To my knowledge, I’ve never been without at least one animal in my life. That ranges from rabbits and hamsters to kittens and 100 pound dogs. I’ve always felt connected to animals.
One of my pets is Baron, a German Shepherd close to 100 pounds. I trained my dog from the time he was 8 weeks old until now, he turned 5 in September. I did this using many books written by men who worked with K-9’s over-seas and using the ‘pack’ method. In terms, I made myself connect to an animalistic part of myself that could relate to him.
Baron is my emotional support animal and helps with me some things related to bipolar disorder.
Baron has this ability. He can read people that are within his sight. He may not like someone who is 10 feet away and start barking to warn them to move away. Or he could see someone, let them get close then just let out a bark as if to say, ‘Hey, I’m here. Back away a bit.’
German Shepherds have a stigma of being a “dangerous breed.” The breed is known for their jobs in the police force, military and so on. So, does this connect us as well? If I walked around with a sign saying “Mentally Ill” or “Bipolar Disorder”, would I get the same reaction he gets?
I can tell how my mornings are going to be by Baron. Sometimes, I’ll wake up and immediately want to cuddle him. Sometimes, I’ll wake up and push him away a bit until he starts to nudge his way back into the bed to wake me up fully.
We got Baron when I was 18, at the time I had never been diagnosed with anything mental health related. I was in the transition phase of finding out my diagnosis and then trying to handle it. In this process, there were days when I had to look at my parents and say “I can’t handle him today, please deal with him.” They understood. A dog can be a mental, physical and emotional challenge.
So, as I started to develop starting my own forms of help for my moods, mental state, and so on, Baron came in as a huge helping hand. With any dog known for high energy, you need calming because they can be a handful. Deep breath practices were used a lot. Learning to try and not push my own emotional vibes off onto him was another challenge. Animals will pick up on those vibes a lot quicker than most humans will. Baron would and will. A dog with natural energy like that needs playtime and walks, both of those include exercise for yourself and your dog. Exercise releases natural endorphins in you that lifts your mood, confidence and such.
Another thing that I developed from him was a more confident nature. This ‘alpha’ or ‘pack’ mental mind that I developed to help with training him takes into this. You can’t let him be alpha. You have to be alpha and that requires confidence. No one, animal or human, is going to have confidence in someone that does not have confidence within themselves. They take their own confidence from their leader.
For instance, if I was walking Baron, at all times I keep my back straight and my head level, even if I’m having a bad day and want to sink. You have to do it. You have to let him know you have him through your own body language and vibes, that you essentially have his back like he has yours. It’s a partnership.
Another aspect is learning to not allow his vibes rub off onto me. He may have a bad day, it can happen. Baron, for instance, does not like the smell of Alcohol. If we passed someone on a walk and they smelt like Alcohol, he could instantly go on alert, start barking and over all get agitated. I had to learn to stay calm and block his emotions so I can control him.
Overall though, he is a huge companion. My best friend. If I have a nightmare, he is there instantly. There was actually a case about a year ago that I was screaming in my sleep, muffled, and he went to wake my mom up so she could wake me up. In return, he got on the bed and immediately started giving me ‘kisses’ as I woke up. His fur smells like comfort and love to fall into. His eyes look like warmth to keep me moving through the windy days. A dog’s love is the strongest one to have and you can only repay that by giving it in return. So, on days when I do believe I have absolutely no one, a furry, large body tends to jump on the bed and push me around until he is comfortable and ready to sleep. He reminds me that I have at least someone that will always need me, love me and that I can’t stop loving as well or give up on.
Read the rest of Michele's blogs here.