My Buddhist Canine
As described on the website wagwalking.com:
"The Tibetan Terrier originally came from the Himalayan country of Tibet. They were bred by the Buddhist monks of the area. The monks would keep them as companions and watch dogs. Nomadic herdsmen also used the Tibetan Terrier to help herd their flocks on the high plains. The Tibetan Terriers were considered good luck charms and were called “The Holy Dogs of Tibet”. They were given as gifts in return for favors or when someone assisted them. The Tibetans never sold the breed as they were afraid that they would sell away their luck. They also believed that selling or mistreating the dog would bring bad luck to the whole village".
Some have even said that the Tibetans believe that these dogs are reincarnated Buddhist monks. Not sure about that one.
I live with a Tibetan Terrier... a 25 pound, 12 year old, black and white zenmaster named Cookie. She is a remarkable dog, and lives up to her geneology as a very special canine indeed. I would like to share the life lessons I have learned and continue to learn from her.
Cookie first came to us as a rescue dog, and was living at a Border Collie shelter when we found her. Someone had mistakenly identified her as a Border, and her name when she arrived there, at a year old, was Oreo. As the shelter already had several black and white dogs named Oreo, they decided to re-name her to avoid confusion.
Cookie is not a dog you could confuse with any other. Her personality is unique, and as a high energy young dog, she was quite a challenging handful.
When she came to us, she was house-trained, and showed signs of both great intelligence and unrestrained instinct. As a herding dog, she was, and still is, very driven to chase and control pretty much anything that moves. That included small animals, other dogs, kids on bikes, and, most alarmingly, moving vehicles.
My back yard is fenced, and the side of the fence facing the street is made of 4 foot high lattice. Cookie can see through the lattice, so our street was, for a young herding dog, ripe with things to be chased. Amazingly athletic, Cookie could clear the fence without touching it, and did so frequently to chase whatever moved. Herding dogs have no drive to hunt, so to speak, only to move their targets together. The trigger of something moving away at a high speed was frequently too much for her, and over the fence and down the street she would go, nipping at the rear wheels of bikes, cars, and delivery trucks.
The amazing thing about breaking her of that was how quickly she got the message. All it took was simply talking to her, telling her how dangerous that was in a very clear tone, and it stopped almost immediately. The Tibetans sometimes refer to these dogs as "little people", and this seemed uncannily true as she looked at you and seemed to understand what you were telling her. Then she just stopped doing it. Even though she still had the leaping ability, and she barked crazily at moving objects, she seemed to understand that doing so was just not a good idea. And she stopped.
When I look back at the times in my life that I listened (or did not) to advice by someone wiser than me, and the outcome henceforth, I realize that Cookie got it right, and continues to do so.
When we are out walking, and we come to a street, intersection, or some situation that calls for her to stop, I tell her to "wait", and she does. She understands that I tell her to wait for her own safety.
She trusts that I know something that she does not, and shows she is listening by stopping. I try to model that, when someone wiser or more informed than me gives me advice. It works-when I listen.
Joy of Movement
When Cookie stopped clearing the fence and chasing cars, she seemed to sense that her own energy needed to be channeled. This is when she began running her "circuit" in the back yard.
Down the deck stairs, along the fence perimeter, up onto the trampoline, off the trampoline, finish the fence perimeter, repeat. She would go at this full speed, sometimes for 30 minutes if she hadn't had a walk in the last 24 hours. Regardless of when her last walk was, she would do this many times per day, completing 4 to 5 circuits.
Lots of dogs do this type of thing, but her circuits exuded pure joy! Tongue out, fur flying, full speed joy.
She doesn't run that circuit anymore, but she begs for and craves daily walks and runs on the ski and mountain bike trails. She loves frisbee runs, chasing down the rolling disks and brilliantly capturing them in her mouth at full speed! Though the energy is lower, the obvious joy is not.
I believe that humans have a very certain joy in movement as well. Children show it, and certain adults do as well. I think it is only the lack of movement, and resulting lack of fitness, that leads us to losing our joy of movement. My lesson from Cookie is to pursue types of movement that give me joy, and do so regularly, so that the joy remains.
As she gets older, Cookie becomes more patient. Perhaps it is my own aging that allows me to recognize it.
When she was younger, she would bark at the door to go out, bark at the door to go in, tip over her bowl to be fed, jump on the bed in the morning to get us up.
Of course, her physical aging has slowed her down, but when I let her out now, regardless of how cold it is, when she wants to come back in, she simply sits at the sliding glass door and looks in. I think she has learned to trust that she will indeed be allowed back in, and to conserve her energy for other matters.
The same goes for food, walks, and treats. She has developed more subtle ways of communicating her desires. What a great lesson!
I have learned that subtlety is a great method to employ to show your preferences, wants, and needs. and then to wait. Patience is indeed a virtue.
When I was divorced, Cookie went with my ex wife. I did not see her for 3 years. Then one day, I got a call from my 19 year old son, who was living with Nancy and Cookie at the time.
"Cookie bit the neighbor kid, and mom is going to put her down".
I was astonished, as she had never shown any kind of aggressive behavior. My son explained. "The kid is autistic, and was chasing and hitting her with a stick. When he turned and ran away, Cookie chased him and grabbed the back of his shoe."
She actually did not bite the kid, the police were not called, there was no blood, and the kid was fine. She was herding the boy.
No amount of conversation would change Nancy's mind, so I said I would take Cookie. Joel brought her over, and she has been here for three years.
When I let her into the back yard, after not having been there for 3 years, Cookie sprinted her old circuit again and came back in and laid next to her bowl. I filled her bowl, and she started what is what I would consider to be an amazing behavior.
Instead of diving into the bowl, as she had always done, she laid there and stared at me. I ignored her as I was busy with other tasks. When I looked back at her, she had laid her head on her paws and was still staring at me.
"What?", I said. "Aren't you hungry? Don't you like that food?" The staring continued.
Something about the look in her eyes compelled me to realize that she was thanking me. So I said, very gently, "You're welcome Cookie". And she stood up and ate.
Since her second rescue, she has never eaten a bowl of food without thanking me in the same way.
I am humbled when I think of what I have to be grateful for, and I am learning to at least feel it and show it when I can.
After each meal, Cookie runs along the couches, snorting and rubbing her ears on the front sides. Then she throws herself onto her back and does what we call the "Happy Dance". She does the same thing after pooping, throwing a few hearty sneezes and turf kicks in, too. Fresh snow is the other thing Cookie never fails to celebrate, and even if you don't get the chance to actually see it, her snow dance is obvious as she sits at the door covered in snow from snout to tail.
Of course this is pure conjecture on my part, but when you see the exuberance of her celebrations, and really experience them, they lead you places. A mountain dog to the core, she seems to know that snow leads to water, and of course water is life.
Cookie not only celebrates, but I realize that she celebrates the really important things....sustenance, good health, and the bright future of snow turned to water.
I am so blessed to have her in my life. She is indeed a monk... to me.