My path to happiness.

By Valerie Dziengiel


It has been a while since I have written a blog post because I needed a break ~ some me time. 

Since it had taken about 3 1/2 years for me to write my book, I had burnout.  Therefore, once I published my book, instead of concentrating on writing, I decided to focus my attention on creating inspirational quotes, which I quickly discovered took up quite a bit of time to create.  After composing what I believed to be a motivational thought, I would spend hours on a stock photo website I subscribe to, in search of the perfect picture to download, into which I would insert my creative endeavor.   That being said, I soon realized that because I enjoyed the results of my efforts, I made it a point to generate one new post weekly, for my Facebook Fan Page, that I appropriately entitled Inspirational Monday. 

Afterwards, since I didn’t want all of my hard work to fade away into Facebook antiquity, I decided I will also post my creations on my webpage for posterity, under my blog heading, where I entitled the collection: “Inspirational Quotes by Valerie.” 

This became one of the many new enjoyable activities I employed, to keep me busy after my husband’s death.


There was also a specific issue that I faced as a result of my new widowhood status which needed immediate attention at the time, that I wanted to share.  It was one of those unexpected problems I faced that I needed to solve if I wanted to develop harmony in place of the unruliness that had developed during my husband’s illness.

Before we knew my husband was sick, our oldest German shepherd at the time, who went by the endearing name of Whiskey, had recently died.  The loss of a pet is a very traumatic event, and since we lived on a very large piece of property, which hosted a large population of coyotes, it became apparent that we needed to replace Whiskey with another male German shepherd.  We had long ago learned that coyotes do not keep their distance from female shepherds with the same respect they have for males.   This meant we would need to find a new male puppy to replace our beloved Whiskey.

Whiskey and Me

The search for a new puppy was not an easy task, especially since we were heartbroken when Whiskey died.   He was just a one-of-a-kind dog, and although he was huge, he was a baby.   He was a long-coat German shepherd, and I guess you could say he was our favorite.

When the time came to search for a new puppy, my husband was in no rush; but I convinced him that in order to heal from our loss, we needed to bite the bullet and pick out a new member for our friendly pack of canines.  After all, we still had two female German shepherds who were in mourning from Whiskey’s loss as well; and it was a time-proven fact that even dogs benefited from a new replacement when a member of their clan had died.

It took a few weeks before I was able to find a local breeder who had a litter of puppies for sale.  After a few days of prodding, my husband agreed to go . . . at least to look at the prospects.   When we got to the farm where the dogs were bred, it turned out that the litter of nine were all males . . . little balls of energy running around the horse stable . . . to our delight.  As it turned out, seven of the pups were all black and two were tan; but one in particular stood out to me.  

On this occasion, for the first time during our search for a replacement puppy, my husband told me that since we were getting older he wanted me to choose a dog who would be my protector in the event anything ever happened to him.  This seemed to be an odd request to me, but I responded to my husband’s offer by singling out the one pup in the litter who seemed to bond with me by wrapping his paws around my arms, in a somewhat endearing manner. 

Although we had raised shepherds our whole life, I didn’t realize at the time that what I had interpreted as an act of affection was an expression of dominance that I would need to deal with at a later date.  Needless to say, the little black puppy stole my heart . . .  and since he wasn’t old enough to come home with us, we had to wait a few more weeks until he was weened from his mother and ready to start his new existence as a member of our family.

It was the fall of 2014, and while we waited for the time to pass before the pup would come home with us . . . now we needed to choose a name for our new addition.  My husband wanted a bold, masculine name that our puppy would grow into.  So, after running the gauntlet of manly choices, we settled on the name Rambo.   In retrospect, I would say be careful of what you wish for. 

Rambo’s first picture

On December 15, 2014, we picked up up our new puppy, who we named Rambo; and we brought him home.  Our two girls were receptive to the new addition, at least for the time being.  Time passed, winter turned into spring, and then the unthinkable happened . . . my husband ended up in the hospital, a terminal illness was diagnosed, and the rest is history.  

During the interim, between the time Rambo came home and my husband’s illness came to light, my husband took the alpha human position, and Rambo obediently followed his orders.

When my husband took ill, it was Rambo’s formative period.  It was during this time that Rambo, Dutchess and Brandy were pretty much left on their own accord to work things out, as the battle for top dog began to brew. 

It had been my experience, throughout our years of marriage, that our dogs had always accepted one human to the alpha position.  Since Rambo had joined our family prior to my husband’s illness, my husband’s experience in handling and training all of our dogs naturally led to his being the alpha human.

Although our dogs always loved me, they did not always listen to my commands.  Therefore, after my husband died, I found myself in a struggle to take control over our large male German shepherd who, at almost a year old, had decided he wanted to be in charge . . . no matter how I felt about the situation.


Rambo on the left – Dutchess on the Right

This picture of Rambo and Brandy was taken on January 16, 2016, three months after my husband had died.  In between the time of my husband’s death and the day I took this picture I had a conflict on my hands because I needed to become the head of the pack. 

By this time, Rambo was trying to take charge over the girls, and they weren’t happy about it. 

In the hierarchy of dogs, age counts when it comes to who will take control of the pack. But in the long run, a dog’s dominance is what counts the most.  Dutchess, who is sitting on the left in the snow (in the picture below), became the dominant female once Rambo (on the right) was introduced.  This put Brandy in limbo as Rambo matured.

Even though Whiskey had been the Alpha male up until his death, he was a very docile dog.  He didn’t command dominance.  Rambo, on the other hand, was the exact opposite and expressed dominance early on.  Because my husband became ill before Rambo was fully trained or neutered, my husband’s illness took precedent over everything else.  There simply wasn’t time for me to deal with an operation for Rambo, while I was taking care of my husband at home.  The lack of time to train Rambo during my husband’s illness, and the delay in his neutering process as well, had increased his hormonal tendencies which enhanced his dominant nature.

The first time I realized that the table had turned, and Rambo had taken charge, was shortly after my husband had died.  I had gone outside, where the dogs were relaxing on our outside covered porch.  When I began to cuddle them, to console my broken heart, Rambo became jealous and began to strut around with a dominant stance over the other two females.  If you raised shepherds, you will understand what I mean.  I wasn’t too concerned until he started to try to dominate me.  As I sat on the floor, he tried to tower over me; and he would not listen to my command to sit or lay down.  It was at that moment that I realized I didn’t have control over the situation . . . and our power-struggle of dominance began.

 It was when I tried to take a toy away from him and he growled at me, an act that should not have provoked such a negative response, that I knew the situation needed immediate attention; especially since I knew that I had a big dog on my hands.


I was on my own.  My husband was no longer there to make things right, so I decided that I had no choice but to react in a dominant manner that Rambo would understand.  Therefore, once I convinced Rambo to lay down, I proceeded to lay over him with my body, which instinctively indicated to him that I was the one in charge of the situation.  He immediately got the message and wasn’t happy about it.   Because he was strong enough to push me off, I had to repeat this ploy that day, and many days thereafter.  It was my intention to instill control through repetitive positive messaging.

Ultimately, that day was the day I started to take back control of the situation.


Rambo grown up

To be honest, at first I was afraid that I would not be able to overcome this obstacle.   I worried that if I couldn’t train him to follow my commands, I might have to give him away to someone who could; therefore, failure was not an option.  I started reading books on the subject of dog handling.  Most of them said that by the time a dog reached his age, they would be difficult to train.  I understood that this process would be a challenge.

Working with Rambo became my passion.  I used patience, love . . . and treats of course . . . until we finally came to an understanding. 

To my relief, after much time and effort, he finally accepted me as his alpha human.  Eventually, he became the dog who loves and respects me . . .  just like my husband wanted.

The establishment of a strong bond with Rambo helped build my confidence since I discovered that I was capable of accomplishing such a difficult task on my own.  I believe that it is achievements like this that helps build our self-esteem.


Ultimately, my life has taken on many new normals.  I just listed a few in this blog, as an example of the simple ways I reconnected with life.  Sometimes my accomplishments were as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, in order to be able to move on.

Even though my endeavors were not a bonanza of new ideas, they provided a basis upon which I built up the courage to tackle life on my own.  The secret to success in life is to keep on trying, even when you feel the odds are stacked against you.

The most important suggestion I can make . . . to those of you whose life has been disrupted in an unimaginable way . . . is to create normalcy where chaos currently exists.

Published by Valerie Dziengiel

Although it is difficult for me to share my intimate story with others, I wrote my memoir to help others deal with this challenging part of life.

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