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Two Canine Commands that Are Worthy of Us All

Rachel Alexander Oct. 31, 2013

Certain dog commands are brilliant, simple and wise. They have poignancy and relevance for us all. These commands can be equally useful whether working through a divorce or regaining self-control.

“Leave it!”

When your dog is getting into something he shouldn’t, it isn’t the time for the Socratic method or complex reasoning. It is time to simply give the command and have it obeyed. Even if you aren’t sure what the dog has hold of, you can tell by his level of exuberance that it is most likely something that should be dropped immediately! Even before you have fully identified or analyzed what it is, “leave it” is perhaps the best imperative to prevent harm.

Why, then, is it that most of us on two legs will linger (if not luxuriate) in the three-mile island regions of our own minds? It is toxic and contact with it should be limited if not eliminated, but we want to explore, analyze, dissect and investigate. Our gut sense typically informs us that we are engaging in thoughts (or behaviors) that will have painful results, but, like our beloved pets, we have sunk our teeth into something and our compulsive grip prevents our dropping it.

What have we figuratively “sunk our teeth into?” Questions without answers posed endlessly, such as:

  • If I had done X instead of Y, would this have come together differently?

    • Should I have insisted she return to work ten years ago?

    • Why did he keep putting us into more debt?

This is the worship of the why. Trade “why” for “now what.” Turn your gaze (manually if necessary) towards “what will be effective now” and “what’s next.”

Let’s become fascinated with subject matter of a less damaging kind. Gnawing a juicy bone can be enticing, but upon noticing that it’s your own leg you’re working away on, better to “leave it.”

“Well done” – pronounced with certainty and approval.

When training a pup, it doesn’t matter if he responds deliberately or by accident to the command. We are not examining motives, we are rewarding the achievement. If he sits and we suspect it’s because he’s tired rather than responding to the “sit” command, we still reward the behavior with “well done.” We can remove ourselves from the self-appointed role of intention evaluator. The rule is, if it reflects the desired outcome, “well done.”

For whatever reason (Freud), we are in love with pathology and negativity, and that’s probably good because there’s a precious lot of both. However, in relating and in mediating, keeping on a healthy, simple and practical track can help. “He brought the kids back on time only because he had somewhere to go afterwards” becomes “He brought the kids back on time.” Period. Leave the tempting tidbit of negation, blame, etc.

Stay here in the present, away from conjecture, judgment, and my personal favorite, subtext.

More “well dones” can’t help but enhance our relationships. Constantly seek signs of what is working, so you can reward it.

What you give up in perseveration, you will gain in free time and mental clarity! “Leave it” (don’t go there) and you’ll have more fuel to travel to nicer places.

Constant fault finding and scolding (which seems “natural” or our default setting) is simply less effective than acknowledging and encouraging. Being right or on the moral high ground, may feel satisfying in the moment, but it will not necessarily serve the relationship or produce the outcome you desire, as well as “leave it” and “well done.”

Acknowledge your instincts, but focus on what works. Simplify and think like a dog [trainer]!

Rachel Alexander is not only a mediator, but the proud owner of two Tibetan Terriers, Piper Columbo and Ellie.