Max has started to become a little more territorial. Until recently, he did not have much space that was his. We lived in a small apartment with no yard. But now he is more settled in our new house and is more comfortable spending time in the back yard.
He is also more comfortable walking around our neighborhood. And he’s gotten to the point where he will bark pretty intensely at some of the other dogs whose back yards we pass. The dogs may bark at each other as a way of communicating any number of things or just for the fun of it, but I sense a subtle ferocity that seems to convey this is mine, get back.
And of course Max has now peed all over the neighborhood, marking his new territory.
These expressions of territorialism trouble me, because the neighborhood and even the back yard are not really Max’s. He has no more ownership over those areas than any other dogs, other animals, or humans. And I wonder what gives him the right to be overly protective or territorial.
And I see in Max some of my own tendencies to selfishly protect what I claim is mine. He has taught me that it is all too natural to be territorial and to allow that territorialism to motivate me to be defensive and restrictive.
Max has also taught me the very problematic nature of believing something belongs to me and that I must guard it against others. He has taught me that it leads to divisiveness and unprovoked aggression. He has taught me that it leads to anxiety as he frantically pees at every corner to make sure his mark is there.
Max has taught me that this extreme form of self-absorbed territorialism is destructive to relations with others and keeps us bound in our own little anxious sphere of the world.
But Max has also shown me an understanding of territory that is much more open and which can lead to good impact.
Max often chases away squirrels and birds when he sees them in the back yard, but the other day I looked out and he and a squirrel were very close and just looking at one another. It was unnatural, but it helped me realize that territory can be a point of welcome, not just a point of barrier.
Max has also always been very welcoming when guests come over into his space. He is excited to share the room and time with them. When his territorialism is not self-absorbed, but rather other-focused, he establishes the space as one of openness and welcome.
And Max has also taught me that his investment in the territory shows that he really cares about what’s going on in the neighborhood and is willing to do something to make sure that it is a better place for all.
Too often I am content in just occupying a space. I take little responsibility for it and I don’t go out of my way to make sure it is taken care of and is a place where others can be taken care of. But Max has taught me that I should care more and that I should do something to impact the territory I am in so that it can be a place of openness and hope. He has taught me that there will always be others who are working to make neighborhoods more closed off and who are turning territories into barriers. Yet, to recreate such spaces I need to express in real ways the care I have for that territory.
Max has taught me that concern for a specific space is powerful and can lead to incredible impact. And he has taught me that impact can be either anxious and restrictive or hopeful and open, depending on my intentions and perspective.
So thank you Max, for teaching me how impactful care for territory can be. Thank you for showing me both the problematic nature of territorialism as well as how deep care for a space can transform it into being more inviting.