September 4, 2011

One Thing at a Time

Humans are hard to train. They’re stubborn, willful, and easily distracted. They have a hard time focusing on even the most simple requests and my dog, if you try to get them to complete one task WITHOUT attempting to do another, well, it’s nearly impossible.

I’ve been working on Gretchen for over four years now and still I hit my paw on my forehead on a daily basis. She is, I’m almost certain, the worst human I know when it comes to doing multiple things at once. Humans call it multi-tasking and they hold it up to the rest of the world as a virtue. You know, they can be on the phone at the same time they’re typing an email, at the same time they’re sorting through mail, at the same time they’re tying their shoes as they prepare to take their dog on a walk.

Gretchen can’t even brush her teeth without trying to do something else on the side – put out another roll of toilet paper, fold her laundry, or clean up around the sink. She is the Queen of Multi-tasking and frankly, I find it very annoying.

For instance, imagine being at the (closed) back door needing to go out. Without thumbs I’m pretty much dependent on my humans to know when it’s time to let me out. I stand patiently by the door not making a sound while Gretchen flies around the kitchen organizing grocery lists, putting away the detritus that’s accumulated on the kitchen island, and writing down more “to-dos” on her very long list. She knows I need to go out because she’ll say, “Just a sec, buddy,” and then continues on with her multiple tasks forgetting all about me seconds after she promised to let me out.

Duke demonstrating the art of stretching

I’ll shift my feet a bit next making a slight shuffling sound in hopes that she’ll remember that I need to go out. “Oh sorry, Rubin, I’ll be there in just a minute,” she’ll say and then the next thing I’ll notice is she’s emptying the dishwasher while paying the bills online and cleaning out the microwave.

My next request is vocal. It’s not loud, just a low moan from the bottom of my belly but it’s loud enough for her to hear. Still she’s primping the pillows at the chairs, thumbing through a cookbook to make something for dinner, and sorting through the pile of pens we seem to collect trying to figure out which ones work and which ones don’t.

Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I think dogs are far more Zen than humans could ever hope to be. We take pleasure in doing one thing at a time. We find enlightenment just sniffing the ground not letting ourselves get lost in the sounds of airplanes overhead or the feel of the earth on our pads. We sleep without worry. We eat with a singular focus. We enjoy the company of our friends. We track squirrels and rodents so intently we’re unable to hear even the sound of our own names.

Singular focus

I wish humans were more like this. Yes, to be frank, I wish Gretchen were more like this. I think she’d find an inner peace she’d never known before and that mind of her, the one that races ahead and contemplates all the options, might get a needed rest.

But how am I ever going to get her to listen to me when she is so easily distracted? I mean, sometimes I can’t even get her to let me out the back door!

Okay, I should be clear here…she eventually lets me out. I’ve never had an “accident” but there are days when my requests turn into protestations and frankly, I don’t think it needs to go to this extreme, do you?

She’s productive. I’ll give her that. She can get a lot done if given 5 minutes, but I worry about her level of stress, of always having to keep track of all the details of her life so much so that she forgets to take a deep breath or even

Roux focuses on relaxing.

let herself out to pee. (I know, I know…she doesn’t go outside to do this, but you know what I mean.)

So the other night, I sat her down and we had a talk. “Gretchen,” I said, “I think you need to learn to do one thing at a time.”

She was silent.

I went onto explain all my concerns — she forgets things because she’s doing too many things at once; she’s not relaxing completely; the house looks like a scattered mess; and most importantly, she forgets about me.

“I never forget about you,” she argued.

“Even when I’m at the back door wanting to go out?” I asked.

“I know you’re there, but I also know you like to just go outside and sit in the sun. It’s not always urgent.”

Tyson and Rosie focusing on treats!

“But that’s my point,” I explained. “Sometimes sitting in the sun — just stretching my curly body out in the warmth IS urgent. You need to try it sometime.”

“I agree,” she said, “But there are a lot of things that need to get done and sometimes lying in the sun is a waste of my time.”

This then is the precise reason why humans will never be dogs. Time cannot be wasted in our books. In fact, time is far more enjoyable if it’s taken one moment at a time. The joy of doing one thing and one thing only is lost on humans and to me, that’s a very sad fact.

But I’m not going to give up. I know that I’ve made progress with my humans (Gretchen in particular) and even the littlest headway is important growth. She’s a tough nut to crack, but with my dogged persistence, I know that eventually she’ll understand the deep, spiritual pleasure of living like a dog and mastering the skill of doing one thing at a time.

Until next time,


PS: Here are more photos of our clients demonstrating the Zen of Singular Concentration

Duke came to stay for the weekend. We went on lots of walks and even spent one day hiking in the mountains!

I played with Roux one day, too. She’s really good at taking a moment and enjoying the shade!

I went swimming with Monty one day, too, and a small little poodle watched us intently from the shore.

Rosie and Tyson are masters of focusing…on Gretchen…who has the treats!

And poor Woobie. She fractured her foot so now her focus is on hobbling around with her pretty blue cast.

But you can see that she was happy we came by for a visit!




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