Monday, September 21, 2009

Domination's the Name of the Game

I'm crate-training my dog.

I've had my dog Baby for seven years. She's not young, but she's not old. Truth is, I have no idea how young or old she really is at all. When I adopted her, I was told she was one. A few days later the veterinarian told me she was probably closer to seven. Other than the gray that has crept into her black coat, I have nothing to suggests she's very old. Of course, the gray suggests she's certainly not young.

I remember the day I got her. My family and I had been at the State Fair of Texas all day. It was six in the evening, and we sat at a picnic table to rest for a moment. My sister and I wandered over to the SPCA booth. I'd been wanting a dog. The moment I saw her--the little poodle mutt falling asleep sitting up in the cage--I knew it would be her. I remember thinking, "She looks like she's nodding off on Valium! That's my dog!" I was drunk. So was my mother. Half-an-hour later, my mother and I had cleaned out the SPCA booth, adopting three of the four dogs they had left at the end of the day. We probably would've taken the fourth if he wasn't already in the process of being adopted.

I picked my dog because she appeared as if she were on drugs. That tells you a lot about me.

In preparation for crate-training an older dog, I did some research. You see, I'm not an all-around great dog mom. Oh, my dog thinks I'm a great dog mom, but that's because my dog gets to do pretty much whatever she wants. Everyone who knows my dog says she's spoiled. I've tried crating her before, but she's never taken to the crate. This is because I'm terrible at the training part. I mostly just put her in the crate a few times and, when she didn't like it, stopped putting her in the crate.

Thank goodness I'm not planning on ever having children.

The biggest problem with training my dog is that we don't have an alpha/beta relationship. We live side-by-side almost as equals. She recognizes in certain situations that she's better off if she defers to me. When I walk her without a leash, she stays close to me and comes when she's called. But she does this for her own safety, not because she sees me as being in charge. I know this because she enjoys alone time under the couch, and she will never come out when called unless she's good and ready.

And I allow this.

The problem with all of this is that, in order for her to be trained to do anything, she needs to see me as the boss. I have a very tenuous relationship with being the boss.

Last night my boyfriend and I had a conversation about who we consider the dominant one in our relationship. He said that he feels he's the dominant one. He supported this with the evidence that I often let him make a lot of our decisions. It's mundane stuff, really--what time we should get together to hang out, what we should eat for dinner, what movie we're going to watch. He always seems to make decisions that work for me, so why assert myself? I have nothing to assert. He asked me what I thought, and I said that I do prefer to defer to him on a lot of things.

He's never given me a reason not to.

The truth is that I see the two of us as wholly independent beings with complete freedom over our own actions. We choose to defer to each other to varying degrees at different times because that is how our partnership works. But I don't know that I'd call this dominance and submission. No one dominates me. I choose to defer. I tend to defer more often partially because I just really don't care that much about what I eat. I also tend to defer more often for the same reason that Baby stays close and comes when she's out in the wide open without the security of a leash.

He seems to choose to be conscientious when making decisions. I feel safe deferring to him. Neither of us are making a power play.

The question of who in the relationship is dominant and who is submissive is a question of power. In deferring, I don't give away my power. I still have it, and I have the right to exercise it at any point. But what I will not do is try to dominate when I exercise it. I will exercise it over myself. In reality, I'm always exercising it in recognizing that deferring is my choice. But suppose he were to do something that I found unacceptable? Suppose I wanted or needed something from him that he did not offer? I would exercise my power not by trying to dominate him into submission. I would make a request, offer a choice, and then make my own choices according to his response. I always recognize myself first and foremost as an independent, free being.

No one is the boss of me. (But that game can be fun sometimes.)

People make power plays when they are insecure. They seek to dominate out of a need for control over that which they fear losing, or they pretend to abdicate their freedom for the same reason. I don't like the idea of dominating someone I love. I may appear to get what I want, but I've destroyed something I wanted even more in the process.

I've destroyed the ability of the person I love to be the person I love.

I remember a time when I was very aggressive. Bossy. Pushy. Mean. It sprung from an anger that had grown out of a very strange idea. Somewhere along the way I'd come to believe that lots of other people were being given whatever they wanted by the people around them. The fact that I wasn't being given whatever I wanted (I cannot even fathom this thought process now, so it's hard for me to describe it in any intricate detail) proved that the people around me didn't love me. They didn't remember me. They didn't think about me. I saw myself at the mercy of other people's actions. So I was going to make them. Essentially I became a bully. I reaped a bully's rewards. People did what I wanted, but I felt even more disconnected from them than I had before.

When I recognize myself as having choice, I am free to allow others to be free. No power play is required--or even possible.

So then why am I crate training the dog?

Because that's right where the analogy falls apart. I can't give the dog a choice to stop having accidents in the house because she lacks critical thinking skills and doesn't understand English. As my boyfriend responded when I told him I wanted her to be free to experience the full expression of herself, he said, "She's expressed herself...all over your carpets!"

Besides, we're about to move in I'm deferring to him on this one.


  1. I had some trouble with Guapo while crate training him, but he seems to enjoy it now. Granted, he was about a year when I really started to train him, so he was a bit younger than Baby.

    To make the transition easier, I gave him his favorite blanket and his favorite toy. I always gave him a treat when he willingly went into his crate. Now, you will find that his entire doggie bed and a blanket are in the crate and he considers it his room.

    Good luck!

  2. Haha I like that it really all comes down to, "you're all moving in together". Deferring does not mean lack of power you are right, just lack of excerise of that power. It's when you think you HAVE to do something and aren't CHOOSING to do it that the line is much more blurred.

    Good luck on the crate training...I have a cat, she poos in a igloo =)