Skip to content ↓

Resilience and Dogs

As with dogs, so with boys and ourselves!

In my last blog of last academic year, I wrote about my intention to have a retreat day, in silence, to let my life speak to me, to ponder what has gone well, what not so well, how I can build and maintain relationships and what are my leadings for the future. As ever, it proved a useful and challenging day.

Looking back over previous retreats, I remember the one when I acknowledged my yearning to have a puppy. It took a while but the result, of course, is Rosa, our school therapy dog.

She is nearly three years old now and is a constant lesson to me in how to maintain my well-being. She challenges me in her ability to be spontaneously welcoming and enthusiastic with those she knows and loves, she is endlessly curious and able to make the most of the moment and she can relax with an abandon that is inspiring to see. All the exercise we do together in green spaces is definitely as good for me as it is for her, mentally, physically and emotionally.

Hence, I was very interested to be sent an article about some of the other things that dogs can teach us. The original is:

but this is my spin on the main points:

1. Health first

Responsible dog owners exercise their dogs every day, whatever the weather, feed them a good diet and allow them plenty of rest. They know that anxious, bored, unhappy dogs can be aggressive or start damaging things.

As with dogs, so with boys and ourselves. We can’t hope to be resilient if we don’t look after our basic needs. I still see far too many boys who skimp on sleep or eat junk or both and are surprised when they feel flaky, irritable or aggressive.

2. Show vulnerability

Dogs show us very clearly when they are anxious. They have no inner voices telling them to ‘Man up’ or that they mustn’t let anyone down. Some will become aggressive when anxious, others will cower or shy away. They give us an honest display of their feelings so we can meet them where they are and deal with their feelings, whether it’s by backing off or giving them reassurance.

As with dogs, so with boys and ourselves. Showing vulnerability may seem counter-intuitive but if we aren’t honest about how we feel, we live a lie (stressful in itself) and we cannot get the help and support we need. For a long time, I kept quiet about the difficulties I was having with one of my sons. It was only when I opened up about this, that things improved.

3. The importance of clear communication

I’ve spent a lot of time training Rosa and going to a dog club and probably the most important thing I learnt was to be very clear in what I wanted from her, through my voice, my body language and my signals. Dogs will give very clear feedback – if they haven’t heard or understood the cue, they will simply do something else!

As with dogs, so with boys and ourselves. How often do we assume that our messages to our children, our partners and our colleagues are clear when actually, we’ve given a mixed message or the message hasn’t been heard? How often does that lead to frustration and arguments? How often do we hear ourselves saying, ‘But I TOLD you blah blah blah!’ Did we? Were we really clear? And are we sure the message got through?

4. The importance of motivation

There are two reasons a dog won’t do something. The first is it hasn’t understood the instruction. The second is that it’s not motivated enough.

As with dogs, so with boys and ourselves! Whatever difficulties we’re having with ourselves and our children, it’s crucial to look at motivation. Rosa was quite difficult to train, before I discovered she liked cheese. Frankly, if there was nothing decent in it for her, she wasn’t going to co-operate. We like to think that humans are higher beings and that we will ‘work’ for its own sake – but we are still essentially animals and a lot of us need a bit more to motivate us than that!

5. Goal setting

Dogs need very small, specific goals. You can’t have a vague general idea for a goal – you’ve got to make it spot on or the dog won’t get it and will lose interest and find something more interesting to do - like chasing a squirrel!

As with dogs, so with boys and ourselves! If our goals are too big and woolly, it’s easy to be tempted into pursuing something smaller and in our immediate line of site (Squirrel!!) be it the next episode on Netflix or an extra can of beer.

Finally, a good little book you might like to leave lying around for ‘loo-reading’ is ‘100 Ways to Be As Happy As Your Dog’ by Celia Haddon. It’s a very, short light read with a sprinkling of charming line drawings but it is full of pithy common sense.

Meg Harper – Head of Counselling