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

Another Lesson from Indiana

Indy and DukeI’ve written here about my buddy Indiana before. He’s the charming, good-looking, friendly and ever so clever boxer dog who lives with my husband and me. Indy will be five years old in just a few weeks, so he’s now officially a middle-aged gentleman in the boxer world. All my life I’ve had the privilege of living with dogs and they have always had so much to teach me. Indy is no exception.

Recently our son Jeff who lives in Los Angeles decided he really wanted a dog to keep him company. He’s been raised with boxers and really missed Indy, so he adopted a boxer that he named Duke. Duke is a big, beautiful boy, friendly and very mellow, somewhere between 1 and 2 years old. The rescue wasn’t sure of his age as they had no idea where he originally came from. This dog seemed perfect to live with Jeff and so they went home together.

They bonded instantly and became best buddies. The problem is that Duke couldn’t get over the noise and constant activity of LA. The poor guy actually started losing his hair. After consulting a behaviorist, veterinarian and trainer who each independently told Jeff that Duke was clearly not going to adjust to being an urban dog, Jeff decided to rehome his buddy. So, he made arrangements for Duke to go to Texas to live with his elder brother Bill and his wife Felicia. The only problem is that they could not take him for 3 months and Duke clearly could not stay in LA, his stress level was just escalating.

Road trip! Duke and Jeff made their way across the USA to Milwaukee. Duke is going to hang with us until Bill and Felicia are able to take him home in a few months. All of this is well and good, we were pretty sure Indy would be happy to have a friend for a few months as he’s always done well with doggy company. But Duke has little or no experience with other dogs, so we really didn’t know how this would go.

I should have known that I could trust the dogs, particularly Indy to handle the situation perfectly. From the moment Duke walked into the yard, Indy reined in his normally exuberant behavior, walked over to Duke and in their silent language invited his new pal to stroll through the yard with him and look it all over. Duke was only slightly hesitant. Indy was calm and patient, luring him when Duke was shy and playing a bit now and then when Duke showed a bit more interest.

This has been going on for a few days now. I’ve been walking them together each day so that Duke is more comfortable with me when Jeff leaves and to, of course, reinforce his training and give them both needed exercise. The life coach in me is pleased and somewhat surprised to see that the doggy training continues between the two of them regardless of what I do. They walk on opposite sides of me, but Duke is still watching Indy and taking all of his cues from him. In the house, they are also learning about one another. Indy continues to lure his new friend into the occasional game of chase or tug, exhibiting patience that I did not for a moment expect from him. Mealtime is interesting as well. Duke is a big boy; a bit underweight and not filled out yet. As such he eats considerably more than Indiana. They get separate bowls and when Duke is finished he invariably heads over to Indy’s bowl. He will gently and politely put his face near the bowl. If Indy is done he will back off and let Duke finish the food. If Indy is not done he simply pushes Duke away with a short growl that says ‘not now buddy’ and Duke quietly goes about his business.

I refer to the coaching lessons that they are both teaching me; because it strikes me that they are teaching me every moment that I watch them together. Indiana is a terrific life coach to Duke. He is patient but he also clearly has expectations. He will lure or invite Duke to do certain things, if Duke accepts they work on it together, like playing with a tug toy, a totally new experience for Duke. If Duke refuses, Indy simply walks away without taking it at all personally. He simply tries something else a bit later. What a great life coach! Indy offers, suggests, provokes just a little bit. Then he waits to see the results. If they are pleasing he lures and asks for a bit more. If the results are not successful, he tries something else. Have I mentioned that I think my Indy is a bit of a genius?

Both dogs are of course receiving Reiki everyday. It’s simply part of the daily routine around here. I strongly believe that Reiki is much of the reason that Indy has made such an amazing physical recovery from his stroke a few months ago. I can only imagine how it has helped him mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Of course I want Duke to enjoy the same benefits as much as possible. He’s a very special dog and deserves to know the love and benefits of people who care about him very much. Reiki is part of that experience while he’s involved with this family.

Once again, I’d like to thank the animals in my life for the simple yet profound lessons that they teach me again and again. They keep the lessons easy and straightforward. That’s greatly appreciated and I will keep applying these lessons learned while I work with my own holistic life coaching clients.

This week I encourage you to take a bit of time. Observe the animals in your life. Maybe they’re your pets or even the squirrels and birds in the yard. It doesn’t take long to realize they are all teaching us and if we pay attention we can learn an awful lot.

Namaste,
Sandy