I’m pretty sure that when I say that I can relate the child raising struggles my young niece has to the struggles I have with my dogs, that she politely waits until my back is turned and then rolls her eyes.
But, it’s true. I can’t help but see the parallels between child raising and dog rearing, it happens a lot. I guess I’m obsessive about the relationships we have with our dogs and finding better ways to communicate, teach, and influence choices.
In case you’re wondering: yes, when I take those online quizzes, I always come out as a border collie. Obsessive and passionate about their work. That’s me…lol.
Back to my point. I recently read an article about what makes a great ‘sports parent’. Author Rachel Macy Stafford talked about one particular sentence that inspired her to change what she says to her kids as she drives them around to different activities, determined NOT to be one of those ‘nightmare sports parents’ mentioned in the article she read.
“I love to watch you play” are the 6 words that opened the door to a new relationship with her children.
So, as I do my usual ‘relationship relating’… I began to contemplate the words and the feeling behind the words that I say to my dogs. Do I use a similar phrase myself?
I’m not talking about words of encouragement, guidance or cheerleading. We all do that, right?
No, this is something different.
I remember this morning, my dogs eager faces are looking expectantly up at me. My throat tightens and I catch my breath, my eyes tear just a little. I feel so awed by their rapt attention. Not because they are ‘trained’ to ‘watch’ me (they’re not) but because they freely offer their willingness to ‘be’ with me.
I think: “I am awed and I so love your beautiful eyes connecting deeply with mine”, allowing that feeling to expand out from my heart. And then I see their eyes soften just a bit, an appreciation of my appreciation.
I imagine they are thinking:
There’s no pressure here. She just loves to be here with us. That is all.
My dog runs out on a beautiful cast to gather the sheep to me, sent by a ‘shhhhhh’ only my dog can hear. I am awed by the determined purpose and by the graceful athleticism of my dog as he runs.
I think: “I love to watch you run.”
The sheep quietly arrive at my feet as my dog pauses, waiting to hear what I need next. I softly move away from the sheep as I call my dog to my side. “That’ll do,” I quietly say as I unconsciously pat my leg.
Then, to this amazing partner of mine, I say from my heart: “That was so awesome, buddy.” My dog responds by gently leaning into my leg, and releasing a sigh.
That familiar feeling of throat catching, eyes welling, heart swelling comes over me.
I imagine he is thinking:
There’s no pressure here. She just loves to be here, doing this with me. That is all.
I’m reminded of so many times like this with my dogs.
The times that I soften my body and open my hands into an invitation, and without a spoken word: my dog runs, full speed, eyes smiling and presses her head into my waiting hands.
I am awed to be the subject of this pure adoration, unrequested attentiveness, and eager responsiveness.
As my dog is pressing her head lovingly into my hands, I hope she is thinking:
There’s no pressure here. I love when she invites me into her hands. I love just being here with her. That is all.
Special Thanks to Ms Stafford for your inspiring article.
Here’s Your Challenge:
How can you be a better partner for your dog? How will you change the words and underlying feeling as you train, work and compete with your dog? Tell me about it in the comments below. Or, do you have any thoughts you’d like to share on this topic? I will be your eager supporter and I can hardly wait to read your thoughts!
I aspire to have that same connection with my dogs. Thank you for sharing.
I will visualize the future memories of us working in harmony together.
Thank you for the inspiration to make that happen.
My present and past AAT dogs awe me every time we work. I am so very proud of them and their love of working. I cannot tell them how much I love them enough, but I hope they know. I have one dog that I think is feral. I call her (shame on me) my “waste of dog food dog”. After 5 years, she is just now allowing me to touch her. She is so afraid of the world – she keeps a huge flight distance from everything & everyone. But after 5 years, when I come home, she brings me a toy … quite an honor. I know there is intelligence in there, and I so wish I could let her go hunt and be what she was born to be. I need to love her more for what she is.
You are so right! Having raised four sons and a few grandkids, and having had very many dogs, and various other pets during my wonderfully long life – I can agree with you – how we think while being with ANY living being or if you prefer, creature helps to make the response (negative or positive) that we get and create in them. Life is strange that way and we have more control of our own lives than we realize.
We are currently without pets since the loss of our little foundling Scruffy but will be looking for a new love soon!
I try to have at least one moment of appreciation with each of my dogs every day. It would probably be helpful to verbalize it more along these lines.
If we pay attention, our dogs teach us that this kind of joy is only in the present, and being watchful and listening. Beautiful post.
Always end on a positive note and praise.
Dogs are so incredibly forgiving. I’m not so sure about me. My agility instructor yesterday said that if Dodger were a human, he would be a master criminal. We agree that he is very intelligent but that means he is constantly trying to dominate and boss us around. But when we are finally communicating, it is magical. He has back problems now and can’t jump very high. The other day I came in and he was in the middle of the bed grinning. Yes, dogs can grin.
My other dog is my first bitch in twenty-five years. She always wants to be right. That has made it very hard to teach her (we do agility). She had rather not try than be wrong. Now we are finally communicating and it is as magical as you say. I don’t mind if she is wrong and I try to design situations so she will be right.
I am certain that my dogs are angels sent to help me. Their love is so perfect …. I am very blessed.