirt everywhere. 

Handsome heard the noise and ran into the room, and stopped when he saw it, “oh NO!” he yelled at the mess.

Now, again, I’d done things far worse, but not at this stage in my life.  I felt just awful!  I bowed my head into the floor, my eyes squeezed shut, full of remorse and pain. 

And what did Handsome do?  Oh you can guess.  His heart just melted.  He came and hugged me and murmured, “Oh sweetie, it was only a plant.  I can clean it up.  It’s fine.” 

And it was.

A year or two later, a friend of his, one of my favorites, was at our place.  I’d brought her a stuffed toy, and she was playing tug-of-war with me with it, both having a great time.  But then I took a deeper bite to get more of it into my mouth, and accidentally bit her hand.  “OWW!” she yelled, and pulled her hand back. 

All over again, my heart just broke.  I loved this lady (still do).  The last thing I’d ever want would be to hurt her, or to make her not want to play with me.  So again, my head bowed, my chest hitting the floor, my eyes wanting to shut this truth out completely.

And again, she saw it and knew it was true.  She petted me and said “It’s okay, you knucklehead.  You just have to be more careful.”  And gave me a hug.

Boy did I lick her face clean that day!

The point I’m making in all this is about sincerity.  To say you’re sorry is a nice gesture, but to truly feel sorrow over something you’ve done to someone – that means the world.

In an old movie Handsome loves, a character says that apologizing is a sign of weakness.  Well, maybe that’s true.  Maybe a true apology is telling someone “I’m weakening myself to you, because I feel so bad about what I did.”

I certainly showed weakness about that plant and that toy.  And I’m not ashamed of it – I’m proud!

You see, Handsome and his friend both gained respect for me when I did that.  And Mr. Newsom gained respect from the people of his state when he came clean about that stupid party.  Maybe Mr. Johnson can gain some respect from this too – althought it might be too late for that.

So my doggy advice, if you find yourself in a situation where you should apologize?

  1. Apologize as soon as you can.  Right away is best.
  2. Don’t say anything you don’t mean.  Just tell your heart’s truth.
  3. Don’t make excuses.  (Mr. Johnson, in his speech to Parliament, said he’d only been at that party for “25 minutes.”  So?  Who cares whether he broke his own rule for five minutes or five hours?  It just made him sound insincere.)
  4. Don’t ask for forgiveness, at least not yet.  That’s immediately asking the person you hurt to do something for you!  If they don’t forgive you, you can ask later, but don’t make that part of the apology.
  5. And for crying out loud, don’t just go back and do the same thing again!

If you can master these, your apology has a great chance of being accepted.  And with that, your life will be able to move on from whatever it was you did.

Because in truth, love often IS saying you’re sorry.  And meaning it!

What to do when others are intimidated by your size and energy?

Arty asks: I feel very self-conscious lots of the time. I’m overweight, and I have pimples and acne. My friends also call me mean and evil (though that’s just one guy) and aggressive and sarcastic, to an extent where they can’t tell if I’m even being serious or not. Of course, I know that most of the time, when they call me that, they are just joking around, but sometimes I feel they are serious. One girl even tells me that my voice just sounds a way in which she can tell that I’m being serious. Sure I’m loud, sometimes I’m ‘energetic’ and sometimes I shout (in a joking manner). But overall, I feel like one day, I’m just gonna be abandoned by my friends and that scares me. What do I do?

Hi Arty –

So if I see this correctly, you’re bigger than your friends, and your playfulness can be overwhelming to the degree they don’t know if you’re being playful or aggressive?  ARTY YOU’RE ME!!  That’s just what I get in the dog park!  I want to play with everyone, but because I’m big and very active (I don’t have the skin issue, but no dogs do!), many of them get scared.  Both dogs and people!

While pretty much all humans get self-conscious, and dogs don’t, it does sound to me like you’re dealing with a problem that we dogs do face a lot.  Little dogs bark all the time, even bite a lot, and no one takes them seriously, just laughing at them and going “Oh you’re so adorable!”  Then a huge dog makes one friendly bark and everyone is terrified they’re going to get eaten!  You’d think this means us more-medium-sized dogs would have all communication perfect, but no, it doesn’t work out that way.

The truth is, Arty, everyone needs to adjust their energy somewhat to others.  I can’t run up and jump on everyone the way I’d like to.  Smaller dogs have to be more careful of people stepping on them than I do.  And you – you’re a big guy with a voice that somehow intimidates some people (at least that one girl).  So my advice is simple – learn to soften it.  Learn to approach people in a way that shows you’re not threatening them.

But also learn that these qualities are YOUR POWERS, and you shouldn’t shut them all the way down.  There will be times when it’s great that you’re big, and have that powerful voice!  Don’t give that up!  Think of the SpiderMan line, that with great power comes great responsibility.  I’m saying to, yes, take that responsibility – but for heaven’s sake don’t give up the power!

I once heard a great line, that the definition of a gentleman is a man who knows how to play the accordion and then doesn’t.  Yes that is meant to be silly (after all, lots of people love to hear accordions!), but there’s a lot of truth in it: Having the power to do something, and choosing when to do it, is the key to greatness.  It does no one any good for you to deny your strengths, but it also doesn’t help you if everyone is always afraid of your uncontrollable presence. 

So learn to be able to keep your voice down.  And learn to be able to hold back your sarcasm.  And (and this will take time) learn just the right amounts to let them out to serve your purposes.

If you can master that, you won’t just be Arty.  You’ll be an ArtISTE!

Best,
Shirelle

Should I be concerned if my child cries too much?

Mqasana asks:

I have a 11-year-old boy who is very troublesome. I love my first born child but he’s very disrespectful, doesn’t like to take bath to stay clean, cries at you when you talk to him, and his school is also trouble, he comes home late every day.
Where can I find a school that can help me and my child?

Hi Mqasana –

I can’t tell enough from your letter, but it sounds possible that your son has an actual emotional disorder.  The disrespect and hating baths are nothing out of the ordinary (both are true of me!), but his crying worries me more. 

I’m thinking less that he needs a new school than that you should ask if his current school if they have a counselor, and if not, if they can recommend one.  You might also consider taking him to a doctor to see if there’s anything physically wrong with him.

All kids go through rough phases, and eleven is a common age for boys to be problems.  But please find out if anything else is going on.  If so, there might be some treatment that can help him.  And if not… I don’t think it’s a new school that you want, but rather maybe a family therapist to help him grow through this phase.

Thanks and good luck!

Shirelle

6 Your Special Resolution! … a way to better enter 2022

            Where you live, do people make New Year’s Resolutions? 

I like them.  I think they’re a pretty healthy addition to all the other year-end rituals of parties and gifts and food we have here. 

It’s a pretty simple concept – each person looks at their lives at that moment and says “Okay, what changes do I resolve so that I’m a better person in this next year?”

            Most of them tend to be just what you’d guess, “I’ll lose weight,” “I’ll get stronger,” “I’ll eat less sugar,” “I’ll read more books.”  And as you can also guess, these tend to fall apart as the year goes on (though they do wonders for the financial accounts of gyms in January!).

            Then some get more interesting.  “I’m going to break up with my hyper-critical boyfriend,” “I’ll get my drivers license,” “I’ll get a new job.”  What I like about these is that they’re one-off ideas.  Keeping weight off for a year is possible but requires huge commitment, while quitting a relationship or taking a driving test can be done all at once.

            But I’ve been thinking about a different difference between resolutions.  Is the person focused on the past or the future?

            We dogs live in the present about 99% of the time.  From the most obedient German Shepherd to the most disobedient Poodle Mix (yes I’m looking at you, Ginger!).  While most humans live in some sort of split between the past, present, and future.  If I smell a piece of yummy cheese, I focus on it, with no thoughts of anything else.  But I see all the time – someone sees a pretty girl and their brain just races, “Wow she’s beautiful.  She reminds me of that girl I had that crush on when I was twelve.  I wonder what she’d be like to marry.”  They’ve gone from present to past to future in seconds!

            And I find that most resolutions focus on the past.  “I’ll drink less than I have lately,” “I’ll spend more time studying and less time on TicToc,” “I’ll be kinder to my mother.” 

            Now I’m all for self-improvement, and think that those past-focused resolutions are just fine.  And I hope every one of you who makes them can keep at least most of them in 2022!

            But I want to urge each of you to also make at least one New Year’s Resolution that has nothing to do with improving the past, and just points to the future.  “I’m going to travel to Italy!”  “I’m going to give a tenth of my money to the needy!”  “I’m going to go on twenty dates, and I don’t care with whom!”

            Do you see the difference?  The past-centered ones are about regret, a feeling of being “not good enough.”  But the future ones are about Hope.  About what you Want.  About what would make you Feel Good.

            We have been through ENOUGH these past two years!  And I see all these people out there who’ve been disappointed or crushed so much by this pandemic that they’ve stopped planning for hope.  But that’s the only fun part about having your future-oriented brains!  (If you don’t put some hopes into that future part, it’ll just fill up with fears and worries, won’t it?!).

            So while we all hope that the virus will truly abate in a few months, see if you can start training your brain to hope bigger, too.  But not just for something wonderful to happen to you (“I hope I win the lottery,” “I hope someone wonderful asks me out,” “I hope my son gives me a grandchild!”), but something for you to DO. 

            I can’t guarantee you’ll make it to Italy any more than I can that you’ll lose those inches around your waist.  But I do know that focusing on hope is the best way to help it happen.

            And that makes it so much easier for me to believe in my big hope right now – that every one of you has a joyous, healthy, successful, loving, and HAPPY New Year!

            Cheers!

            Shirelle

2 Even Though – a guide to gratitude in 2021

            In the United States, where I live, we have a lovely holiday.  Lovely for two reasons.  One is that its only major ritual is cooking and eating a huge meal – huge enough that we pet-pups are pretty much guaranteed leftovers!

            But the other loveliness is the meaning of it.  It’s a day all about gratitude. 

            The legend (and the more historical discoveries that come out, the more it seems to be… yeah… a legend!) is that when a group of religious refugees came here from England in the 1600s, the local people helped teach them how to survive in this harsh new environment.  And to show their appreciation, the English pilgrims set up a great feast, sharing all they’d grown and caught with those who taught them how to do so.

            Now I’m not going to go into the details of what of that is true, or the horrors of what the Europeans later did to those local residents.  But I do love that it eventually resulted in a day of gratitude.  A holiday for everyone.

            Some time back, when The Pawprint was new, I put out a list every year at this time, of what I was grateful for that year.  It might be something exciting and hopeful in international relations, or some music that Handsome played a lot and I liked the sound of, or maybe just something tasty I’d had the day before.  Whatever came to my mind.

            But as optimistic and cheerful a pup as I am, creating such a list would be hard this year!  Everything I can think of to be thankful for has a darker underside, a “Yeah But.”  Happy about a beautiful day?  Yeah, but climate change is taking those away.  Happy about a dear friend?  Yeah, but what about the ones you’ve lost to this awful pandemic?

            But I refuse to sit in resentment and misery!  That’s just not what dogs are about!

            So instead, this year I’m going to offer an “Even Though” list of Thanksgiving.  Not denying what’s wrong, but focusing on what I’m thankful for. 

            You see, I find that, when we do that, it makes us see yet more to be thankful for, and helps us create a world more worthy of that gratitude.

            And that creates hope.  The most powerful force I know, next to love.

            Here Goes:

            EVEN THOUGH the Glasgow Climate Change Conference didn’t come up with nearly enough solutions to our problems, more was agreed upon than ever before, and directions were set for future improvements.

EVEN THOUGH variants and fear have kept the stupid Coronavirus raging for another year, medical discoveries, international assistance, and growing awareness and knowledge keep us moving toward a new day of embracing and enjoying each other fearlessly again.

EVEN THOUGH the political system in my country is rife with forces keeping improvements at bay, the horrific top-down corruption and murderous neglect of the past four years has ended, and good people are able to at least try to make things better.

            EVEN THOUGH Handsome’s work keeps him away too much, he still gives me treats every time he leaves, which eases my heartache.

            EVEN THOUGH the stupid virus has still reduced attendance at plays, movies, concerts, and sports events, they’re all coming back, spitting in the face of the disease that tried to destroy them.

            EVEN THOUGH, on that note, most people aren’t able to see it on the big screen, In the Heights is a really fun movie that makes pretty much everyone who sees it happy and want to dance.

            EVEN THOUGH it’s still hard for young people to meet up freely, love continues to bloom and offer hope to all.

            EVEN THOUGH it’s still hard for anyone to meet up freely, technology has allowed for virtual face-to-face meetings that have kept humans at least somewhat connected (though we dogs miss smelling everyone SO MUCH).

            EVEN THOUGH international trade is blocked up in so many ways, most of us can still find something to eat, or ways to help feed those who can’t.

            EVEN THOUGH everyone is living in fear, and many get sick or even die every day from this awfulness, people still find joy and reasons to love life every second.

            And toughest of all to say, EVEN THOUGH we have lost beings we love and will always feel the pain of that loss, that pain comes because of the beautiful memories and the profound ways those now-angels have affected and changed us forever. 

            And maybe that last one is the greatest gratitude of all.

            Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are.  And may next year bring countless reasons for gratitude that don’t require “Even Though”s!

            Like my gratitude for you!

            Love and Thanks as always,

            Shirelle

Beauty and The Best … remembering my friend Dilla

            I hate loss.  All dogs do.  We don’t even like it when our humans leave home for a few hours, locking us in.  But that’s because we’re so afraid you’re not going to come back!  Ever!

            And what we hate worst is when someone doesn’t come back.  When we lose someone we love, never to see them again.

            In some cases, that includes missing the music of their laughter, or even the charm and beauty of their face.  But not always.  Sometimes we can lose someone who made the worst sounds, and looked, well, kinda ugly.  And that loss can hurt just as much, if not more, because in those cases all we felt for them was love.  Pure love. 

            That was my wonderful friend Dilla.

            I met Dilla when he was left to stay “for just a little while” at my neighbors’ home.  Their son and his girlfriend had adopted this little pup, but then broke up, so neither had a place to keep him anymore.  The son knew his parents were great dog lovers (And oh they are!  Handsome sometimes worries I love them even more than him!  I don’t, but I am crazy about them, and just adore making him worry about it!), and figured they’d take good care of him till he was able to get a place of his own that would accept dogs.

            Well, you’ve probably heard that old line about “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it!”?

            That young man’s parents fell so hard in love with Dilla – and he with them – that, by the time he had an appropriate home, it was too late.  Dilla was theirs and they were his, and he would only be able to see his pup on visits from then on!

            Now all this sounds pretty normal, right?  We dogs attach easily, and our hearts are big enough to hold more than just one person or household inside. 

            What wasn’t normal was Dilla.

            This was a family that had always had, and loved, big beautiful dogs.  Labrador Retrievers and such – noble beasts who can protect you, hunt with you, and wrestle with you with joy and gusto.  Dilla was maybe a sixth their size, with tiny delicate feet at the end of his spindly legs, so everyone had to be extra-careful in petting him.  His body wasn’t a long lean runner’s figure like mine; his was more… well, his people usually referred to it as a “lima bean.”

            And his face?  Well, that’s where things get more serious.  To most people’s eyes, Dilla’s was as ugly a mug as exists.  Big eyes bugging diagonally, a shoved-in nose, and a mouth all full of fleshiness, with a tongue that stuck out the side.  Handsome described his look as “Like someone ripped the wings off of a bat!”  Could anyone love such a face?

            Everyone did.  At first sight.

            Why was that?  Sure he was a sweet, playful pup, but there was more to it.  Dilla’s homeliness brought out a squeeze in the hearts of everyone who met him.  While a Maltese or Pekinese might look more pretty, it was Dilla who everyone always wanted to pick up and hug.  As if, maybe, just the right hug could bring out the beauty in the beast.  (But no, none ever did!)

            Now, there’s a lot people can learn from Dilla.  Sure, all humans love beauty.  But they love the beautiful in a mixture of awe, respect, and desire.  Beauty isn’t endearing.  (You don’t look at a photo of Selena Gomez or the Hemsworths and feel “awwwwwww.”  But you might at a shriveled little old man with a walker!).  What made Dilla endear so much was how true he was to himself, and how much he accepted his appearance.  He didn’t pull back and ask if you thought he was good-looking enough; he ran to you, snorted, licked you out of the side of his mouth, and dropped a drooly toy into your lap, demanding you play with him.

            (Handsome says, in his book about me, that one of my strengths is that I know how to “Initiate Play.”  But Dilla demanded it!  An at-least equal strength!)

            A beautiful rose in a garden sits there, waiting for you to see and appreciate it.  A beautiful woman or man at a bar might do the same.  But Dilla’s energy didn’t allow for that – it exploded at you, taking you over, changing you, winning you into his world of growling pretend fury (he was not one to cheerfully fetch a ball and ask you to toss it again; he would roar at the ball, then tug-of-war with you before letting you have it, and then bark at you to throw it – everything gruff, everything adorable – and I have no words for the ways he would pretend-fight with his original best-human-friend.  Imagine raging violence with no actual harm done, all pure love – that’s about as well as I can describe it).  His fury was love, and his love was furious.  And when he was done with you, you were the same way!

            Dilla lived a full and joyous life, loved by all.  Unlike so many of us, he wasn’t felled by cancer or an accident; he kept snorting and growling and chasing till one day his body just gave out.  He’d gone blind and deaf, and was sleeping almost all day, but still his spirit never faltered.

            And soon after he went, it rained.  It rained in Southern California in August.  Please understand, it NEVER rains in Southern California in August!  In the middle of a drought, no less! 

            Some may say it was the angels weeping for Dilla.  But I say no – it was Dilla laughing, peeing on all the trees everywhere, making mud when no one expected it, maybe even making some people slip and mess up their clothes.

            With the message he always gave:  Be yourself so passionately that even your ugly is beautiful.  Love so strongly you make others love what you do.  And furiously grab life for all you can.

            Good night my beautiful friend.  And thank you.

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