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Innocent as Always

March 26, 2012

It’s easy, especially when we are busy and face overlapping commitments to correct responses, to be tempted to respond to our dogs in a less than supportive manner…meaning a manner that is not in keeping with the concepts of Dialogue. Such a temptation presented itself to me recently. My already-busy schedule has another huge project in the mix: house designing and building. Since prior to a year and a half ago I was married to an architect and builder, I never learned much about actually doing designing and building. When my husband suddenly passed on, it seemed to me that any plans for a new home here in Montana went with him. But this year I found myself impelled to undertake the project on my own, and within an insanely short time frame. All is going well with the project, but my work and my two canine kids are struggling to get a share of my time.

Recently, I was sitting at the table in deep discussion with my builder. Eddy, my rescued 9 lb. Malte-poo, lies quietly under the table or nearby on the couch for these meetings. This particular time, however, he was pawing at first my legs, and then the builder’s. Focused as I was on the discussion, I just kept telling him that he was all right, and continuing with the discussion. But, uncharacteristically, he kept pestering us. When the builder stood up to leave, he commented that Eddy was really wanting attention. But I was sure that Eddy wasn’t bugging us out of simply a selfish interest in getting petting or play. As soon as the builder was gone, I turned my attention to Eddy and noticed that the door to his crate (within the confines of which is his full food dish) had at some point been latched shut. Eddy’s need was for food, not just attention! If he hadn’t been in dire need (in his view anyway) of something to eat, his behavior during that discussion would have been as commendable as always.

I was so grateful that I have myself “trained” not to scold a dog for disturbing behavior. It was enough to feel I owed Eddy an apology for making him go hungry for an hour for reasons he couldn’t understand. At least I didn’t need to apologize to him for making him wrong, for making him feel that he was bad and displeasing me, as I would have had I scolded him because I judged his behavior to be an undisciplined begging for attention.

How can I teach “never scold or punish?” I can teach that because I know that dogs, free of agitating anxiety, express unselfishness. It’s just part of that unconditional love, of which they are master distributors. When we therefore learn to have the patience to look for the real reasons for a dog’s inappropriate behavior at some point in time, we find that those real reasons aren’t lessened or removed by some kind of punishment. When we remove the distorting reasons, the dog’s behavior bounces back to its happy, cooperative form.

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