Moments of Mudita

Posted on Jul 12, 2015

My new rescue pup, Maggie, she needs some Doga; she is feeling pretty stressed out.

Suspecting my limitations with regard to cross-species communication, I decided to consult an expert.  Viviane, the proprietor of Pumpkin Pups, arrived armed with a full treat pouch and a reassuring dose of clarity and kindness.  I was quickly in awe and young Maggie,  in love.  Viviane encouraged us to avoid any situations that might cause alarm (a challenge in busy, loud, Brooklyn).  Once Maggie starts to relax into her new surroundings, Viviane explained, I can very slowly reintroduce some of the stressors,  accompanying each manageably stressful experience with praise, love, and treats.  The pathways in her canine brain will actually change so that the previously frightening situations eventually trigger a naturally relaxed response.  In time her world will become less narrow and a happier place to be.

This style of graduated positive reinforcement seems way more sensible to me then the idea of dominating your dog into a desired behavior.  It is a similar mindset to how I encourage my yoga students to work with their bodies after trauma or an injury.  If it really hurts, dont do it!  Wait until that part of your body has recovered, settled a little, and then start to introduce a “stressor” for that area very gently.  Offer yourself a positive association  by working at a level that feels manageable, withhold judgement, and your brain will soon associate each incremental improvement with success.  If we remember that we are not irrevocably broken then we can start to believe in our body’s basic goodness.

And I’m realizing too that it is the same with our hearts.  When they feel profoundly broken it is best to let them rest for a while and mend a bit on their own.  In time we can reconnect to our emotional selves at a level that feels manageable.  Maggie is helping me with this–offering a safe haven to place my love and trust.

And in less than a week, she has also offered me a whole new canvas on which to paint my days.  She has reminded me of the taken-for-granted masterpiece of a park just one block from my house– presenting it to me, almost proudly, at the never-before-seen hour of 6:30 AM.  She has also offered me abundant opportunities to practice the exquisite quality of Mudita–sympathetic joy–or joy in the joy of others–as I watch her puppy body fly, spin, and roll, taking in the air, the rich smells, and the whole community of beings in her urban backyard–from birds and squirrels to dogs of every imaginable variety as well as their people.

Still, when we leave the park sometimes her fears rise right back up:  truck! bike! stroller!  tall man! noise!  cardboard box!  The list is pretty long.  So we avoid what we can, but when we can’t, I try to replace her negative association with something positive.  ( truck = string cheese!  YAY!).  She looks at me in those moments with worried eyes, but slowly too, a softly wagging tail.

I get it.

She gets me.

Or at least, we are getting there.








  1. Beautifully put Susie Q! I am so impressed you are taking on the challenge of a rescue pup with your customary loving care! Whosagooddoggie Whosagooddoggie Whosagooddoggie!!!!

    • Thank you Daisy!!! I think I am somehow just seeing this comment now… xo