An Organically Grown Friendship

 

IMG_7308.JPG

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
~ William Shakespeare

 

In my professional life, my focus has been helping people who are dissatisfied with their Dogs.  Most often we lay the blame at the Dog’s feet.  The common thought is that “lack of training” is the cause, and that is why my clients initially seek out Dog trainers, behaviorists, and other professionals.  Whether they look for the so-called “positive only” trainers (which is really a misnomer) or more traditional dominance-based trainers, or behavior “modification” trainers, the truth is that they are barking up the wrong tree. Focusing on the Dog’s behavior and taking a reductionist rather than a holistic approach is the problem, not the solution.  The truth is, the problem lies in how we relate to each other, not in how our Dogs behave. 

 Furthermore, it is obvious that traditional mechanistic approaches to behavior have failed.  Yes, there are many “trained” Dogs out there, but at the same time the animal shelters and rescue organizations are overflowing.  Many of the Dogs that are surrendered are also well-trained, yet they suffer and die in these shelters every day.  In addition, there are an untold number of neglected and abused Dogs that go unreported in homes that once had high hopes for a successful relationship.

   What we need is a new paradigm.  We need to grow our friendships organically and naturally, rather than attempting to manufacture them artificially.  The Path of Friendship is a naturalization of this important relationship.  It grows the friendship from the inside-out, organically, as a fruit tree grows from the ground.  From seed to fruit, our friendship with our Dogs develops inherently and naturally.

SEED: 

As in all growth, we begin with a seed.  This is the seed of Faith.  It is faith in our Dogs, faith in ourselves, and faith in our friendship, which has been a part of Human/Dog existence for tens of thousands of years.  It is the unshakable belief that our relationship with our Dogs will grow to its fullest, in spite of any obstacles that may arise.  This is different than hope, which contains a bit of uncertainty.  Faith has no room for doubt and uncertainty.  With out this faith, the relationship is doomed before it even begins to sprout.

SOIL:

The ground in which we plant this seed of faith must be firm and rich.  This is our Commitment to our relationship with our Dogs.  Commitment is the “terra firma” in which the friendship grows, with the emphasis on “firma”.  All growth will face difficulties and obstacles.  If we give up when problems arise, we will never enjoy the sweet fruit of a successful friendship.  Our commitment to our Dogs and our friendship must be unshakable.  “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” should be our mantra.  When we walk the Path of Friendship with our Dogs, the ground beneath our feet must be firm and true.  Otherwise, we can never progress along the path.

ROOTS:  

A tree cannot survive a storm unless it has deep roots.  This is our unconditional love and acceptance for our Dogs.  When we make our love for our Dogs contingent on “good behavior” (whatever that means) or obedience, we create insecurity, anxiety and detachment.  Techniques such as love withdrawal, time-outs, and other Skinnerian-based manipulations may serve to gain control, but do so at the expense of connection.  When we tell our Dogs, “I’ll only love you if…”, if they obey our commands, if they behave they way we want them to…, then our Dogs learn that the friendship is not with who they are, but only with what they do.  This destroys their spirit, and prevents us from experiencing a relationship and a friendship that is deep and nourishing to our souls.  As friends, we must strive to be each other’s sanctuary.

TRUNK:

From these strong roots,  a tree grows big and strong, provided it has the space to grow.  When we micro-manage our Dogs behavior we never allow them the freedom to be who they are.  We must support their autonomy and give them the room to grow and become themselves.  All life strives for self-determination and self-realization.  If freedom is restricted, we create an atmosphere of oppression, deviousness and depression.  As Leo Buscaglia once said, “Nothing can grow in the shade.”  Our Dogs must be free to make their own choices and to be themselves in most situations. If we only want to share our life with a Dog to feed our lust for control, we’d be better off buying a robot.  Of course, when their safety or happiness is in jeopardy, we can guide them on how to be safe.  But they must also know that they are free to make choices.  When our Dogs feel constantly manipulated and controlled by us, resentment, fear and insecurity arise.  Autonomy is not capricious individualization.  It is the freedom to be one’s self in the context of cooperation with others.  Which brings us to the next part:

BRANCHES:

If we are to grow deep and meaningful friendships with our Dogs, we must live in an environment of collaboration and cooperation.  We must respectfully integrate with each other.  As our Dogs are enjoying the freedom to branch out and be themselves, we must also be able to enjoy the same freedom.  Therefore, we need to communicate boundaries and limits to each other.  There will be times when each of us must say “No” to something.  Teaching our Dogs to respect what is important to us, AND learning to respect what is important to our Dogs is essential if we want our friendship to grow.  We must help each other become good friends, and learn to be sensitive and receptive to each other’s needs.  This is based on equality, rather than a top-down, “I am always the boss” relationship.  If there is no equality, there is no true friendship.  When the relationship is unequal, what we may call a “friendship” is really “ownership”.  Setting limits and boundaries are what enables us and our Dogs the freedom to be ourselves within the context of a friendship.  If we are equal partners, we must respect and integrate with each other.

LEAVES:

Our Dogs and us have very different skill sets.  Although we are equal members of our friendship, we are not the same in terms of understanding and ability.  This difference is why we fit together so well, and have enjoyed an inter-species relationship for thousands of years.  When we share our wisdom and learn to give each other compassionate guidance, we nourish this friendship so it can grow and thrive.  Our motivation for this must be for the benefit and growth of the other, and not for our own selfish desires.  Trusting each other’s abilities is essential.  We must aim to help each other self-actualize and become fully functioning individuals.   If my Dog does not understand that a speeding car is dangerous, then as a friend I will share my wisdom with her and give her guidance on how to be safe.  In turn, when I become lost on a backwoods trail, I will trust my Dog’s wisdom and take her guidance on how to find my way home.  This is what true friendship is all about.  It is not about obedience, compliance, and self-serving/selfish desires.  It is about two individuals helping each other thrive and become fully functioning individuals..

FRUIT:

When we have a seed of faith, plant it on the soil of commitment, have the roots of unconditional love and devotion, allow the trunk the freedom to grow, integrate with branches of respect, nourish each other with leaves of wisdom and compassionate guidance, the our friendship will grow to fruition and we will enjoy the fruit of kenzoku, which is the Japanese word for a deep, connected and self-transcendent friendship.  This organically grown friendship is not always free from difficulties and problems, but those obstacles are never the cause of despair.  We learn to join with our Dogs to work through those difficult times together, as friends. The goal becomes to deepen the friendship, not to control each other.  This is what being true friends really means.  And each time we savor the fruit of our relationship, we find that it continues to deepen and grow as we walk the Path of Friendship with our Dogs together.

“If control is your goal, you’ll empty their soul; but if love’s what you nourish, their spirit will flourish.”

Stop Texting Your Dog!

EE366B26-8BE1-4BF9-A6B4-42401496982C“We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness.”
~ Albert Schweitzer

Schweitzer’s words, written over 60 years ago, ring truer today than at any other time in our history.  In our age of endless social media, texting, Skype, and emails, we have lost the art of physical and intimate connection.  We’ve replaced genuine laughter with “LOL”, a pat on the back with a “thumbs up” symbol, and our authentic emotional responses with smiley faces, sad faces, and a cacophony of emojis.  Symbolism is beginning to overtake reality as we become more and more separated from each other.

  Our Dogs can be the antidote for for this disconnected and lonely way of living.  By connecting with our Dogs, we can relearn how to better connect with each other.  

When was the last time you sat next to your Dog and pet her?  I’ll bet it was rather recent.  When was the last time you recall sitting and petting your Dog, without the television playing in the background, or your smart phone turned on?  Probably a lot longer.   In fact, I’m willing to wager that more often than not, we physically engage with our Dogs while we are distracted by other things such as watching television, checking our emails, or seeing how many “likes” we got on our photo of last night’s dinner plate we that just posted.  When we do this, we are missing one of life’s most precious gifts: the ability for two living beings to connect with each other.   

The benefits of a one-to-one connection are too numerous to count.  Touching helps our brains produce the neurotransmitter oxytocin, with is a natural antidote to stress.  Physical contact allows for the bi-directional flow of feelings. We get immediate feedback from another living being when we touch, as opposed to a one-way output via a smiley face emoticon and a “thumb’s up” response.  Even talking to our Dogs and having a conversation with them where we can look into each other’s eyes is more engaging, more satisfying, and more complete than typing on a plastic keyboard and staring at a glass or plastic screen.  (Recent studies have shown that talking to our Dogs is a sign of intelligence.)

There is an an art to this, and it is fast becoming a lost art.  We can use the the acronym A.R.T. To help guide us through the process and help us remember what we knew when we were children. A time when a “tweet” was the song of a bird in a tree.  

A.R.T. Stands for:   Awareness/Appreciation — Respect — Trust

Awareness/Appreciation:

If we remember that our dogs are constantly changing, dynamic individuals like us, then awareness and appreciation will come naturally.  Living things are not static.  Our dogs are different moment to moment, and to look away is to miss the miracle of the moment.  Einstein said:  “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”   This is exactly the way we must look at our Dogs.  If we are to fully connect with them, we must see them as a miracle in each moment.  The practice of Mindfulness is a great way to enhance our view.  Mindfulness is simply experiencing and engaging with the present moment without judging or evaluating.  It is not a “means to an ends”, but the ends themselves.  When we are with our Dogs, our attention should not always be on what to achieve with them.  It should be pure awareness of them right now. This will allow us to appreciate the miracle.  It’s like listening to a symphony — there is no goal but the enjoyment of the music itself.

The next time you are with your Dog, be aware of all the little things you may have missed because you were distracted.  Notice how their fur feels under your touch.  Pet them slowly so you can, as one of my teaches used to say, “feel each individual strand of fur.” Look into their eyes when you talk to them.  Do their eyes change?   As you touch them, notice any spots that make them tense up, or that make them melt into relaxation.  Listen to the sounds they make, smell their scent, feel their feelings.  A great exercise to do is Shared Mindfulness, and you can learn more about that here.

Respect:

As Aretha Franklin said, a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T goes a long way in creating a solid connection.  This means we are never going to force our dogs to sit with us and engage with us.  Dogs are self-determined beings and must be treated with the same respect we would want for ourselves.  If our Dogs do not want to be touched, then we don’t touch them.  If our Dogs want to chew their bone, nap, or get involved in another activity rather than sitting with us, that is their right and we are not to interfere.  When we are with them, we must be sensitive to the places they are not happy being handled.  If they don’t want their feet or face or ears, etc. touched, then we avoid doing that.  We should always ask the question, “Do we have our Dog’s consent?”  This respect is the foundation of trust. 

Trust:

As we become more present with our Dogs, and connect deeper, then trust will grow.  Trust is not something that can be forced, it is an organic process, and any forcing will surely kill it.  We wouldn’t pull on the stem of a flower to force it to grow faster.  The more we are aware and appreciate our Dogs in each moment, the more they will feel appreciated and validated.  Like us, they have the desire to be recognized and accepted.  The greater our respect is for them, and the less we act as owners and more like friends by allowing them their freedom and space, the closer they will get to us.  Trust is something sacred to all life.  The greater the trust, their deeper the connection.  It should never be taken for granted.  We must always be honest with our Dogs.  We should never use our moments of connection as a “training” exercise, or to try to cut their nails, etc.  Connection is never to be used for the purposes of control.

Trust, once broken, is difficult to repair.  Fortunately, our Dogs are much wiser than we are when it comes to trust, and are pretty forgiving.  That is a truly amazing gift they have, and one we must cherish and never abuse.

Modern technology has been a great benefit to us in so many ways, but it is a double-edged sword.  And as with anything, extremes can be damaging. We have to balance the digital world of instant gratification with the intimacy of a one-to-one connection.  Our Dogs are a great way to help us find this middle way.  We all know how to do this, we just need to be reminded.  Our Dogs are willing teachers.  We must make the time every day to truly connect with our Dogs, our Human friends, and the world around us.  This way, the next time we hear a “tweet”, maybe instead of staring at our phones, we’ll close our eyes and listen to the birds.

What Makes Your Dog Sing?

FullSizeRender 3.jpg

 

I was at a dog park in New Jersey the other day with my friend Carla, as we watched our dogs play together. We were discussing many dog related topics, and I brought up the idea of “Ikigai” – a Japanese concept that means “reason for being.” I suggested that every dog has an Ikigai, and that one secret to achieving a great friendship with our dogs is to help them find their own reason for being. After some discussion, and my usual long-winded streams of thought, Carla, who has a great talent of cutting through the hodgepodge and getting to the point said, “You mean, it’s what makes your dog sing.”

Every dog has an inner song, and one mission of the Path of Friendship is to help us bring it out so that it can be sung loudly and proudly. Unfortunately, finding it is not always so easy. It requires us to step outside of ourselves and set aside our preconceived notions about how things ought to be; what we think our dogs should be. We can only help them to find their song when we allow them to be who they truly are. Continue reading “What Makes Your Dog Sing?”