WHAT NOT TO DO

Bernie loved to tell this story:

He was at the 70th birthday of Swami Satchidananda, who founded Integral Yoga in this country. The two had served together as members of the interfaith Temple of Understanding, begun by Dean James Morton, at that time the dynamic head of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. There was a dinner honoring Satchidananda at Yogaville, Virginia, and at some point Rabbi Joseph Gelberman got up to speak:

“I have been privileged to know Swami Satchidananda, and because of him I have done a little yoga, but certainly not much. One day, Swami calls me over and says: ‘Joseph, I want to make you a yoga teacher.’

I was stunned. I stammered: ‘Me, a yoga teacher? But Swami, I don’t know what to do.’

Swami thought for a minute, then brightened. ‘No problem, Joseph. You will be a teacher of what not to do.’”

I myself met Rabbi Gelberman much later. As a young man he had left Vienna for New York just before the Nazis marched in, preparing to bring over his young wife and baby a few months later. They never made it. Fifty years later, when he told me the story, and even after building a new life in New York, he never forgave himself. Like Bernie, he liked to do interfaith work, often officiating in Jewish weddings where either the bride or the groom wasn’t Jewish. For a long time, and to this day, many rabbis won’t officiate in such weddings, but Rabbi Joseph saw only blessings in those couples.

I thought I’d write a little update about Aussie, who was clearly a teacher of what not to do for a long time, slipping through dog-made holes in the fence and running in the woods for hours.

I brought her to a trainer who had seen her when I first got her, and  she immediately remarked that Aussie seemed thin. “Maybe she runs away to hunt for food,” she told me.

I didn’t think so, I’m careful about my dogs not gaining weight and incurring problems. But when she mentioned this a few times I decided to feed Aussie more and take her to the vet. Almost overnight she seemed better. She didn’t have that restless and edgy—maybe hungry, I think now—look that she’d had before. To my surprise, the vet concurred. Aussie didn’t have parasites, but maybe in winter she needed more food. So Aussie has been eating more and putting on weight. She has clearly settled down more rather than staring out at the forest above our house as though that’s her true home.

Our fence was completely fixed again several days later. In fact, the last few times Harry slipped out he did it alone, Aussie standing in the doorway, watching him but not joining him. Tim covered up every place with old loose wiring that the dogs used to slip through, and the result is that they haven’t slipped through the fence in weeks.

Finally, Aussie was trained on an electronic collar. I resisted this approach for a long time, but realized that, with a hunter like Aussie, this may be the only way she’ll walk in the woods unleashed. After 4 days of training I took over. The collar has three settings, one a beeper, one vibration, and one electric shock. I turned off the electric shock completely, use the vibrator slightly (oh no, that word!) and only after trying it out on me, and use predominantly the beeper to get her attention. And it works.

Beep Beep! Eve to Aussie. That’s far enough.

Aussie runs back, tail wagging happily, to get the treat in my hand. You use lots of treats in these trainings. I watch her going off with Harry in the distance, and when I know that soon I won’t see her anymore: Beep Beep! Eve to Aussie. Come back where I can see you. Aussie doesn’t hesitate and bounds back joyfully.

That’s a sign for me, she’s positively joyful about being off-leash. She is happy when I put the collar on, knowing that a walk is imminent, and doesn’t seem to mind reaching the distant perimeter and then being alerted to come back—as long as there’s a treat in my hand.

I never use the beeper or the vibrator (there’s that word again) if she is out of eyesight; at that point I accept that she’s gone and I can’t correct her. That’s happened twice, my own fault, and after a while she came back.

As usual, when I train her I learn more than she does. I learned that she was much more content with more food. I also learned that Aussie is not some wild hunting dog who just wants to run. She can be very happy with fast one-hour walks off-leash, free to run in a very large space, sniffing the bushes all she wants, smelling the scents in the air and still staying with me. We’ve become a family. We enter the woods together, and we walk out together. This doesn’t disappoint her at all; she seems comfortable and happy.

She’s also happier with me. We had a few bad months and she must have sensed my anger and frustration. Those are gone, and she is sweeter and more loving than before. Probably because I am, too.

Finally, rather than being a teacher of what not to do, Aussie is teaching Harry what to do. He comes racing back with her when she returns to me. At first I could see he was puzzled—“How come we’re not running away?” But now he too likes to circle back to me and collect his treat.

“You know, Auss, hanging around Eve is not so bad after all.”

“Isn’t it amazing how she’s changed?”