How To Do Life

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Einstein, My Canine Co-Counselor

My doggie is a wonderful co-counselor...and sometimes a very bad doggie.

To be accurate, Einstein is my receptionist, co-counselor, stress buster, and fitness trainer.  He greets my clients with an enthusiasm no paid receptionist could match. Even if I paid a receptionist $100,000 a year, s/he wouldn’t give each client a big wet kiss.

Following the few-second love fest, Einstein gives a new meaning to the term “lap dog:” In his excitement, he runs laps around the house, each time breaking the land-speed record. It’s the Barktona 500.

Fortunately, Einstein recognizes he has another job. So after he’s completed his appointed "rounds," he downshifts and escorts the client to the sofa,sitting right next to him if not on his lap bestowing another round of wet ones. Of course, there’s the occasional client who prefers career counseling without a face washing, in which case the client eases Einstein off the sofa. In those cases, undeterred, Einstein assumes the position---head on the client’s shoes.

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Jack of all trades, master of all, Einstein is my co-counselor. Even though I’m a career counselor not a psychotherapist, sometimes, a client gets anxious during a session. After all, it’s not easy to discuss having been unemployed for eons and now trying to land a good job at a time when they’re harder to find than a perfect and cheap dog sitter who’ll stay at your house 24/7. So when clients feel stressed, they often pet Einstein and if they were already petting him, tend to speed up—a useful anxiety detector for me.

Sometimes, Einstein has yet another job: doggie playmate. If I learn that my client has a dog who won’t pee on my carpet to show Einstein who’s boss, I invite, no I urge, the client to bring said pooch. Einstein then--ever the flexible host--leads whatever activity the guest desires: from more laps to play fighting to dog-to-dog snuggling. Einstein is even gracious enough to allow guests to share his kibble, an offer most of my human guests pass on. 

Einstein wears two other hats. He’s my stress buster, on call 24/7. When stressed, I’ll often snuggle up to him on the floor, nose to nose, and rub his belly.  Thirty seconds of that makes anxiety a physical impossibility.

Einstein is also my fitness trainer. Without him, it would be too tempting to stay on my butt but Einstein needs his exercise and poopertunities, so we take walks four times a day, one a vigorous 45-minute hike. An overpriced, overmuscled fitness trainer couldn’t keep me that diligent.

Lest you think Einstein is the perfect dog, I’d like to acquaint you with what he was like before he matured into a multitasking professional.

When I walked into the pound’s adoption area, I was greeted in the first cage by a pit bull who sort of snarled. I sped up. In the next cage, a Rottweiler retreated in fear. I walked on by. But in the third cage, a little white terrier with a poodley face got on his back legs and pawed the cage squealing: “Please take me out. Puhleeze!” The attendant told me that that sweet dog had been thrown over the fence into the pound’s parking lot in the middle of the night and was found in the morning clutching a barbecued rib.

“Want to take him for a walk?” You betcha. And I swear, the doggie knew it was an audition. He stood as straight and proud as he could, bent his head down so the attendant could put on the leash and when the attendant handed me the leash, tail up, he smartly led me toward the door. We got outside and he continued to walk perfectly—without pulling—until he found an irresistible bush to pee on. He was trained!  Of course, it had been love at first sight, a love made practical when I saw that perfectly placed leg lift.

Unfortunately, pound policy required My Doggie to stay there for seven days lest the owner (“mean owner, bad owner, bad owner”) decided to reclaim him. Can you imagine how hard it was for me to have to leave My Doggie there in that cage?! The very first minute the pound opened on the seventh day, I phoned; “Is that little white terrier/poodle mix still available?” Yup. I jumped in the car and retrieved him from prison. He jumped happily on me, then equally happily into the car---Yay, he likes car rides! He didn’t, however, like our next stop—the vet for neutering. But he handled it just the way a sweet doggie should, without a growl.

Alas, while his trials were over, mine were just beginning. I named him Einstein because of his looks and somehow hoping that the educators are right: students live up to high expectations. Nope: Einstein is no Einstein. His name is false advertising. He may be as sweet as they come but he’s dumb as dirt. And although he was almost a year old, he still had a bad case of puppy hyperactivity on top of new-home anxiety. Within the first week, “Einstein” had eaten the only pair of eyeglasses I’ve ever felt looked good on me and ate a hole in three, yes, three carpets.

Let me issue a cautionary note here. They say doggies are comfortable in a crate. That certainly did not mean that Einstein was comfortable in an enclosed room, even though it had a doggie door to the backyard. Now, isn’t that as nice as a “crate” can get? I had to leave the house and so I left him in that room with food and water, plus music on to keep him company. When I returned, everything---books, paintings, papers-- were strewn all over the floor. Was it an earthquake? A tornado? No. It was my Einstein. Worse, he had eaten the carpet next to the door in a frantic attempt to escape his luxury “crate.” 

And that wasn’t the worst thing. A day or two later, Einstein decided to make a meal of my medication. The fact that it was in a sealed pill bottle didn’t stop my goal-oriented Einstein. He treated it like a chew toy with a treat inside that he’d get as a reward for pulling it apart. Alas, the reward was 20 pills. Off to the vet to get his stomach pumped.

But scariest of all was one morning when I opened the door to get the newspaper. Einstein escaped and tore down the street. In my tee shirt, shorts, and slippers, I raced after him. While there are many turns he could have chosen, he picked the one that put him on the freeway onramp. I chased him up the ramp and for the first time in my life, I was grateful for traffic. The freeway was dead-stopped. Knowing Einstein likes being in the car, I  yelled ahead, “Someone, open your car door!”  Miraculously, someone divined that I wasn’t a stalker, opened the door, whereupon Einstein jumped in, and my idiot was saved.

But believe me, it has all been worth it. Like so many dog owners, I consider Einstein a beloved family member. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I care about my doggie more than I do most people. I love him almost as much as my wife. He’s a true member of the family, even if he weren’t the world’s best receptionist, co-counselor, stress reducer, and fitness trainer.

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to the articles here on PsychologyToday.com, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on www.martynemko.com. Of his seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. Marty Nemko's  bio is on Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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