How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

My Doggie, My Xanax

The power of a dog to reduce stress…and increase it.

I’m a worrier. I worry I’m getting old. I worry I’m not helping my clients enough. I worry I’m not a good enough husband.

Some might say, “Take a pill” but I’ve never taken one. You see, I have a canine calmer: the  sweetest of all the doggies in the whole wild work: my terrier-poodle mix, Einstein.

Even when I’m heart-pounding anxious, if I just call “Einstein” and get down on the floor and hug him, all is calm, all is bright.

And while I’m normally a little serious, my face takes on a guru-like smile when, during our daily hike around the Lafayette Reservoir, Einstein befriends other doggies in the traditional canine way—right for the genitals.

I’m even more at peace when I see a child point to Einstein: “Mommy, doggie!” Typically, I’ll respond with, “Would you like to pet the doggie? He loves little kids. He’s a kissing doggie.” If the child is shy and retreats to mommy’s leg, I’ll prove Einstein’s harmlessness: petting, even rough-houseing with him a bit while, in my baby-talk voice, telling him, “Who’s the best Einstein? I love the Einstein.” As long as the parent doesn't give me the "enough" sign, I see if the child will let me pet Einstein using the child’s hand--Show, don’t tell. Einstein, kids, and me: a major stress buster.

Lest this be some rose-colored pup paean, let me assure you that Einstein has raised my blood pressure almost as often as he’s lowered it. Examples:

I’m in bed and my racing mind has finally has braked into REM sleep and a dream: perhaps me luxuriating in the vision of rose petals wafting down to form a floral toupee for my bald head, transforming me from Mr. Cellophane, ignored by all attractive women, into a chick magnet. Suddenly, that lava-lamp idyll is replaced by heart-pounding—my Einstein has decided that some noise outside--probably a squirrel--is worth sounding the all-points alarm. All it takes to calm Einstein is a hug and a “Nothing to worry about, Einstein. Everything is all right, Einstein.” and he’s back to curling up next to my feet, back to sleep faster than a sleep-deprived medical intern. Meanwhile, I have to revert to yoga breathing for 20 minutes to have a chance of reentering non-REM sleep, that prerequisite to the deep tranquility I crave.

Then there are Einstein’s stress-makers that are my fault. I’m just not into controlling him enough to make him walk perfectly on the leash. So, too often, he replaces his perky little trot with a sudden yank on the leash that makes my heart leap. After all, there was dog doo two feet away that he just had to smell.

And while Einstein is perfectly trained, that statement requires a qualifier. Apparently, his previous owner allowed him to pee and poop on concrete. Despite my (relatively) assiduous efforts to ensure he doesn’t stop in the concrete-floored basement on the way to the backyard’s doggie door, occasionally when I go down there, the floor is adorned in brown and/or the air is suffused with eau de urea.

But as with all love, one must view many downsides as merely human, or I should say canine. Even if Einstein were, net, a stress increaser, the good times would be well worth it. For better and for worse, Einstein is my drug of choice.

The Wikipedia entry on Marty Nemko tells you too much about him.

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