Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA
Life with our dogs can be confusing sometimes. Life in general can be confusing. It’s true. The world is crazy. Our dog seems crazy. Maybe I’m going crazy. He’s growling. I’m yelling. We just want the bad stuff to stop. But, where do we begin?
Where to begin?
I suggest we begin – with wonder. We know there are times when our dog is at his best. There are places in which he is not troubled or troublesome. We know those times and places. Let’s find them. Be still. Be with our dog. Just be.
Let’s start right here, in wonder of all that our dog is. Author Richard Rohr refers wonder as “standing in awe before something.” Can we really do that with our dog? Be right there, for a moment, a short while, aware and in awe.
Our dog thinks. But, what exactly? Let the question roll over you. Rohr also writes about wondering as “standing in the question itself.” We will never know our dog’s thoughts. But we can wonder. That alone could keep me here, contemplating not what my dog is thinking but that she is. And, it’s private.
Our dog feels. Researcher Jaak Panksepp opened that door for us, uncovering the emotional lives of animals. We can watch our dog, whatever she’s doing right now, and we can settle in with the truth that she has feelings. We can imagine those feeling, because we are emotional creatures too. She seeks out things that feel good and avoids things that feel bad. We can relate. We can empathize.
Our dog moves. She is a living being in motion here with us, right now, at this time, in this place. She makes choices and puts those choices in motion (or in stillness). It happens in this space with us fully present. Aware. In Awe.
As I write, I’m looking at my own dog standing in the sunlight. She is looking out at I-don’t-know-what. She is living. Thinking. Feeling. Her ball is on the ground just behind her, a choice for playing a moment ago and perhaps in the moment ahead. But now, in this moment, she is present in the sun and the sound of the wind and the moving leaves and the dappling of light on her face. What is out there? What moves her to this stillness?
Begin with wonder, every day, every new start. We are able to engage with dogs in ways not open to us with most other animals. We can learn to communicate with them. Spend a moment with that idea. It is wonderful – this connection we have – this chance to learn how they interact with us – the chance to teach them our words and phrases. It’s cooperation. It’s learning together. Who cares that I am human and she is dog? How amazing.
Where else to begin now that we know, now that we notice? There is only wonder. They come to us, our dogs, and ask us: Play? Rest? Touch? Eat? They comfort us and turn to us for comfort when they are afraid, or anxious, or sad. They turn to us. Us.
And they are a wonder, these animals who live with us and think their private thoughts. Their feelings, like ours, must run amok at times. Their actions seem to run in kind – amok – but much differently than ours – fully dog. No wonder, really, we get confused. And no wonder they get confused, too, I guess. It’s hard.
But connected we stay, and committed. Life in this human world is crazy enough for us humans. What a mess it must seem to our dogs. It’s a good thing we’re here to see them through it. It’s a good they are here to see us through it.
She’s resting now, almost asleep, the ball and the window and the flicker of sunlight forgotten – so it seems. She’ll dream, eyes flitting under half-opened lids. She always does. There may be muted barks, a twitch, sometimes full kicks of her legs. I’m not allowed to see what she sees. I can’t go with her. I can only watch and wonder. That word again. And awe. That one too.
And on we go. And every day, every moment, we begin again. We are right here. It’s right now. And, yes, every time it takes my breath away.