March 25, 2011

Dark Tunnels

Rosie put the brakes on the second we rounded the corner. She looked a bit like a mule – her back legs splayed, her front paws dug into the concrete, and her entire body heaved backwards away from what she feared the most.

Generally, when we try to approach the long tunnel that takes us through the hill and down to the lake, Rosie approaches with trepidation. Around 50 feet from the entrance, she does whatever it takes to back away from entering and then we usually change our course and avoid going into the tunnel. Avoiding means that we have to go up a huge hill, a whole lot of steps, and then back down the other side to the lake. Since we only have a half hour with Rosie on some days, it’s impossible to make it to the lake and back.

That’s when I put my paw down. “She can do this, Gretchen,” I said. “We just have to make her! I can’t go all spring and summer NOT going to the lake and besides, she LOVES the lake. Let’s give it a try, okay?”

Who knows what it is about the tunnel that puts Rosie in freeze mode. I suppose we all have our dark tunnel moments when the light at the end is difficult to see. I certainly know that this winter has felt like a dark tunnel metaphorically speaking.  But slowly the crocuses are popping up all purple and white and the sun is showing itself more, so while I’ve dreaded the tunnel of winter I feel more hopeful these days that we’ll get through it. I have to convince Rosie that going through the tunnel offers great rewards on the other side, but to get those rewards you have to make the journey.

Of course, there are other tunnels that have no reward. I learned about them this week when Gretchen discussed with Dr. G (my osteopath and acupuncturist) the idea of retiring me from playing fetch on land and that certainly feels like a horribly long and dark tunnel. Dr. G says that it’s too hard on my body and that for a young man of 4, I need to preserve myself for the years to come. I was very sad when I heard this news because I LOVE playing fetch and I’m pretty darn good at it, if I say so myself. This is truly a dark tunnel with only a smidge of light at the end. What’s the smidge? I can still play fetch in the water. Whew!

So I suppose the tunnel through the hill for Rosie is a bit like my finding out that fetch on land is no longer in my future — it makes us both stop in our tracks. But I was determined to get Rosie through that tunnel and so we started on Monday.

It was, as we predicted, a challenge. Tyson, Rosie’s brother, has no fear of the tunnel (nor do I) so we had to be very patient (and Gretchen demanded that we be very supportive) as we approached, watched Rosie put on the brakes, and then slowly moved forward working through Rosie’s hesitation. What we learned is that the entry is the most difficult for Rosie. Once in the tunnel, she’s certainly not relaxed but she’ll keep moving forward and so, with no devious intentions, every time we got close to the end of the tunnel, we turned around and went back in again.

By the third pass, Rosie was visibly less stressed though certainly still worried.

So that’s when we continued the exercise on Tuesday. This time it was just me (Tyson was off at the dog park) and I put back my shoulders and said to Rosie, “Remember how well you did yesterday? You can do it again today. I just know it!”

Again the mule and the brakes, but on Monday it took about 10 minutes to get her into the tunnel. On Tuesday it only took about 3 minutes. That, I think, is a great improvement! The reward was a trip to the lake and as you can see by Rosie’s smile, she was pretty pleased with herself.

On Wednesday, we went through the tunnel with Monty and he, too, gave her his support. “I know it looks scary,” Monty said, “But a brave and beautiful girl like yourself should have no problem facing her fears.”

This time, Rosie went straight on through…not a moment of hesitation at the entrance and though she was still not quite relaxed in the tunnel, she did take a treat once we were in and that was a great improvement.

Later, Monty and I walked Paige who has absolutely no fear of the tunnel and, as we posed outside of it in the warm spring sun, Monty told her all about Rosie’s hesitations.

“Rosie just needs to believe she can do it,” Paige offered, “And she needs to completely trust that she is going to be safe with her friends once she’s in the tunnel.” Paige is very wise and so, after dropping Monty off at home, Paige and I practiced feeling safe in the long, dark tunnel so that I could be a confident supporter for my next adventure through the tunnel.

As many of you may know, I am also a cautious guy. I understand the dilemma Rosie faces. She wants to be brave, but sometimes fears just overwhelm and it’s difficult to overcome them. Take, for instance, walking out on the dock at the lake. It is not my favorite thing to do so when Gretchen walked Paige and me out there, I felt my knees knocking together just a bit.

“It’s okay, Rubin,” Paige said, “I’ll make sure you’re safe.”

Of course, when the waves (it was very windy for some reason) bounced up under the dock, Paige’s confidence wavered a bit. “What’s that?” she asked.

“Waves,” I said, and once she understood, she went back to her brave and confident self.

Her courage made our time on the dock not as scary as it has been in the past and it also made me realize how strong I must be for Rosie.

On Thursday, we decided to give Rosie a break and we went the other way through the park — no tunnels, no lake, but that was really okay because the sun was out again and I got to roll down hill basking in the warmth of it all. Rosie just laughed at me.

The dark tunnel of winter was supposed to return, but when we woke up, the skies were blue with only an occasional white, fluffy cloud passing by. But we still took precautions. Gretchen loaded up her pack with rain gear just in case and we put a towel by the front door to wipe us down if a sudden cloudburst showed up unexpectedly.

But the cloudburst never came (until late that afternoon) and Monty and I got to bask in the warm sun down by the lake for our first outing of the day. Later, after Monty and I had a snack (well, my breakfast actually) and we got to rest after our wonderfully long walk, Gretchen took out Rosie and Tyson who got a special treat…their Mom joined them on the walk. Apparently she wanted to see how well Rosie was doing going through the tunnel.

So to the tunnel they walked — Gretchen walking Tyson and their Mom walking Rosie. Gretchen was really cheering Rosie on (silently, inside herself because she didn’t want Rosie to get nervous or too excited) and you know what happened? Rosie didn’t hesitate AT ALL! She walked right into that long, dark tunnel with nary a look of fear or intimidation. And when she got through it and came out into the sunshine on the other end, she smiled and danced and felt as proud of herself as we all were!

Oh how I wish I could have been there! What an inspiration. The Rosie mule was gone (well, at least when it comes this particular dark tunnel) and from now on, we can walk to the lake all summer long if we want to! Yahoo! Summer swimming in the lake!!!

What? Really?

Gretchen just told me that Rosie doesn’t like to swim.

Well, I guess that means we’re going to have to teach her! And now that I know that she can walk through the tunnel of her fears, I have no doubt she’ll be joining me on a swim or two this summer!

Have a great weekend!


PS — More photos from our week’s adventures below…




Oh and the last 3 photos are from last weekend when my buddy, Argo, stayed with us and we went on a big Paige adventure to a new park!


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