Our puppy, Everest, has finished her training with our wonderful trainer, and she’s honestly made a lot of progress. She is still disobedient sometimes (much to my dismay), but she’s made leaps and bounds. Where she used to try to run after every motorcycle within 100 yards of her, she now ignores them unless they come literally within one foot of her (and even then, it’s just a bark of fear that it’s so close). Where she used to bark at every pedestrian that dared to cross her path, she now ignores most of them (unless they antagonize her, which makes me want to hurt said strangers, but I digress).
There’s one thing that she really hasn’t much improved on: interacting with other animals (specifically cats and dogs). If she sees one (or thinks she sees one) she’ll go ballistic, pawing after them as if she could somehow drag us with her 12.5 lb body (not likely, pup), screeching as if possessed. It’s terribly embarrassing and we’re still working through it.
But I’ve recently noticed a phenomenon. After interacting with a dog (especially at close range), it’s as if she unlearned everything else for 10-15 minutes: she starts viciously barking at people, every motorcycle is again her enemy, and she tries to subdue evil trash bags blowing in the wind. That one bad interaction riles her up so that she is now acting out in areas that she certainly knows better.
Even more specifically, we know that Everest treats other dogs (and even the people and motorcycles) the way that she does out of fear. She’s on edge, thinking she needs to protect me, David, and herself from these terrifying predators. It’s only when she feels like we are in control and her whole “pack” is unthreatened that she is at peace. But when she feels threatened by a dog, now suddenly everything else scares her all over again and she acts aggressively towards all of it.
The best thing I can do for her? Take her to a quiet area on our path, have her lay down, play with her, talk quietly and kindly to her, until she calms down. Then normal Everest is back and we can continue on our way.
I have more in common with this puppy than I’d like to admit. I’ve recently noticed that there are certain triggers throughout my day (common ones: starting my day late, eating too much, feeling misunderstood, not getting stuff done when I’d like to) that then lead me to acting out in other ways: most often destructively against myself or unkindly towards David (sorry, honey). Maybe it’s that my boss asked me to interview someone kinda famous and now I’m nervous about the internet connection holding, or maybe it’s hearing that my friend is having a really hard day, or maybe it’s that I wasted time on the infinite scroll — whatever it is, it cuts at my confidence, my peace, and my courage. Like Everest, I start regressing in areas that I know better: I continue the infinite scroll, I bury the fears or concerns, I snap at David when he asks me an innocuous question. What happened? I’m acting out of fear and I don’t even know it.
I’ve recently started a prayer habit that parallels how I calm Everest. I take a five minute prayer break. I step away from my computer, my phone, and my lists. I sit where I have my morning devotional time, and I talk to God about what’s on my heart. I don’t have to bury it, because I can talk to Him right now. I don’t have to distract myself, because I can deal with it in His presence. I don’t act out towards David, because I’ve turned towards the Son and traded my anxieties for His peace.
Personally, having these prayer breaks on an “as needed basis” would just mean I never took them. I’M FINE just like Everest is FINE. So I schedule them throughout my day, especially right before and right after interactions or tasks that I know will deplete or stress me. When they feel most like an interruption is the exact time that I need them the most.
What about you? Do you find yourself acting like Everest sometimes — acting out from something you’re not stopping to work through, ponder, or pray over? I encourage the habit of 5MPB (how I write it in my journal: 5 minute prayer breaks). Try adding 1-2 breaks in your day, times when you notice you often feel the most worn down or anxious. We can remember that we’re not in charge, we’re not the protectors, and we’re not responsible for all — God lovingly takes on those roles instead. We can trust that we are safe in His arms, and all of our worries are better taken care of in His hands than ours.