My Australian Shepherd Freddie has much to commend him. He’s loyal and loving to his family. He doesn’t chew up underwear, move pillows from room to room, or snatch sandwiches from the kitchen counter like my Golden Retriever Calvin used to do. He’ll turn on a dime and come when he’s called, even off-leash. He walks jauntily by my side without pulling. And he’s incredibly smart—bilingual, in fact. The repertoire of commands he understands both verbally and by hand signals alone includes not only the useful basics (sit, stay, heel, come, leave it, down) but also many tricks I’ve taught him to keep us both busy. He can spin (clockwise), twirl (counterclockwise), sashay sideways, shake, salute, wave, march in step with me, backup, roll over, play dead, speak, play peek-a-boo, balance a treat on his nose and catch it, grasp an umbrella between his paws, weave through my legs, jump over and crawl under a bar, fetch a toy from another room by name, and take a bow.
But Freddie’s intelligence (along with an acute hypervigilence, endemic to herding breeds like his, to every sound and sudden movement) also makes him hard to live with at times. He barks. At everything. Incessantly.
Most annoying is his reaction to the TV. It’s impossible to watch a show when he’s in the room because he runs up to the screen and, in his most menacing big dog voice, tries to scare off the intruders. He gets really worked up when he sees fighting or hears raised voices. And since my husband and I favor shows like Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Homeland, with plenty of violence and bad guys, Freddie is always on his guard.
You’d think I’d be able to train him to lie at our feet for the duration of an episode. Believe me, I’ve tried. I tell him to “chill” (which he’s been taught means “stretch out and rest your head on your paws”) and toss him treats for being quiet. It works, for a while. But as soon as the plot heats up, so does Freddie.
The problem has gotten much worse since our Black Friday purchase of a 55” TV. It’s twice as big with a far sharper picture than our previous model. If the escalation of his barking is any indication, Freddie feels even more threatened by the outsized images on the new screen.
I wish he would curl up and sleep peacefully next to me on the couch like our other dog Baxter. Wouldn’t it nice to be able to kick back and relax with two warm, furry, quiet canines at my side? But since exciteablility is part of Freddie’s temperament, I doubt I’ll ever be completely successful in training him not to bark at the TV. So I’m coming to terms with not having the dog of my fantasies and learning to live with the real one in my house.
When you’re stuck dealing with a situation or person you’re not entirely happy with, the best option is to find a way to accept it. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes this as “the challenge of mindfulness.” Rather than trying to force your experience (or a difficult spouse, coworker, or pet) to be different, “be present for your experience as it is.”
I can’t quite muster the equanimity to tolerate Freddie’s barking throughout a TV show. It’s just too hard to hear the dialogue over the noise. So I’ve come up with a way to accept him and also enjoy my TV viewing.
I put him in his crate with a bone to occupy him. It works for both of us.
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