Who would have thought I'd learn so much about humans from living with a puppy?
This morning, I spent an hour playing catch with Mani. He's got so much energy and loves running around, but it's not fun playing when he bites me with his sharp puppy teeth. It's taken a while for me to understand how to communicate with him, how to let him know my boundaries, but I think I finally have the hang of it.
That's when it hit me. These doggy guidelines aren't all that different from setting boundaries with humans.
You want to play catch? Bring the squeaky to me.
That which you chase retreats from you!
I'm sure you've met this type of person. I call them the Push-Pull sort. You push, try to engage in a relationship, they pull away. You pull away? They're pushing to be all sorts of parts of your life.
It has never been as clear how to deal with the Push-Pull as when playing catch with Mani. He has a squeaky toy peanut, and he loves to play catch with it. I throw. He brings it back. But like most puppies, he doesn't actually drop it by my feet for me to throw again. No, he's not ready for the game to end, so he runs away.
I try to recognize this trait in humans as early as possible and keep a wide berth. Life is to short to cultivate friendships with people who aren't sure they want to be in your life. But like everything else, there will always be exceptions. When it comes to maintaining these relationships -- usually with family or old friends -- I let them decide when they're ready to play and only then meet them half way.
That way, I never find myself running aimlessly around the couch.
Sit. Shake. Good boy!
In human speak, that means be clear and consistent.
Know what you want. Figure out how to say it in as straightforward a way as possible. Say it.
Mani learned to soften his play bite because every time he bit our hands and clothing or jumped on us, we backed away and woudln't play with him. It was frustrating, because for two weeks, nothing changed. He continued to bite my feet every time I walked out of the house. I even began reconsidering this whole dog-owner thing.
Then one day it clicked for him. I bite. They run away. I I don't want them to run away, I won't bite them.
You have to sit if you want your cheese.
If you want respect, hold your ground.
If I tell Mani to sit, he must sit before I give him his treat. I don't plead with him. I don't repeat myself more than once. I just wait. No shouting. No upset. Just wait. And if he doesn't sit. He doesn't get his cheese.
This applies to everyone in your life. If you say you want something, stick with it. Don't change just because you think you'll get the outcome you want by making the change. You won't.
Obviously, there are times when compromise is in order. Like negotiating a salary or deciding bedtime with your child, but those instances must be chosen and exacted carefully. You go in knowing there will be a compromise.
Then you only need to know when you are just plain wrong and figure out how and when to back down. That, though, is a whole other blog post in itself.