Dear Zelda Wisdom Fear Factor bulldog humor advice therapy dog advice column

Insecurities (2/22/06)

Dear Zelda,

My girlfriend and I work out at the same gym everyday. She's actually in better shape than I am (she sports a full six pack, where as I sport a pony keg). The guys all stop and gawk and flirt with her which she's receptive to, and the way she dresses invites their comments. Meanwhile, I'm sweating like a pig trying to lose weight, watchdogging her so that no one is slipping her their number. I'm okay when I'm there, but when she works out alone I feel completely threatened and obsessed with knowing who talked to her. It's affecting our relationship. Advice?

Securely Insecure

Dear Securely Insecure,

You're between some rock-hard abs and a hard place! It can be difficult when one person is in amazing shape, and the other is "working on it," but by itself, that's not such a big deal. The real trouble is when the one "working on it" spends all their time worried about it, while the one in better shape probably likes them just the way they are! Sure, having a partner with a great physique is a definite bonus, and why not, there's nothing wrong with a little eye candy. But when we start to be consumed by feelings of inferiority, these kind of differences can be more of a curse than a blessing. What's more, this can lead to insecure and overly protective behavior, and there's no quicker way to drive someone away than to interrogate them about their every move and cling to their side like a barnacle.

The truth is, you're wasting your energy trying to prevent anyone from "slipping her their number," because you can't (and shouldn't) watch her every move. What you SHOULD be doing is working on having a healthy relationship and a strong, independent identity of your own, so that when she DOES get a number passed to her at the gym, it goes into the trash and not into the speed dial.

That said, if your girlfriend is truly pushing the limits of decorum in front of your very eyes, there may be some cause to have a talk with her. There's nothing wrong with acknowledging compliments from onlookers, but taking time to chat, giggle, puff up your assets and pump up your ego is childish, unnecessary, and not considerate of you. If you think her behavior is truly out of line, then have the chat. Nothing accusatory or malicious, just an honest, respectful conversation about the difference between acknowledging a compliment and pushing a limit. After all, what we're really talking about here is trust. Not just the trust that she won't leave you for another, but the trust that she will behave in a way that is respectful to you, and that you will do the same for her. Remember though, at some point you are going to have to trust her, and if you can't get over your feelings of inferiority, or she can't curtail her behavior, you really aren't in a healthy relationship.

Hope the workouts work out for the two of you.


Dear Zelda,

A few months ago I heard your owner speak to a large group of executive women. She was so calm and public speaking seemed to be effortless for her. I am a young attorney working for a good law firm, but every time I have to speak to a group I am filled with anxiety. Do you have any tips to help me overcome my fear of public speaking? Literally I can't sleep the night before I have to make a presentation and my hands shake when I'm in front of a crowd.

Powerless at the Podium

Dear Powerless at the Podium,

I wouldn't say that you are powerless... I'd just say that you just haven't harnessed your power and pointed it in the right direction. But be comforted by the knowledge that fear of public performance is incredibly common. Did you know that Barbara Streisand avoided performing in public for nearly twenty years because of stage fright? Indeed, it is the fear of looking foolish that ends up making us look foolish.

Most of us are consumed by the pursuit of perfection, and the fear of failure in front of an audience is all the more frightening. Wow, so many witnesses to our imperfections! Step one in losing the butterflies is to let go of a bit of that perfectionism, relax, and realize that everyone listening knows you are just human. It's perfectly okay to be nervous, most people are, just don't let worrying about it take over your entire presentation.

Step two is to be prepared. Be sure that you know exactly what you'll say, where you'll say it, what kind of connection your laptop uses, and all the other nasty little details. This doesn't mean every last thing has to be perfect. It won't be. But the better you know your presentation, the less you will have to be worried about remembering what comes next, or panicking at the last minute because your slides aren't showing up on the screen. Write your presentation down on note cards that are set for each part of your speech. Consulting notes is not uncommon, and in the case of an emergency (forgetting your next line), you'll simply look..."prepared".

Step three is practice, practice, practice. Practice in front of the mirror, practice in front of a friend, and if you have the chance, practice in the room where you will be speaking. Someone once asked my owner "What makes a good speaker?" Her reply was "500 speeches." With every talk you give to an audience you will become more confident and comfort-a-bull.

You've got the power, now go out and use it!


Dear Zelda,

Do you have any tips for helping my dog get over her fear of staying home alone? She is eight months old and howls when we leave her.

Tied to Home

Dear Tied to Home,

This sounds like an incred-i-bull case of "separation anxiety," but the good news is she's still a pup, and there's no time like the present to condition good behavior. There are a few reasons why we bark and howl when left alone: loneliness, nervousness, and boredom top the list. Sometimes the only way we can deal with our dilemmas is to exercise our vocal cords. As if the barking wasn't enough, I'm ashamed to admit that when we're left alone in this condition, we often resort to such deplor-a-bull behaviors as chewing, soiling, and general troublemaking. Trust me, we know what we're doing.

You have two options. The first is to pick a room or a spot that will be her "sanctuary" while you're gone. It should be one that has enough room to stretch and walk a little, and it should have a few of her favorite things inside. You might even want to put a piece of your clothing outside the door, to make her feel, and smell, that you are close. Once it's set up, you can start by putting her in this area and shutting the door for a few minutes at a time. Do this throughout the day at different intervals and make sure to praise her when she's quiet. This helps to assure her that you're not abandoning her and that you are coming back. As the weeks progress, make the stays longer and longer, always making sure to praise her for good behavior, and NOT coming back to the room every time she barks (this is rewarding BAD behavior).

Kenneling is the second option that will allow your dog to have her own safe spot where she can feel comfortable. (We have a natural instinct to den.) Kenneling will help to discourage bad habits as well as give you peace of mind while you're away. Contrary to popular belief, this IS a humane way to house your pets for the short term, and there are a variety of kennel styles and sizes that will suit your dog. Start slowly, leaving her in for brief stretches at first, always making sure to praise her for good behavior. It's also important to remember to exercise her before and after kenneling; we need to streeeeeeeeeetch! After a while you'll find it becomes second nature for her to go right into her kennel without any resistance. Most importantly, USE... DON'T ABUSE the kennel. Only leave her in when necessary and NEVER use it to discipline bad behavior. When you are home with her, leave the door open so she can learn that it is her safe spot.

From my point of view...THE CRATE IS GREAT! But every dog (and every dog owner) is different, and the way you choose to house her depends on you and your bowser.