When I named one of them “Benny” after Pope Benedict XVI, I never expected to get a lesson in faith from the two German Shepherd sister puppies who joined our family last year. We named the jumpy one Pongo. When they look at me, my husband is fond of saying, “Look how much they love you, Honey.”
I see flapping tongues and begging eyes and reply, “No, dogs can’t love, Benny and Pongo just want m-e-a-t.” Dogs don’t have rational souls, the ability to spell notwithstanding.
At seventeen months, they were out of control, barking, nipping, jumping, no obedience unless I had meat in my hand. I’d heard that raising dogs is like raising children and since I have five daughters, I figured I could handle a couple of dog sisters. As their behavior got worse, however, I pushed them aside and ignored them. Then I started to yell and resent them. The day I called the trainer for help, all I could think was, “Maybe I don’t know how to raise kids or dogs after all.”
The first thing the trainer taught me was that the dogs didn’t know their place because they didn’t acknowledge me as the Alpha Female. “The what?” I thought. “Of course I’m the Alpha Female. I’m the Mom.” But it was true. I hadn’t become their leader. I needed to communicate with them, not with rational language, but with action. I needed to show them they can trust me before they could learn obedience. I needed to confront them and assert myself before I could guide them.
And it hit me. I do this in all of my relationships. I push people aside when I perceive that they are misbehaving. Something else hit me too. We ask our Blessed Mother, the Alpha Female of Heaven and Earth, not to turn away from us. We ask our Mother of Mercy, our Advocate, to turn her “eyes of mercy toward us” and to show us Jesus. It’s a truth that resonates in our soul. To have successful relationships, we have to turn into the other, we have to open ourselves up, and we have to give and receive with our whole being. I suppose it applies to dogs as well.
I spent the next week wandering around the yard with adolescent dogs on pink leashes, treats in my pocket, praise on my lips. They learned that I’ll explore the world with them as long as they don’t pull me down, and for the first time ever, they walked on loose leashes. In that time, the idea of being the Alpha Female sank in. I hope to become that woman now, a woman who will face you when you hurt her, who will try to understand you when you confuse her, who will lead you if you allow her to show you she is trustworthy. As for Benny and Pongo, maybe I do see love in their eyes because it’s a reflection of my own.