Max is not a Wizard

Max cannot read minds. He is not a wizard. He does not have access to that kind of dark side of the force power (please, no one put him in contact with Kylo – also, thank you for indulging me, Star Wars references are done…for now).

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But too often I act like he should. I expect Max to know exactly what I mean when I tell him to do something. What’s even crazier is that, even when I do nothing to express myself to him, I am frustrated when he does not do something I want him to do, or does something I do not want him to do.

And on the flip side, I cannot read his mind. First, he is a dog and I literally cannot know how a dog thinks, because I do not have access to internal dog brain functioning. But I also don’t even understand fellow human minds much of the time.

So, why do I expect Max to perfectly understand my every desire? Why do I expect Max to behave exactly how I think he should behave when he often does not even know what I want him to do?

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Now, I do think Max comprehends a lot of what goes on and can be quite compassionate. I believe that (most) dogs are very smart and intuitive. And I also think it is good to train dogs and teach them ways to behave.

What I am questioning is my expectation that Max behave exactly how I think he should and my frustration when he does not.

I question that expectation, because I realize that I project the same thing onto other people. Too often I expect other people to act or think exactly how I think they should. Too often I get frustrated when people don’t do something I expect or do something I don’t desire; and far too often this happens without me communicating anything beforehand.

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Max has taught me what a silly paradox that kind of thinking is. He has taught me that other dogs and people (as far as I know) cannot read my mind. He has taught me that it makes no sense to get mad at people when they don’t behave the way I think they should.

He has taught me that instead of worrying myself over the way others are not following my grand vision of the way the world should work, I should try my best to see things from their perspective. I should try to walk in their shoes and display compassionate acceptance rather than frustrated judgment. That doesn’t mean I condone everything that happens around me, but it does mean that I don’t get frustrated when the traffic does not work perfectly in my favor. It means that I understand people may just not see things the way I do and that they definitely don’t know what I’m thinking without me saying something.

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And Max has taught me that ultimately I need to communicate more so that I can better convey what is important to me and so that I can better understand what others are doing and why.

So, thank you Max for trying very hard to read my mind, but ultimately teaching me that you cannot. Thank you for helping me curb my expectation of how people around me should act. And thank you for helping me see the value of communicating the things that are important to me.

Teach a Young Dog Old, Good Tricks

Max is not an old dog. And I am not trying to teach him any new tricks right now (though I bet he could handle a few when he’s five or ten years older). But at the start of this new year, Max has taught me that a young dog can relearn good, previously known habits.

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For Max, this has meant re-learning little things I have let slip over the past couple of years. For instance, Max knows how to stay right beside me and not roam aimlessly as we walk around the neighborhood. Though I’ve never been good at enforcing that skill, I realized it might be a good idea when he almost walked right in front of a bicycler on a shared trail the other day. So now, Max is relearning the habit of walking right by my side – and he’s actually doing a very good job of it (most of the time)!

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In this process, Max has taught me that I don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel every year in trying to learn and do new things. I certainly enjoy learning new tricks and developing new habits, and often find value in that process. But sometimes, I just need to revisit old, good habits that I have let fall by the wayside.

Max has taught me that it is easy to let little things slip. It is easy to keep sacrificing that time of rest and rejuvenation until I don’t even remember it being a part of my day or week. It is easy to lose touch with old friends after forgetting to communicate for several months. It is easy to stop exercising during a busy season and then find out that the busy season is all seasons. It is easy to forget to be thankful for the little things and to take relationships for granted.

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And Max has taught me that it is not always easy to pick back up old, good habits. In some cases it takes just as long to relearn them as it does to learn a new habit. Max has taught me that it takes consistency and intentionality. Every time we go out now, I have to be focused on re-teaching him to walk in the right way.

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Nevertheless, Max has taught me that it is worthwhile for me to reexamine my life and see what good habits have been neglected. He has taught me that instead of piling on a bunch of new resolutions, maybe I should try to really ingrain those good habits that were forsaken. Sure there are also current habits I should lose and new habits worth learning, but for at least a little while I can focus on digging back up those treasures I lost along the way.

So, thank you Max, for teaching me that though it may take a lot of time and effort, it can be powerful and meaningful to reexamine my life and recapture some of my old, good habits. And thank you for working hard to reinstate some of your good behavior.