What the dog taught #3: Playing is good, playing small is not

When Sonnet and I first started living together, I dreaded going for walks because we ran a high risk of meeting another dog. My docile, curious, calm three month old puppy would suddenly transform.

Lunging. Barking. She wanted to play. Dominating over other dogs. And she certainly wasn’t asking. She was in full demand mode.

The way I saw it: She was taking up space. Being totally rude.

And the other dogs she met knew it.

And what exactly was I doing while this was going on?

Feeling embarrassed
. Thinking that she was taking up too much space. Telling myself that she had the worst manners. I was in a state of disapproving. Wishing she just would quit.

Thank goodness I caught myself. Thank goodness I could see what I was really wanting and that I was really doing nothing:

I wanted her to play small rather than allowing her to learn how to really play. Why? Because that’s what I had been expecting of myself.

Anytime you expect yourself or another to be different than they are, you are the one playing small. Love is absent and outside approval has taken precedence. Play becomes unnecessary and life gets serious and seriously boring.


I looked at my dog. Grateful. What I had been unaware of could now begin to come to an end. I could live more of my life as me and for me.

Sure, I would help shape her behaviour with humans throughout our relationship. I agreed to do that when we started sharing a home. Though, there are certain things that only other dogs can teach each other. This was one of those times and one of those things.

My role was to trust Sonnet’s capacity to be in the world. Dogs are best at learning to do what works (as painful as the learning process looks to myself and the older dogs with the hindsight).

I had to laugh at myself for disapproving of a puppy for … well acting like a puppy. Truthfully, I didn’t want Sonnet to be anything other than her utter self.

And really, isn’t that why we love dogs? They’re themselves all the time. Have you ever met a dog and thought: “Did that dog feel fake?”, “I wonder if that dog was being sincere?”, “Does that dog really like me or does it want something?” or “I wonder what that dog meant when he ran up to me wagging his tail?”

Dogs don’t leave you wondering the way that people sometimes do. And we tend to gravitate towards people we don’t wonder about. We like authentic beings.

Sonnet’s older now. Still intensely playful, but wise. She’s discerning about when, how, and with whom she plays.

She trusts herself. I see it. I try to be like that every day.

New to this Human Learning & Dog Training series?

As the old saying goes: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

About the teacher:

Sonnet is a old lab mix (of many things). Since “dog” is “god” spelled backwards, I decided to respect our true dynamic. She teaches me how to practice “blissipline” (being committed to experiencing bliss each day; and practicing the expansion of my capacity for bliss and being open to receiving it in any moment). Sonnet is a “blissiplinarian” (a being who enforces pleasure and invites opportunities for more pleasure) and I am her “blissciple” (I aspire to master the art of blissipline).

Thanks Rob Brezsny for the terminology.

More in the series:
What the dog taught #1: Be Abundant
What the dog taught #2: We Create Our Own Delays

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