Wisdom or Obedience? For Friends, the Choice is Clear.

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“Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.”
~ C.G. Jung

 

From the New Oxford American Dictionary:
 Wisdom: noun
the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.
Obedience: noun
compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.

 

Would you rather teach your Dog wisdom or obedience?  

There is too much emphasis on training Dogs to be obedient, and to conform, and not nearly enough on helping them to become wise and have insight.  The differences between obedience and wisdom are vast, and defines the difference between ownership and friendship in our relationship with our Dogs.  

When Humans and Dogs (Wolves) first found each other, we became partners and friends. (Schleidt, Shalter, 2003We shared each other’s skill sets and learned from each other — first by observation, and then through collaboration.   We shared our wisdom.  At some point in our history, our Human desire for ultimate control and conquest took over, and the relationship we had with our canine partners changed from friendship to ownership.  Somewhere along the way we were no longer interested in what we could do for them; we only focused on what they could do for us.  We confused utility and amusement with genuine friendship.  The millions of abandoned, abused and neglected Dogs that exist are a stark reminder of this fact.  If we are to truly see our Dogs as friends then we are obliged to share our wisdom with them so they can become fully functioning, self-realizing individuals, rather than mere obedient “pets”.

What then, is the difference between obedience and wisdom, and how do we teach our Dogs (and perhaps ourselves) the latter?   

The dictionary defines “wisdom” as: “a quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” However it requires much more than that.  Wisdom is grounded in knowledge and experience, which needs a high degree of awareness of one’s self and surroundings.  This is something that our Dogs excel at naturally.  Their neuroanatomy is designed to be tuned-in to what is happening at this moment, instead of being lost in memories or thoughts, the way our Human brains operate.  Their ability to detect movement, high frequency sounds, and their incredible sensitivity to chemical compounds (scent) is legendary.  We have used (exploited?) these abilities for centuries for our own benefit, but we can help our Dogs use their natural talents to make wise judgements and choices, too.

Wisdom means also being sensitive to the feelings of others, and having a high degree of empathy.   It is widely believed that our Dogs have “mirror neurons”, which are neurons that fire not only when our Dogs act, but also when our Dogs observe the same action by another.  In other words, that part of their neural network “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the Dog observing were itself acting.  We can help our Dogs use this empathic ability to make wise judgements that will help them become happier, and be better friends. For example, rather than just getting our Dogs to obey us, we communicate to them how their actions effect us so they have an intrinsic desire to help us be happy.  This is much different than extrinsic rewards or punishments to shape behavior.

How do we help our Dogs utilize their natural talents which are so conducive to wisdom?  Since wisdom is based on knowledge and experience, we must allow our Dogs to learn and experience their world.  This means giving them the freedom to explore, discover and participate in life and not to micro-manage everything they do.  We should support their autonomy and encourage them to be self-determined.  This does not imply they are to be completely independent of us.  They live in a world of cars, people, and other dangers.  Our job is to guide them and help them discover their limits as well as their freedoms.  Autonomy and freedom are not the same as total independence.  I am free to drive the type of car I want, free to go to the destination I choose, and free to choose the route to get there, however I still have limits. I cannot go through stop lights, drive too fast or cross a double yellow line without suffering consequences.  These limits are in place not only for my safety, but for other’s safety, so they may enjoy the same freedoms that I do.  Total independence is a disregard for these limits.   Autonomy is freedom that is integrated with concern for the well-being of others.

We must share and effectively communicate our wisdom with our Dogs so they gain the experience and knowledge of the dangers and the pleasures of their world, then step back and trust in their intrinsic ability to make wise choices.  Wisdom requires this autonomy.

Now contrast this with that of obedience.  The dictionary defines obedience as: “compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.”  This is the opposite of freedom and autonomy.  This is blind obedience to authority, regardless of the Dog’s preferences or desires.  Anyone who is familiar with experiments done by Stanley Milgram will see how dangerous to the well-being of an individual this can be.   Obedience, whether achieved through coercion or the so-called “humane” methods of Skinnerian manipulation, only serves to satisfy our desire to control our Dogs, rather than to help them become fully functioning, self-realized, free and genuinely fulfilled beings.   As much as we spin it as “love”, it is no more than an iron fist in a velvet glove.  It comes from a relationship of owner/pet rather than that of true friendship and is self-serving.  True friendship is the sharing of wisdom and communicating with compassion for the betterment of the other.  It is selfless.

These are the differences between Obedience and Wisdom:

Wisdom:

  • Intrinsic; internal.
  • Dynamic, always growing.
  • Self-reinforcing.
  • Dialectic.
  • Collaborative.
  • Autonomous.
  • Empathic.
  • Sensitive.
  • Focused on: “What can I give?”

Obedience:                                                                

  • Extrinsic; external.
  • Static; lifeless.
  • Must be externally reinforced.
  • Didactic.
  • Authoritative.
  • Controlling.
  • Indifferent.
  • Mechanistic.
  • Focused on: “What can I get?”

It is an incredible privilege to share our lives with Dogs.  It is a friendship that goes back tens of thousands of years.  As Humans and Dogs (wolves) “grew up” together, we learned from each other how to be safe, successful and happy.  It was a relationship based on equal respect and trust, yet somewhere along the way we lost our way.  Control and obedience replaced connection and wisdom.  As a result, many Dogs suffer abuse, abandonment, and neglect.  We owe it to ourselves and to our Dogs to revive that relationship that was built on an equal friendship.  

The good news is that this is easily achieved.  By sharing wisdom with each other, and treating each other with dignity and respect, our friendship will be renewed.  The truth is, it has never left.  It has only been obscured by the desire for obedience and control.  However, our pursuit of ultimate control is simply a exercise in futility.  Trying to create a friendship with our Dogs through obedience is the same as chasing our tails — our friendship will constantly elude our grasp.  However, wisdom teaches us that by simply walking the Path of Friendship together, friendship will follow us everywhere..

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Author: Path of Friendship™

Corey Cohen is an animal behaviorist, mindfulness and emotional intelligence instructor with over 33 years of helping people connect to their dogs on a deeper level. His unique Mindfulness-Based Animal Behavior Therapy™ and his Path of Friendship™ programs are inspiring alternatives to standard dog training. His mindfulness seminars for individuals, universities, wellness centers, and top corporations has helped reduce stress and anxiety and given people a fresh perspective on life. He is the owner of A New Leash on Life Animal Behavior Services in Northeastern PA and Northern NJ. He’s also the owner of Awakenings Meditation in Northeastern PA.

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