How does someone decide to become a dog trainer? It’s not a common career choice and my decision to pursue dog training was a circuitous route. Before becoming a dog trainer, I had been profoundly affected by my one year of living in Kathmandu, Nepal. And before choosing to be a dog trainer, I considered becoming a professor of Indian Philosophy.
I graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in South Asian studies. I studied Indian philosophy and religion. And I studied Sanskrit (the classical language of India) and literary Tibetan languages. Following college, I attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin Madison. My goal was to become fluent in Sanskrit and Tibetan languages. Then I would learn all the esoteric secrets of Indian philosophy and while being a professor, I would search for metaphysical treasures in India, Nepal, and Tibet. Essentially, I would be the new Indiana Jones. This pragmatic goal seemed all but done until I realized over and over that I was terrible at reading Sanskrit and Tibetan languages. I spent three years trying to break these linguistic codes. A failed Sanskrit scholar, I dropped out of the program and I migrated from Madison, Wisconsin to Venice beach, California.
My Indiana Jones plan could have brought me to the University of Hawaii Manoa where there is an active South Asian studies department. As a Sanskrit flunkee, I still wanted to get back to Honolulu, but I needed a new job prospect for living in Hawaii. So I planted myself temporarily in Venice beach until I figured things out. What should I do with my life? I pontificated. During college, I spent a college year abroad in Nepal through the University of Wisconsin Madison program. Nepal is a country where I could drop any and all personal armor against psychological and physical intruders, real or imagined. People in Nepal were kind, friendly, fun loving, and quick to laugh. Many were eccentric without malice. I lived in a country where virtually anyone I met could become my friend. Everyday interactions in Kathmandu, like buying a newspaper, became a social event. This year in Nepal program had affected me so much that I was having trouble adjusting back to life in the United States. I knew that I had to have a career but I longed for my carefree days of living in Kathmandu.
The Nepalis have a very different perception about dogs.
While in Nepal, frequent discussions would be had about the differences between the United States and Nepal. Nepali people who had lived in the United States were eager to tell me their perceptions as if it were a joke. Here is what the Nepalis said: “In the United States, people are very nice to dogs. But they are very mean to people. In Nepal, we are very mean to dogs, but we are very nice to people.” The Nepalis would tell me this while being very animated and it would be followed by lots of laughing.
What is the basis for this Nepali perception? Yes, Americans have a love for dogs. Because the United States is a capitalistic country, we often view other humans as competitors. Karl Marx said the culture of competition in capitalism leads towards alienation and discontent because human beings are not connecting with one another. Humans crave connection and friendship. Maybe our friendship with canines becomes heightened in the United States because capitalism is pitting us against one another? This is not only true in the United States, it’s true in developed countries throughout the globe. One of the signs of a developing nation is that pet ownership increases.
Now Nepal was an underdeveloped agrarian country. People were not competitive with one another. There were festivals and celebrations every week. People were happy. And the dogs were at the very bottom of the social ladder. A few people had pet dogs, but dogs in general were strays. Dogs roamed the streets eating garbage. It was a terrible sight which I averted because the flip side was the Nepali people were genuinely kind to one another.
What am I going to do with my life?
Shoot forward to Venice beach, California. I’m searching for my direction. What should I do with my life? I was a failed Sanskrit scholar. No more dreams of being Indiana Jones, version 2.0. I went back to that Nepali mantra. The Nepalis said: “In the United States, people are very nice to dogs. But they are very mean to people. In Nepal, we are very mean to dogs, but we are very nice to people.”
I would stare out my Venice beach window thinking of this Nepali saying and reminisce of the good times I experienced in Nepal. Passing outside my window would be a continuous flow of dog owners on their way to the Venice dog park. The sun was shining brilliantly in Venice, California. The people of Venice beach marched to their own drum. Reminding me of my sunny days in Kathmandu. I stared at the happy people and their dogs parading towards the Venice dog park on Main street and Westminster avenue. Basking in the California sun, the dogs and their owners seemed genuinely happy. And there were so many dog owners here in California.
There was another saying that was popular in Nepal. Nepali people would proudly proclaim: “I want to enjoy my life!” Their hands would flail upwards and they would smile as they made this announcement. Initially, I was surprised by the candor in this statement. Americans, affected by Puritanism, were not so willing to state that enjoyment is a life priority. More likely, an American would say accomplishment is a life goal. As I pondered what to do with my life, part of me was still stuck in Nepal. And then slowly, I started to blend my experience of being in Nepal with my reality of choosing a career. Now I am living in the United States. My glorious time in Nepal is over. I spent a year in Nepal, and now maybe I can pursue a goal that will bring me enjoyment just as the Nepalis would honestly proclaim. The Nepalis said that Americans were nice to dogs but mean to people. The Nepalis openly stated that they want to enjoy their lives. I think I want to enjoy my life too! I loved my time in Nepal because people were nice to people. According to the Nepali mantra, people in the United States, are nice to dogs. Therefore, maybe I would enjoy my life in the United States, if I spent more time around dogs? It’s not that dogs are better than people. People are affected by the social systems that we live under. Ok… I will be a dog trainer!
And that is how I decided to become a dog trainer.