Being Barked At

I often wonder how Max perceives the world. Both how he actually senses things and also how he understands all that is going on around him.

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I have wondered this about all animals, but I am especially intrigued by Max because he is such a chill dog. Sure, he gets riled up when he is ready to play, he obnoxiously seeks attention, and he is very eager to smell new things on walks, but in general he has a very even temperament.

For instance, Max encounters other dogs pretty frequently on our walks. Just this morning we walked by three dogs whom all barked very ferociously at Max. The humans walking these dogs had to pull tight on their leashes and walk well out of our way.

The ferocity of the barking startled me each time, but Max trotted right on by. He noticed it and seemingly acknowledged the other dogs, but he neither ran from them nor returned their barking.

This is something for which I am incredibly grateful as Max’s human companion. I rarely have to hold him back unless he really wants to play with another dog and I never have to scold him for barking at others ferociously.

But today I also learned something from Max’s reaction. In the face of a rather chaotic encounter where others are barking at him, Max retains a remarkably centered peacefulness.

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Granted, I do not know all that is going on in those interactions between dogs, but from my human point of view I see much worth applying to my own interactions with others.

When I enter chaotic situations and face those who oppose me or ideas and beliefs I hold dear (whether this is a face to face interaction or, as seems increasingly the case, on the internet), there are two reactions that immediately bubble up within me.

First, I often want to return the barking that is directed at me. I feel that power or control in the situation can only be gained through being louder. I want to fight back. Second, I want to run away and put the situation behind me. I feel like it is a pointless encounter and nothing good will be gained from it. I want to flee.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that those evolutionary responses of fight or flight are experienced even in non-physical encounters. And yet, neither option really deals with or helps the situation.

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So, I come back to Max, who has taught me a different way of responding. Max has taught me to encounter the barking (or quacking or whatever is directed at him) without returning it and without turning away from it. Rather, he has taught me to be open to it and take it in and show a little compassion. He has taught me to understand that the barking is an honest expression of the other. It is not to be judged or run away from, but rather accepted and maybe even appreciated.

Max does engage the other dogs, but in a way that demonstrates he accepts them and their barking while choosing not to reciprocate. Thus he engages them in a way that redefines how power and control in a situation can be realized – not in force but rather in understanding.

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In this way, Max has taught me a little more about what it takes to bring peace to chaotic situations.

So thank you Max, for your chill presence. And thank you for teaching me how to react to the barking in my own life with patience and acceptance rather than fight or flight.

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