Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Life with Emma: The Wisdom in Emma's Discipline Part I - Sit and Wait

Little did I know when I picked Emma, my Boston Terrier, out of a litter from South Dakota, that I would be reminded so much about the importance of discipline in life.

From my readings, I understood that Emma had three basic needs: discipline, work, and affection. Over time I’ve watched Emma seek these out. Emma is happiest when the world is ordered and predictable; she is fulfilled when there are tasks to accomplish, like going for a run or learning a new trick or chasing after Griz in the cottonwoods; and she is most content when she sits with me on the couch after the day is done, her place by my side secure.

When I think of my own life, these three basic needs are deeply present as well. Discipline is essential for a purposeful and successful life no matter what the endeavor; work provides the material and focus in my search for meaning in the world; and affection fulfills my deepest desires for connection and is essential to my sense of well-being.

In creating a foundation for a disciplined life for Emma, we began early with puppy obedience, then the basic skills necessary for dog agility, and finally the training for her Canine Good Citizen Test. When I looked at the basic commands that she eventually mastered, I found they easily provided metaphors for living that applied to both her life and mine.

My list of metaphors for her basic obedience commands goes something like this:

Emma’s Commands --- Metaphors for My Life
• "Sit and Wait" --- Patience and Forethought
• "Stay" --- Internal Control
• "Here" --- Life Calls Us
• "Leave It" --- Healthy Relationship Boundaries
• "Off" --- Respect for Relationship Decorum
• "Out" --- Independent Action/Individuation
• "Down" --- Submission/Humility

I think fondly of Emma as an Alpha Female. I’m not alone in my thinking. Others have nicknamed her “Little Terrorist” and “Bossy.” So, when she was a puppy, my obedience instructor insisted that I train her with a clicker to make sure I had her attention. When I first began teaching her sit and wait, she had a mind of her own. But once she learned the command, it was ironclad.

I still love to watch Emma sit and wait. It’s like she’s in the military: she snaps to attention hoping she’s the first one and the best one. The command “Sit and Wait” requires her to be patient and trusting. When I tell her to wait at the beginning of an agility course, she must be patient and trust that if she waits she will also be released and in this case, released to enjoy the fun of an agility course. The discipline supports her success and I think it supports mine as well. When I tell myself to be patient while listening to someone else speak or when I sleep on an important decision or when I corral angry feelings and wait until I can actually think about them, I benefit from the discipline of waiting. I benefit from the discipline of creating space between unbridled action and the creation of forethought and a purposeful response.

As much as I realize this idea of waiting in life is important, I know Emma and I will always be challenged with the discipline inherent in waiting: there will be times it’s easy for Emma to stop and hold still and there will be other times when the challenge will be too great, like when Griz keeps running or when the treat hasn’t yet been earned. But I will encourage both of us to strive for managing the moment rather than acting impulsively, for it will be in the stillness we will find our direction.

Next, watch for the wisdom to be discovered in Emma’s “Stay” command in Part II of The Wisdom in Emma’s Discipline.

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