Broadman & Holman
Sensitivity Is an Important Part of Communication
On a December day that was cold but still comfortable if you wore a hat and warm clothing, I decided to take “Dirty Dog” (whose official name is “Laffy Taffy” but who responds more readily to “Dirty Dog”) for a walk. He was startled when I invited him to go because I hadn’t asked him in some little while. His conduct the last time I’d invited him really put me off. Though we’d had many wonderful times on our previous walks, he adamantly refused to go with me that time and no amount of pleading could convince him to join me.
However, this time he was enthusiastic about going, and I’ve never seen a happier dog when I put his collar and leash on. He was truly excited, and as we started out the door I said, “Dirty Dog, I’m really tickled that you decided to go with me on this one.”
He responded, “Well, Dad, I’m glad you asked me. As a matter of fact, I thought you were never going to ask me again.”
So I explained to Dirty Dog what the problem was. For the first time in that dog’s life he apologized and said he didn’t really mean it as a personal affront to me when he refused; it’s just that he really wasn’t feeling good. Besides, the last time we walked together at Holly Lake I took him too far, kept him out too long, it was too hot and he just about died! He further explained, “You know, Dad, I’ve got this heavy fur coat and in that hot, humid weather, walking up and down those hills really put a burden on me. It took me two days to get over that! So, the next time you asked me I was just afraid it would be more of the same.”
I said, “Well, Dirty Dog, had you told me earlier, we would have shortened that walk and it would not have been so hard on you. In the future I hope you’ll keep me better posted.” Much to his credit, he promised that he would.
We continued our walk on the street adjoining the golf course, and I could see Dirty Dog scanning the grass and flower beds for stray golf balls. He knows I’m always on the lookout for them, and he takes a lot of pride in the fact that he sniffs them out pretty well himself. When he finds one he always pauses so I can express my deep and sincere appreciation to him. If I don’t let him know his golf-ball-finding efforts are appreciated he loses interest in looking, so I learned long ago to praise him for his effort. That’s not a bad approach for us to take with our kids and, for that matter, the people we work with. After all, all of us enjoy a little praise and recognition.
When we reached the street on the other side of the golf course the weather was still brisk but not uncomfortable, and I noticed that Dirty Dog’s pace was slowing. I asked him what the problem was.
He responded, “Nothing. Everything’s all right.”
I’ll have to inject that I’ve heard that same response and that same tone of voice from people when they get a little miffed at something and you ask if there is a problem. When they say, “Nothing . . . everything’s all right,” their tone indicates that everything is far from being all right. To be frank, I was puzzled and didn’t know what to say or ask, so I decided I’d wait him out and see if he decided to tell me he would.
After another five minutes or so he interrupted the silence by saying, “Dad, can I tell you something?”
I said, “Certainly, Dirty Dog, what’s on your mind?”
He said, “I just want to ask you how much farther are we going to walk?”
I responded, “Why do you ask?”
He said, “Dad, if you’ll remember, it’s been a long time since I had a walk and, as you know, I’m mostly trained for sprinting. Running up and down the hall at home chasing my bone which you throw back and forth is good for sprints, but it’s not much good for long-distance performance, and I know it’s just as far back as it was to get here, so I was just wondering, Dad.”
So I said, “Dirty Dog, are you trying to tell me that you would really appreciate it if we turned and headed back home?”
He said, “To be honest, I really would.” So we reversed our course and headed for the house.
Actually, he was teaching me a lesson, and I’m glad I caught it. We do need to be sensitive to the feelings of others. Just because I had been walking long distances, there was no way he had been doing that so I acknowledged his physical shortcomings.
At that point he said, “Remember, Dad, I am a Welsh Corgi, and for every step you take on your two long legs I take about eight on my four short ones.”
I agreed that not only would we head back in, but I’d slow the pace a little, too. He never said anything else, but he breathed a sigh of relief. The minute he got back to the house he headed for the water, drank enthusiastically for several minutes, and then lay down to take a nap.
The next day was absolutely beautiful. The temperature was about 50 degrees, the sun was shining, there was no wind—an ideal day for a walk. I called out to Dirty Dog to see if he wanted to go. He ignored me. By the time I got the pooper-scooper and his leash I discovered he had disappeared up the stairs. I called him to no avail, explaining what a beautiful day it was and how nice it would be to have a walk. He refused to budge, so I took off and walked by myself.
That evening, after everything had quieted down, I confronted Dirty Dog and asked him what happened and why he was unwilling to do something he so loves to do. He gave me a slight look of Dad, you just don’t get it! Don’t you understand? Though he didn’t verbalize it, I knew that was what was on his mind. The look revealed it all. Yes, we do communicate with means other than just verbal expression.
He started to talk and explained by asking a question: “Don’t you remember what happened this morning?”
I was puzzled and responded, no, I had no idea what happened.
Then he laid his cards on the table. He said, “Dad, you got up a little before Mom did, and I greeted you with a smile, my bone in my mouth, and a considerable amount of enthusiasm. Now, Dad, you know the signal. I wanted to play. I wanted you to run me up and down the hall, as you always do, but you were busy explaining that you had to review your Sunday school lesson one more time and that you would play later. Well, Dad, that’s the time of day I’m at my peak from an energy point of view, and I wanted and needed to play then. But I also noticed, Dad (and this is what really upset me), that you started reading the newspaper. As a matter of fact, you spent a full thirty minutes reading that paper. I was only asking for five minutes . . . that’s all, Dad, just five minutes . . . and you know I go at it so hard I’m generally winded and am quite content to call it quits and rest awhile when the five minutes are up.”
On reflection I recognized that he was right, that it was thoughtless and inconsiderate for me not to have taken just those five minutes with him. I apologized to Dirty Dog and promised to be more considerate of him in the future. He’s generally so accepting of my apologies, but this one seemed to really “bug” him.
So he persisted, explaining, “Dad, you’ve got to remember what you’ve been telling people for many years—namely, that ‘you can have everything in life you want if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.’ Dad, you didn’t help me get what I wanted, which was to play and get my wind sprints in. I don’t know how you could expect me to give you what you wanted, which was companionship on your walk and in your quest for finding those golf balls. I just hope you’re more sensitive to the people in your life and aren’t always thinking only of what you want to do because, Dad, it won’t work that way. You’ve got to give before you can expect to get.”
Well, I was properly chastised. With a more humble spirit, I promised Dirty Dog that in the future I would be more considerate of meeting his needs and the needs of the people in my life, as well. All in all, it was a winning experience. I learned a lesson, and I felt closer to that little dog than ever before.
Confession Is Good
After a full day of preparing my Sunday school lesson and having lunch and an extended visit with two close friends from church, Dirty Dog and I took off for our walk. However, as is often the case, particularly for the first three or four hundred yards, he had to stop and sniff just about every tree, flower, clump of weeds, mound of grass, or anything in his path, and I constantly admonished him, “Let’s go, Dirty Dog, let’s go!”
He complained, “Dad, don’t be so impatient. What I’m doing is very important.”
I asked, “Why so, Dirty Dog?”
He reminded me that dogs stake out their territory. And he said, “You know some dogs are big and bad and others are little like me and have good intentions, but I can tell if it’s been five minutes or five hours since one of those big bad ones has been along. Dad, I just want to make certain that everything’s OK. If I smelled a big, bad one, I would try to guide you in another direction because I’d sure hate for one of them to get hold of you!”
Well, I must admit that I was glad to know Dirty Dog was looking after my best interests. I was a little embarrassed that I had not thought it through a little more carefully myself. So after those first three or four hundred yards, off we went. Since we were headed to the golf course and there were about four houses on the way, would you believe he wanted to take care of a little business in one of those yards? Obviously, since I had not brought along the pooper-scooper I did not permit that. I encouraged him, and we got in a much faster walk until we reached the vacant lot just about fifty yards up the street. I explained to Dirty Dog why we had to speed up.
He replied, “No problem, Dad, everything’s going to be OK.” And it was.
We did have a nice long walk, but when we got about a half mile from home he again started sniffing around, stopping every fifty feet or so. I kept getting after him to “come on, let’s go!” I finally lost my patience with him. I said, “Dirty Dog, I think you’re just delaying our return home!”
He kind of grinned and said, “Well, Dad, to be honest, I wasn’t in quite as good shape as I thought. You know, we haven’t been walking very much the last two months. Frankly, I just overdid it so I was kind of killing time until I got my breath.”
I have to tell you I appreciated his honesty, and I believe there is a lesson there that will benefit all of us. When you’ve been caught in a deal like that, you need to be honest enough to confess it and confront the issues. I think even more of Dirty Dog because he ’fessed up that he was stalling so he could catch his breath. And now that I know what the problem was, I’ll be more understanding in the future. I believe when we deal with dogs and/or people, if we will try to understand why they do certain things, it will help us get along lots better with them.
He’d Been Thinking
I was reading quietly in the den when I noticed that Dirty Dog was standing right in front of me, not saying anything but just looking. I asked him what was on his mind.
He responded, “Dad, I want to talk to you about a joke you’ve been telling that gets a good laugh out of everybody who hears it. As a matter of fact, Dad, you get so tickled before you deliver the punch line that you start laughing yourself—which, incidentally, I’ve always seen as kind of strange. But that’s your business, and since youseem to enjoy it I figure it is all right for you to indulge yourself.”
I thanked him for his understanding and asked him which joke he was referring to.
He said, “You know, Dad, the one you tell about the fellow who tied his huge German Shepherd to a post just outside a bar and went inside to have a drink. First of all, Dad, I know you don’t approve of drinking, so I’m surprised you tell that joke. Then you point out that after the man had been in the bar a half hour or so a timid little man came in. Since there was only one patron at the bar he went straight to him and said, ‘Mister, was that your big German Shepherd outside?’ The man acknowledged that it was. The timid little man apologetically explained, ‘Well, I want to apologize to you because my dog just killed your dog.’ The bar patron was startled and said, ‘What kind of dog do you have?’ The response from the little fellow was, ‘A Chihuahua.’ The patron was stunned. He said, ‘What? A Chihuahua killed my German Shepherd? How on earth did he do it?’ And the timid little man said, ‘He choked your dog to death when he was trying to swallow him.’
“Well, Dad, I guess you people think that’s funny, but let’s look at it from a dog’s perspective. That German Shepherd undoubtedly had a mom and a dad and who knows how many brothers and sisters. Think about how they feel that they’ve just lost a blood relative. For that matter, Dad, I suspect that the owner of that big German Shepherd loved him. You keep telling me, Dad, that you love me, so it’s just natural that I’m going to believe the owner of the German Shepherd loved him.”
I tried to explain to Dirty Dog that it was just a joke, and that in all probability it never really happened.
Dirty Dog’s response to that was, “Well, Dad, that’s the problem. Just like I’ve heard you say about television, although most of what you’re seeing is fiction, a lot of people act it out in real life. The authorities maintain that watching murders, fights, drunken brawls, stabbings, etc., on television plays a role in violence in everyday life. As a matter of fact, Dad, I’ve heard you give a number of specific examples which closely link violence on television to violence in real life. So I’m just afraid that some of you people—or, for that matter, some big dogs—might take it out on other little dogs because they’ll be more careful and not try to swallow the little ones, but just chew ’em up and spit ’em out. I’m really concerned, Dad.”
Well, Dirty Dog had a point—and he pursued it with another thought. “Suppose, Dad, that a 360-pound lineman in the National Football League got upset with a small wide receiver and tried to swallow him. Would you think that was funny?”
I tried to explain to Dirty Dog that was highly unlikely, that people just don’t do things like that. And then I’ll have to confess I closed out on this conversation as a loser, because Dirty Dog simply said, “Dad, you haven’t been watching any of that television that you say those unkind things about as far as violence is concerned. Sometimes when I’m bored during the day when you and Mom leave me, I watch that sort of stuff. I’m telling you that what people do to one another is a whole lot worse than what dogs do to other dogs.”
I had no answer for that one, and I was relieved when Dirty Dog let the subject drop.
One evening Dirty Dog just walked into my office and lay down at my feet. I was busy putting the finishing touches on a book, but I felt that I needed to pause for a moment or two and listen to what he had to say.
It doesn’t happen often, but on this occasion he was quite apologetic. Earlier that afternoon when I had gotten ready for my walk he ignored me. Five hours had passed and Dirty Dog was mumbling a little bit, seeming to be uncertain about how to say what he obviously felt he must say. Finally, he got started. His opening comment said a lot.
“You know, Dad, there’s a reason I didn’t want to walk with you earlier today. I had heard you on the phone saying you were headed for a really good one, and that always means you are going to be walking far and fast. I don’t always mind that, Dad, except on those walks you are so intent on a brisk walk that you seldom take time to either talk or listen to what I might have to say. And, frankly, I just wasn’t in any mood for that kind of treatment today. However, when you and Mom went out to dinner, I had over an hour alone to think, and I realized that I had disappointed you. I could tell by the look on your face. And, Dad, I really didn’t want to disappoint you. Surely you know by now that most of the time I really enjoy our walks, but today somehow I just didn’t feel in the mood. Oh, I admit I regret it now, but it’s just one of those things, Dad. Maybe tomorrow, if you’ll ask me again, we can have a really good make-up walk.”
Since Dirty Dog explained himself so well and so sincerely, I assured him that all was well and we would have our make-up walk the very next day. He smiled.
Some Walks Are Better Than Others
Dirty Dog was fairly quiet as we returned from our walk the next day. To get the conversation ball rolling I asked him why he’d refused to walk with me the last time I’d asked him.
He said, “Just because.”
When I pressed him for more information he really let it out.
“Dad, you’ve got to understand that dogs are just like people in many ways. We don’t always have a reason why we do or don’t do something, and I don’t know, I guess I just didn’t want to. I had no real reason. I didn’t feel bad; I didn’t think I had been mistreated or abused in any way. You, and especially Mom, had been loving and kind to me in every way. I just didn’t want to go. And, Dad, I hope you can have some empathy and understand that sometimes that’s just the way it is. You seem to be able to do that with people. I’m having trouble believing that you’re prejudiced, Dad, that you would show discrimination after all those speeches you make about how you hate prejudice, how you think it’s so terribly wrong for people to discriminate.”
I wasn’t going to challenge him on his point so I asked him why he so willingly went along with me on the walk today.
He said, and I quote him directly: “Dad, don’t you remember that before you went up to take your nap you told Mom that you were going to take a walk later?”
I admitted that I did.
He said, “Well, I knew that since you were going to take a nap first, that meant you would not be in any kind of hurry. I just hate it, Dad, when I feel rushed on these walks and you feel like you’ve got to go a mile a minute because Dr. Cooper says you’ve got to walk fast in order to get in better condition. Well, that’s fine for you, Dad, but as I’ve heard you say, ‘Dirty Dog is a full-size dog with pint-size legs.’ Dad, I just can’t cover as much ground—unless I’m running—as you can. When you came downstairs after your nap I could see that you were in no hurry. As a matter of fact, you took a minute or two to pet me and talk to me and roll me on my back on the floor and tickle my tummy and even spin me around a couple of times. Incidentally, Dad, I like to do a little of that, but sometimes you overdo it! Anyway, I figured you were not in a hurry so I was delighted to go for the walk.”
Then I said, “Dirty Dog, I know you sniff around so you can protect me from bad dogs, but why is it that when we first start our walk you have to stop a dozen times (it seems like) before you finally get into gear?”
And again he explained to me, “Well, Dad, you know, dogs have certain business they have to take care of that you people don’t know anything about. For example, Dad, you’re nearly five feet taller than I am. I’m built low to the ground. Now that gives you some advantages, but it gives me some advantages, too. When I pause and sniff and, I’ll admit, frequently raise my leg for you-know-what, I’m really just ‘marking the territory.’ I let these neighborhood dogs—most of whom I know and get along well with, but some I don’t—know that I’ve been by and that I’m reclaiming the territory as my own. That’s what I’m doing, Dad. I know you’ve read the book Territorial Prerogative and recognize the importance for both dogs and people to have territories of their own.
“If you’ll remember that in your dealing with people, it’ll help you get along better with ’em, Dad. Not only that, but you’ll be a better teacher and you can help more folks in their ‘human relations,’ and help them to win more friends and influence more people.”
Well, I thought the conversation was over, but Dirty Dog really was “wound up” and spitting out good information and advice, so I ventured another question: “Well, Dirty Dog, do you have anything you’d like to volunteer that I should know and be aware of?”
“Well,” he said, “now that you mention it, Dad, I really do. I know that you’re a ‘high I and a high D,’ and I’ve heard you talking about those characteristics of the various personalities from the ‘DISC’ program. I know that you’re kind of impetuous, that you want to ‘run the show,’ you want to be in control, but at the same time it also tells me that you want to get along well with people and have them like you. So for your information, Dad, the same qualities are present in us dogs. I’m more like Mom in that respect, Dad. As you know, she’s a ‘low I, low D,’ but ‘high S and high C.’ She’s more curious—that’s the way I am. I like to look into things. She’s more patient and she’s not nearly as impetuous as you—that’s the way I am, Dad. I don’t just like to ‘go there to get there.’ I like to be learning things on the way. And you know Mom’s the same way, and you certainly seem to understand and get along with her. Dad, you’ve got to remember the ‘type’ of person or dog you’re dealing with and be considerate of his personality needs. For instance, if you’ll be more patient with me, I’ll try harder to understand when necessity forces you to be in a hurry and you really don’t have time to play or even talk to me.”
Dirty Dog certainly gave me a thorough short course in communication and human/dog nature. If I can consistently communicate the way he has suggested I should, life’s road will be much smoother.