Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kaine: My Greatest Mentor

My mentor chilling in the snow.  He probably just peed
I have had several mentors in my life.  Great men and women who have come alongside me and driven me to think deeper and work harder.  While their tireless effort has shaped me in powerful ways one being has outstripped them all in lasting impact and constant relationship.  His name is Kaine.  He is my dog.

At this point you are probably thinking, “You have had some pretty crappy mentors or the greatest pup on earth!”  I assure you that both of those assertions are not true.  I have had some great mentors and my dog, as far as they go, is probably middle of the row.  He would not win any dog shows, can’t do any tricks crazy enough for youtube and overall he is pretty selfish.  Yet he is one of few beings on the planet that can proudly proclaim that they taught Justin how to be patient.

Dogs can be a hassle.  Adopted dogs with a history of abuse can be nightmares. Conventional methods don’t work.  When I asked my peers how to discipline a dog the answer across the board was speak firmly and when that doesn’t work role up a newspaper and lightly smack their nose.  I guess this works with normal dogs; Kaine just wet himself.

Predictably this method created a urine soaked vicious cycle.  When he dug up the yard, broke out of his crate (we went through six of them before we gave up), or chewed something we had to discipline him.  When we disciplined him, heck whenever we looked at him, he would cower, roll over and start the waterworks.  It started to feel like I was abusing him just by reading a magazine.  This period in our relationship was quite awkward. 

Right, wrong or indifferent I had to change tactics.  I read lots of books, found out newspapers aren’t really the best idea and focused on being a calm pack leader instead of a domineering tyrant.  Regardless of how mad he made me I could not let it show.  If I slipped he let it slip.  Dogs are nothing if not consistent.  I had to constantly read his body language to see if this was a time I should be firm or if this was a time he was terrified and maybe I should just back off.  The more I respected his signals the better he became.  The more I genuinely trained him the more he trained me in return.

This led to further revelations.  I realized if I wasn’t careful, stress I had outside of the home easily transferred onto him.  Dogs are easy targets for unaddressed issues.  When your easy target pees while free running through the house you learn quickly to deal with it in more healthy ways.  He forced me to start addressing with my impatience and lack of kindness; to shepherd my emotions before I let them fly.  My wife, friends and future kids will be grateful to him.

Lately, Kaine and I are doing much better.  He doesn’t really act out anymore and I don’t take things out on him.  With others I at least realize when I am being impatient or unkind.  There is still some room for improvement.  I guess he is a little further on the journey than I am.  He started me thinking and changing.  That is what great mentors do.  They begin the process within you and then let it unfold.  Kaine was a godsend to me.  Who or what has been a godsend to you?

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