Are You Comfortable with Your Role in Life?

DSC01073IMG00029Once again, an animal in my life is making me think outside of the box. Thanks Duke.

I’ve written about Duke before. He is a most handsome, good-natured boxer. A big dog who is living with us temporarily. Originally Duke was adopted by our son Jeff in LA. Jeff grew up with boxers and really wanted one of these loving dogs to live with him. Long story short, he adopted Duke and quickly bonded. However, Duke was far too stressed to be able to stay in LA. This urban environment that Jeff loved and thrived in was overwhelming and even unhealthy for Duke. So, Jeff made arrangements for Duke to go live with his elder brother Bill and his wife Felicia in Texas. This was in June and circumstances would not allow Bill and Felicia to have Duke live with them until mid-September. Jeff knew that Duke was suffering in LA so he drove the devoted dog to Milwaukee to stay with us in the interim.

Indy, our boxer welcomed Duke immediately and the two began to teach this life coach of very important lessons. Duke was incredibly stressed when he arrived, so while he was trying to adjust to yet another move and a new family I offered him Reiki on a regular basis. It didn’t take long for Duke to bond to me. Unfortunately, it was a nervous bond. Separation anxiety was clearly still a huge issue for this boy.

One evening while speaking on the phone to Jeff we were discussing Duke again, of course. I was concerned because it’s clear that Duke’s anxiety levels rise and fall despite the calm environment that we endeavor to provide. I know that the Reiki is helping him, but I still was concerned about incidents here and there. During our chat, Jeff once again brought up the behaviorist that he had consulted in LA. It turns out that this behaviorist felt that Duke was suffering from confusion about his role in the family. He thought he was the ‘alpha’ dog and was trying desperately to fill that role even though it was very clear that he didn’t want that role at all.

Suddenly so much began to make sense, the alpha dog in a pack has an awesome amount of responsibility. Remember to Duke, Indy, John and I were his pack as we are the family he is living with. If this theory is correct, Duke feels that he needs to provide food for us, it is his responsibility to protect us and to lead wherever we go. His role in life is to be the leader. Holy cats! No wonder the poor boy is stressed!

Now, I’ve lived with boxers for most of my adult life. They are a powerful, energetic, intelligent breed and they absolutely delight in being active members of the family. As I’m not a terribly large woman, I’ve always known that I needed to work with these wonderful animals to gain their cooperation and trust as we all live together. Brute force sure wasn’t going to work and when we had small children it was simply not a physical possibility anyway. Because of this, I’ve always worked with my dogs to understand our relationship with one another, establishing a comfortable hierarchy and working to maintain it. I won’t pretend that I never made mistakes, I’ve made plenty and I’ve tried hard to learn from them. Here was an opportunity to learn a bit more.

It’s our guess that Duke is somewhere between 2 and 3 years old. I can’t undo his history but I can hope to provide a better future for him. So, I got hold of the Jan Fennell book ‘The Dog Listener’ and began reading it again. I appreciate and value her methods. She is always gentle but firm with dogs. She writes of simple methods which communicate in dog language. Letting the animals know what is expected and offering praise when those expectations are met. Hey! Ms. Fennell is a life coach for dogs! I had used this book to teach me several years ago and I remember well that Indy was for quite some time the most well-behaved dog I had ever known. With chagrin, I realized that I had let many of these simple patterns change, with the result that Indy felt his role in the family or pack change. He has become barkier and his cooperation with house guests is not as reliable as it had been in the past. Uh oh. And I was responsible.

Well, if a coaching client came to me with this dilemma I wouldn’t spend time berating the lapse, what good would that do? Instead, I think it’s important to acknowledge that a change has taken place, recognize the reason for that change if at all possible and find a way to get back on course. So I decided to listen to my own coaching. I immediately began to institute the simple bonding techniques taught in Ms. Fennell’s book. Very easy methods brought immediate change. Within less than a day, I saw both dogs calm. They are being asked quietly to sit and wait to be released before they go in or out of the door. Easy, they both know the rule, I’m simply asking them to cooperate and they are. I eat a small morsel which comes from the counter next to their feed dishes before they are fed, without talking or looking at either of the dogs. They are asked to sit before I put their bowls down. Again, they wait for a very brief time before I release them to eat. When the somewhat inevitable barking starts, I go into the room where the boys are, thank them quietly for the announcement and then simply stand between them and whatever they are barking at. Within a few seconds, they quiet and we then walk into another room together.

They are learning that their roles are shifting. They are not responsible for the feeding, protecting or leading of this family. That responsibility belongs to the humans in this family. As a result, Duke is noticeably calmer. I know he’s not ‘fixed’, there is much to do in the future and it will be very important for him to be with a family that is dedicated to maintaining their roles. A family that has time to spend with Duke playing, training and exercising. He will likely always be susceptible to separation anxiety so it is important that he be with people who are dedicated to making his life as stress-free as possible. A regular routine, someone home quite a lot, etc.

How does this translate to people? I bet you thought I would never get to this point, didn’t you? Well, it’s very simple really. It’s my belief that we sometimes ask ourselves to fill a role that simply does not feel right for us. When we do this it’s a bit like trying to fit that square peg into the round hole, you might be able to force it eventually, but it’s not a good fit overall. In the family, we need to know what our responsibilities are; this helps the relationship with the other family members to be more pleasant and rewarding. When children know what parents expect of them and the parents are consistent, pleasant and firm, children are more likely to understand their role, what is expected and precisely what sort of response they will receive from their parents. The roles are clear and it makes it easier for everyone to understand their role.

In the workplace, we need to know who is in charge, what our job responsibilities are and just what is expected of us. When we fulfill that role satisfactorily, we are rewarded. The satisfaction of a job well done, respect and appreciation of our professional superiors and peers, and of course a paycheck.

Now, this is, of course, an incredible simplification. Animals and people are much more complicated than this short article could ever describe. Still, we have to start somewhere. I like to start at the beginning, it’s easier for me. This means a few basics. Self-care; I will continue to take care of myself well so that I am more likely to be in the frame of mind to be fair and friendly to the humans and animals in my life. This includes Reiki, exercise, etc. I think of the simple methods that I am using with the dogs as life coaching for them and myself. It helps me to remember that it’s important that we all remain positive, calm and appreciative of positive results.

This week I encourage you to think about the role that you have taken on, is it a good fit? If not, what can you shift in your life so that you are more comfortable? When we are comfortable, we tend to be much happier. When we are happier, we bring about better results, which makes us more comfortable. And so we move forward, learning, enjoying and evolving a bit every day.

Namaste,
Sandy

Ear Flapping

DSC01051Duke is our foster dog. A big, sweet boxer he was adopted by our son Jeff and they set off to live happily together in Los Angeles. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Duke is simply not a hustle and bustle sort of guy. L.A. stressed him to bits, so Jeff made arrangements for him to go to Texas to live with our eldest son Bill and his lovely wife Felicia. Unfortunately, they are not able to welcome him into their home for a few months yet, so Duke has come to brighten up our lives for a few months. Sounded like a plan.

So, Duke arrived in Milwaukee to the absolute delight of our permanent resident boxer, Indy. They got along from day one and Duke has begun settling in. Then we started to really get to know him. While Duke is good-natured and sweet, communicating was something of a problem. He had no signal that it was time to go outside, he would just wait until one of us opened the door and follow us outside. Okay as far as it went, but we were worried that he was not having all of his needs met.

Then one morning, at the very silly time of around 5 am I heard this odd sound. It sounded as though someone was slapping a leather chamois, very, very quickly and it was happening right by my head. Huh? Well, I have gotten used to opening my eyes every morning to the sweet expression of Duke staring at me with his golden eyes. This morning he wasn’t staring at me. He was flipping his head from side to side with amazing speed and it was creating this very loud flapping sound. It actually made me laugh because it was so strange and loud. So I got out of bed. The moment my feet hit the floor, Duke took off at a run. He needed to go outside and he had just found the way to tell me! Good boy Duke!

Now I was tickled that Duke had learned to communicate this very basic need to me. My hope is that the Reiki he is getting every day, along with simply getting to know him better and encouraging his trust is helping him to feel confident expressing himself in new ways. At least new ways for him. The life coach in me is tickled beyond belief by this bit of progress. Communication can take time, it can be a tricky process and it’s one of the things that I work on with most life coaching clients on an ongoing basis.

The progress continues. Duke has now decided that ear flapping worked so well to signal the need to go outside first thing in the morning, it now also means that he is starving and needs food immediately, please. Okay, Duke, okay. I get it.

Duke only uses this signal first thing in the morning. He prefers around 5 am or so. I’m going to continue to coach him by responding to his request in a positive manner. Hopefully, as time goes on we will be able to understand each other at other times. There’s no doubt in my mind that Duke is communicating with me, telling me when he wants outside when he wants his ears scratched, etc. While I’m picking up some of these signals, I’m not understanding all of them, yet.

We’ll continue to work together, my new buddy Duke and me. He’s a very good student, watching Indy and our interaction all of the time. Clearly, he has his own style of communication and it’s my intention to understand him a bit better each day.

Really, this same event is unfolding in our lives on a regular basis. The dynamics of our relationships change and our way of communicating evolves. What worked yesterday may not work today. What works for one person may not work for another. I believe the key is continually keeping a positive attitude, making it clear that there is an intention to understand and communicate. Be aware of what our facial expression, body posture, and tone of voice are saying to our companions. These are all direct forms of communication and we are using them constantly.

As for me and Duke, I’m sort of hoping that he’ll decide he likes to sleep in, something around 5:30 or 6 would be swell. But at the moment, I’m not going to do anything to discourage our new understanding. He’s a sweet boy and I’m very happy that we are beginning to understand one another.

I wish you a fabulous day of clear communication with everyone in your life.

Namaste,
Sandy