Insights from my Dog about Relationships

Six months ago, I welcomed a new dog into my life. Ever since then, we have been working at learning how best to communicate with each other. In part, this is called ‘training’ – where specific words, gestures are given meanings which elicit a specific response / behaviour that is being asked for (ideally of course). Think of sit, come, down, stay as examples.IMG1678
But our communication extends beyond this ‘schooled’ language. In getting to know and understand Rayna, I have had to learn what she is telling me too. Communication across species is not just one-way. What is she conveying when she lays down rather than sits? Or holds her tail in different positions? Or vocalizes in various ways? Learning her ‘language’ is an ongoing challenge for me, but one that I am committed to. Because our relationship is important.
There is much to be learned from and about developing and maintaining any relationship. Each interaction has the potential to strengthen the relationship or it can diminish it. One particular event in our training recently brought this point home to me in a very real way. I was trying to ‘teach’ a new skill like the instructor showed me but I wasn’t getting my timing or position right. In short, I wasn’t able to communicate clearly what I was asking of her. To Rayna’s credit, she kept trying to do it anyway but finally she looked directly into my eyes and clearly communicated: “Why are you doing this? I don’t like it. I don’t understand what you want. You are hurting me.”
This message cut me to the quick – do I listen to her as an equal partner or do I forge on until we learn this skill (because I am the human and I said so)? In the space of a few seconds, I had to weigh learning this skill today vs. honouring our partnership for the long-term.
I chose to stop the exercise and get further instruction another day. We moved on to something else and Rayna happily engaged with me without resentment. In that moment, I believe we reached a new, deeper level of trust and understanding. Both of us realized in a very tangible way that we could connect with each other across the species divide and we would both honour that connection. I vowed there and then always to choose what strengthens our relationship (and may grace abound when I miss the mark).
This not-so-little revelation with Rayna caused me to think about my other relationships. Do I always choose what strengthens them? Do I choose always to relate with genuine care, respect and grace?
This fall, Shirley Lynn will be offering a course that focuses on relationships and how to live well within them. We all know that relationships require give-and-take and that balancing our own needs and desires with those of our partners, peers, family members can be challenging. Look for more details about the Cultivating Joyful Living: Balancing Self Care within Relationships workshop on November 1st & 2nd.

Submitted by Lucy Martin