Bearing It!

Koda, our blue and brown-eyed Heeler/Australian Shepherd, used to go outside to play with Bear, our lovable mutt. Bear may have the head of a Chow, but he has none of the testy qualities of that breed. The two dogs would run and play for awhile and then Koda would be ready to come inside to resume her role as a pampered indoor dog. When our big Bear comes inside to spend the night in the back room, Koda expresses her presumed superiority. She nips him and tries to make sure he cannot move anywhere else in the house except to go directly to his room. I noticed recently that this herding behavior was becoming increasingly hostile. Koda was pulling out Bear’s hair. And all he did in response was cry.

Then a strange thing happened.

A few days ago I let Koda outside for her morning romp with the bigger dog, and she refused to go. I led her out into the fenced yard. Bear came over to sniff her and say hello. Koda’s eyes widened. She was suddenly afraid of Bear and let me know she wanted to go back inside. Pronto.

How strange, I thought. Bear is lovable. He had never hurt her and I’m sure he never will. But then I realized the thinking process of our smart, arrogant little dog. Koda expects the outdoor dog will start to treat her in the same way she treats him! She understands that the “Golden Rule” can work in reverse. If she is obnoxious, she might expect obnoxious behavior in return.

The psychological term for this is “projection.” For humans it means that we assume that others will behave and think the same way we do. I have seen it happen in my own life. Sometimes I can’t seem to figure out why my husband is being nice after a disagreement- because I take it personally. It’s not just about an idea. It’s about who is right. And it’s hard to admit being wrong. So I’ve been known to hold a grudge. And then to assume he feels the same way. So his behavior, even if it’s nice, seems inappropriate. The smile seems to say, “Nah-nah. I got you.”

It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve been able to see that my husband doesn’t operate that way. He is trying to make amends with a smile. He will let go of the argument and focus on the relationship. He knows that grudges get in the way. And so does projection.

When the dog expects her controlling behavior to be reciprocated, she can’t even go outside. How sad. But she assumes that if she is in charge of the house and can push the other dog around, then certainly, the outdoor dog would want to push her around in his domain.

There is a bit of guilt in this process. To pout or to be pushy isn’t the nicest behavior. And Koda knows the other dog doesn’t fight back. Will Bear’s goodness win her over? I believe it is possible.

The other day when I was feeling a bit resentful because my husband was right and I was wrong, I thought about how I could act differently. To set a better example for the children…and, who knows, maybe for the dog too…I said, “You were right, dear!”

It’s good to step outside myself. The truth is I am humbled by my husband’s willingness to forgive and forget. There he is smiling and ready to say, “It doesn’t mater. Only love matters.”

What a sweetheart he is! I think I’ll try to be like him and Bear whatever comes my way with a smile. Than I’ll expect and project only the good! Hopefully, Koda will try it too.

About Judith Costello

A certified art therapist, Judith is the author of numerous articles and books on parenting and child development, including Zen Parenting. She writes from Moriarty, New Mexico.