Monday, July 31, 2006

The Dog Walker

A couple weeks into my mouth being wired, I started thinking to myself, "how is this going to change me?" I was a psychology major in college and I am aware of the effects of conditioning on a person's mind. Would I lose my desire to talk, given the frustration that it causes me? Or would I lose my ability to smile, given that smiling causes me pain as the wires dig into my lips? Or would I become claustraphobic, having lived in a trapped state, with my mouth held shut by an outside force? There's still no telling if any of these will happen, as I am now only about halfway through this process (can you believe it's been a month?)

But what I do know is, something about me has changed. Something shocking and unexpected. You see, before my injury, taking Chloe for a walk was for the expressed purpose of making her tired, so that she would not be as hyper and at the same time attain her necessary exercise. These walks were infrequent in nature and usually lasted about 10-15 minutes, once around the block.

You see, I'm not really that friendly with people in my neighborhood. Most people who walk dogs (like my buddy Bristow) think it's some big giant party and all the dogs are friends and want to talk and socialize. They get to know all the local dog's names and "talk" to them and give them treats as they gossip with the other dog owners around the dog park. What in the hell is this all about?!!

Look, buddy, you're a creepy old man who lives in a house around the corner with dead bushes in the front yard. I don't want to talk to you, normally. And I especially don't want to talk to you while your dog sniffs my dog's ass and gets their leashes all tangled up.

And look lady, my dog can't talk, so stop telling her how beautiful she is and asking her her name. She ain't gonna tell it to you and I'm not gonna talk to someone who communicates with dogs in front of complete strangers, either. And you certainly may not give her a dog treat, because I don't know who you are and I wouldn't let you give my kids candy, and until I have some, Chloe's my closest thing to a kid.

Yep, that was the old J-Man. I'm not sure what made me so jaded. Perhaps it was growing up on 3 acres where my old dog would run free and rarely interact with other dogs. Or maybe it was because I talked with complete strangers all day on the phone, and as I've mentioned before, this makes me want to do anything but that when I'm not working.

So, I would redirect my walks to avoid people, cross the street if another dog was coming, and tug Chloe on like we were in a hurry when interaction could not be avoided.

That is, until about a week ago. As if by some great conditioning miracle, I sat in my study, randomly turned to Chloe and said the magic word..."walk." She goes bonkers whenever I say this, howling and running in circles. Using the Dog Whisperers guidance, I calm her and we exit the house for a walk...a walk that has escalated each day to the point where we are walking about 1.5 miles every day. And when other dogs approach, I give Chloe a moment.

I gave her more than a moment when this hot chick was walking her little dog, Mr. Big, and usually I even begin a conversation with the other walker. Mostly it's been about my jaw because it's a little weird when a wild-haired (yeah, still not cut) man with what appears to be braces slurs his words as he holds his beagle. So usually after I say a couple things, I excuse my slurring and explain that my jaw is wired shut.

Regardless, Chloe and I are now becoming social. She doesn't get a mohawk (not sure why she does that) when every dog walks by, nor does she cower, and I don't loath an imminent conversation with a "five minute friend." We're growing and the positive reinforcement is encouraging the learning.

I still don't try to take Chloe in the direction of other dogs, and it's always stupid when someone asks Chloe her name, but hey, miracles don't happen overnight. But Pavlov would be proud, we're both learning and it has increased my walking to a daily occurrence.

How has the injury changed me?....It's left me so bored, not answering the phones at work, and sitting here alone, that I have become what for the past two years, I have mocked. Yes, I have become a Dog Walker.

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