Louise and I were sitting at a table at an outdoor mall. Ok, I was sitting at the table. She was sitting on the ground. A man walking into the store saw Louise and started admiring her. When he got to about 15 feet from us, Louise stood up and started growling. The man respected her limit. He stopped at the 15 feet mark to tell me about his boxers. Louise, still on alert, made sure he knew she did not want him to come closer. After saying a little more, the man went about his business and proceeded into the store.
On our way home, I found myself comparing Louise to other dogs who let people come right up to them. I said, “Louise, why were you not friendly to that man?” As soon as I said that, I heard, “My dog has great boundaries!” I immediately apologized to her for questioning her. The man totally respected her. Why didn’t I? I was like one of those parents who make their kids hug or kiss relatives or family friends when they don’t want to. Oh no! Ok, well, not really, because I did not make her do anything. But still!
The general cultural lesson for young boys and girls when I was a kid was that being polite was more important than following your instincts. This was the unspoken rule when we were encouraged to hug people we really did not want to hug. What a terrible lesson! Fortunately, this has changed a bit since I was a child. The side effects of such a bad lesson are far reaching. How were we supposed to know the limit of this? What was the limit of this rule? When did we get to honor how we actually felt and honor our instincts over politeness? Sadly, many people are still following this rule.
I had worked to unlearn this myself and have worked with many clients on this exact topic. Here was Louise showing me where I still needed to learn – showing me that I still potentially had a potentially unhealthy expectation. Namely, that she should be friendly and polite to any seemingly friendly person who wants to come up to her regardless of how she feels. I wondered if I still had that expectation of myself. She makes it clear that people are gonna meet her on her terms. Her motto is don’t you touch me until I have sniffed you out and I am comfortable!! She made it clear that it wasn’t her job to please this man. It was her job to set boundaries and allow herself to determine her comfort level and her limits. It was my job to back her up. This was all so interesting, because I imagine it was actually me she was guarding in the first place. This baby girl is a great teacher! She reminded me to pay closer attention to how I actually feel when people I don’t know, and even those I do, want to approach, hug or kiss me. She reminded me that following my instincts is more important than being polite! This is a lesson I hope every young boy and girl learns early on. Deep bow to you, Louise! Thanks for helping me remember. Maybe later, if I am brave enough, I’ll share how she taught me the dog bark method! 🤪🤪🤪