Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Dog Park

Last Saturday morning, we took Jackson to the dog park. Dog parks are a fascinating biological study of animal behavior. It takes very little time for a group of dogs to be introduced and to establish boundaries and rules. Lots of butt sniffing occurs but once everyone is introduced, play can in sue. Even if one dog plays too rough and the other dog will quickly bear his teeth or give a short nip to express his displeasure. Again, that establishes boundaries, and play can continue.

It looks very much like a kindergarten playground. There are the kids who are nice leaders, nice followers, mean leaders, mean followers, intentional outsiders, and unintentional outsiders. If the kids in the roles balance, harmony reigns. If too many of one type of kid come to play, volcanoes can erupt.

Our dog is a mean leader. He insists that everyone play. Whether they want to or not, he will bully them into running with him or chasing them or wrestling with him. He’s like to kid who wants to play baseball and only has 5 kids who really want to play. But he goes around trying to force enough kids onto the field to be able to play a game. “Hey Jimmy, get over here. You’re going to play 3rd base. And Jill, you’re going to go to outfield, and Jack, you’re going to be on my team and bat after me, Hank and Lisa.” Lots of kids just give up and follow. They might rather have sat on the grass and picked dandilions, but they’re peacemakers, so sure, right field sounds great.

 Other kids will stand up to him. “No. I’m not playing baseball with you. Forget it.” He may push back, but bullies are ultimately afraid of other bullies, so a few threats and he’ll back off. Again, peace has reigned on the playground.

 But then the 5th grade playground king walks onto the field. He is the mean leader of all mean leaders. If things don’t go as he wants, there will be hell to pay. However, Mean Leader #1 won’t back off easily. “Hey Mike – you can play pitcher. I’ve got the ball, let’s get going.” Then Mike takes the ball, walks off the field with it and starts throwing it with his sidekick (because every playground king has a sidekick) as they walk start to walk away toward the swings. “Hey! Give me that back! You have to pitch! Hey! Hey!” Mean leader #1 won’t give up. He has missed all the signals that Mike is angry and serious. He should have just let him walk away, but he’s too stubborn to do that. Mike, the Playground King, is pushed over the edge, and Mean Leader #1 ends up flat on his back with a black eye as Playground King walks off with the ball. 

Jackson, our mean leader of a dog, had organized the pack of dogs to play with him. Things were going well, lots of tennis ball chasing, a few wrestling matches, all was harmony. Then the German Shepherd entered. She was huge, regal, and wanted her own way. Jackson pushed her to join. He pushed, and pushed, and pushed. We tried to call him away from him because we could see this wouldn’t go well, but he wouldn’t listen. At first, she ignored and did what she wanted. Then, she got tired of him, and the fight got ugly. She pinned him to the ground and bit him square in the face. If the shephard’s owner and Greg had not intervened she would have killed him.

Greg pulled him from the fight, got bit along the way, and dragged him away from the other dog. That was the end of the dog park. He was angry and hurt. A big gash above his eye and enough blood dripping from his eye that we thought a trip to the emergency vet might be required.

We got him in the car and drove home. The drive home Greg and I were both angry. Angry at him for not listening to us when we told him to back off, angry at ourselves for not being able to train him, angry that we need him to get exercise but can’t trust him to run and play nicely. We talked in the car. “How do we teach this dog not to pick fights? He can’t be the town bully, but how do we tell him that? 5 or 6 rounds at the dog park and it doesn’t seem like he’s learned at all. If he doesn’t get his way he fights until he does, and if he fights too hard he ends up bloody and angry. He’s like a 10 year old kid who keeps getting kicked out of school for fighting.”

 “I wish he were a kid, then at least we could talk to him. We can’t talk to our dog, so how do we get him to learn?”

 We dragged him into the house in silence. He seemed to recognize our anger and walked meekly beside us. Greg sat him down with gauze, rubbing alcohol and antibacterial ointment and began to patch him up. He didn’t fight us when we poked and prodded and cleaned him up; it felt like he was trying to apologize.

 I couldn’t help but think that this situation felt like a parallel to my relationship with God. A hundred times God has tried to teach me, mold me, and guide me with “great patience with even the worst sinners” (1 Tim 1:16), and yet I still won’t learn. He sends me into the world to allow me to use his guidance and direction, then I screw up again. He brings me back home, patches me up, loves me, and tries again. I can’t imagine how much I grieve the Lord when he has to constantly retrain me. I feel grief when I have to retrain my dog and he doesn’t have a soul! God wants to give me even greater space to run and play and share his word, but I can’t learn enough not to fight. How much easier wouldn’t it be if God could just sit down with me on the couch and talk to me! But that’s not how God works. He could sit us down and talk to us, but he chooses not to. He wants us to come to him, read his truth through His Word, and be trained during our lives by hearing constant redirection by the Holy Spirit.

 First Lord, thank you. You didn’t give up on me even when you rescued me from my own sinful self. You teach me and train me and love me through my own mess. This week, help me hear your Holy Spirit’s redirection. I don’t want to pick the wrong fights or try to get my own way when I am really supposed to just slow down and love those around me. I’m sorry I’m more stubborn than my dog, but that does make me so thankful for your grace. Thank you.

 And finally Lord… if it’s not too much to ask… could you teach Jackson to sleep a little later than 530?

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