The Sixth Sense

Have you ever learned a valuable lesson by not following your “gut sense“? I think that we’re all taught to “learn to trust our senses” at some point. I recently had an experience that has driven this home for me.

As I train my dog, Bella, it’s not uncommon that we’re working on several routines concurrently. At one point, it seemed like progress in all these areas stalled, even stopped or regressed, perhaps if only by reason of lack of progress. I was working on throwing & retrieving a tennis ball. We had a trick that we were learning. I also noticed that she presented a similar behavior when putting on her hiking pack or training harness. Then I noticed that within all these routines, at their stopping point, Bella seemed to present a similar behavior. Hmmmmm..? – could there be a common cause?

At that point in time my current “koan“, or teaching to ponder, or mantra – depending on how you care to frame it, came from the Monks of New Skete. These folks are dedicated and renowned breeders and trainers of pure line German Shepherds. Here’s the quote:

“Learning the value of silence is learning to listen to, instead of screaming at, reality; opening the mind to find what the end of someone else’s sentence sounds like; or listening to a dog until you discover what is needed instead of imposing yourself in the name of training.”

As I looked at the limitations I faced, in my personal life as well as in training Bella, there opened a door. I got a “sense”. It came one day while putting on Bella’s training harness. Always, from the first time I put it on her, and typically every time, it was a struggle. She had squirmed and wiggled, and I had resigned myself to simply overcome her and gently force it over her head. One day, while going through this process, I decided take a different approach. I held the harness up, and looked through the neck straps into her eyes. As she diverted, and avoided full eye contact, I called her back. I kept looking into her eyes until she stopped squirming and held still for me to put the harness over her head.

The next day, I did the same thing again. While I was putting the harness over her head, I stopped forcing the action. I stopped imposing myself on her. I simply looked into her eyes, and gave her the option to look back. When she looked away, I gently called her back, and persisted until she stopped resisting. The harness went on without effort.

After a few days of this, I felt something change between us. I got another, deeper “sense”. I noticed her, from the corner of my eye, looking at me differently. She seemed to say: “I don’t know what you’re up to, boss, but I like it and I love you for it.

We’re much closer today than we were. Also, all the training routines that were stalled are now moving forward again.

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