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I love dogs, especially ours. Watson is the most appealing little dachshund ever, even if he does look more like a sausage than a hot dog. Just to see him makes me smile. Why? Because with short little legs and long dangling ears, his appearance is patently ridiculous! Still, those little legs don’t seem to hinder him much when he chases a laser or somehow manages to get up on our bed to bury himself in the pillows. His size also doesn’t keep him from guarding his pack (us), and defending his territory (our house) from any who would dare intrude (visit). Sometimes, that’s a bit of a problem.
While Watson usually spends most of his time lying on a couch in “dog-potato” mode, he can present a rather aggressive side to strangers at the door. Intense, growling, with the hair along his spine standing on end, our sweet little wiener dog can be pretty intimidating. That’s why I’ve been watching the Dog Whisperer on television whenever I can.
Cesar Millan, the “dog whisperer,” is amazing in his ability to understand the animals he is working with. He never raises his voice, but is able to assert leadership and corrective instruction to dogs of every breed and with every behavioral problem imaginable. Cesar knows that every canine needs exercise, disciple, and affection to become what he calls a “balanced” dog. To that end, Cesar frequently makes use of his own pack of dogs as positive peers for animals in need of rehabilitation.
According to Millan, a happy dog is a submissive dog, that is, one who knows his place in the pack, and respects his owner as pack leader. Things are never what they should be if a pet owner thinks of his dog as a person, or gives the dog too much power and too few boundaries. “Calm-assertive” owners encourage proper dog behavior. Excitement in either human or animal is counter-productive. The same can be said for fear, anger, or frustration. Everything Cesar does is meant to establish a pathway to putting an animal into what he refers to as a “calm-submissive” state of mind. That generally involves as much training for owners as it does for dogs.
All I can say, is that “dog-whispering” works. Making use of some of Cesar’s techniques, Watson has been much more obedient, and exhibited far less insecurity-driven aggression. I’ve become more calm in how I assert control over him, and he has responded in kind. The funny thing is that I’ve begun to suspect that similar techniques may work almost as well on people. I’d bet that Cesar Millan’s children are very well behaved!
In the readings of Ordinary Time we see Jesus calling his first disciples. He exudes an air of confidence, a quiet authority, a reassuring invitation. There is no doubt that those who answered His call did so knowing that they were becoming part of something much greater than themselves. They were choosing to belong to Jesus, to become His by accepting His leadership and direction for their lives. In doing so, each one of them moved towards obedience, towards service, towards the fulfillment of all that each of them was created to be.
Jesus is the ultimate soul-whisperer. He calls every one of us by name, whispering His peace and presence at the very center of our hearts. In His calm and assertive leadership we discover who we are and where we belong. Guided by His Holy Spirit as well as by all others who share friendship with Christ, we can find the security and contentment intended for us from the beginning. When we learn to trust in Jesus, when we take our place as followers of the Master, our souls can and will find rest.
There are those of us who demonstrate dominance with others, or who cower in fear and try to run away from life as we are called to live it. Some of us seem to think we are more than we actually are; others as far less. The truth is that we are made for community and made for Christ. Without either one, our true selves are lost, disoriented, confused. Even the strongest among us depend on the rest. The weakest, too, have both a place and a purpose.
Our faith teaches that Jesus gives us Himself--His true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity--in the Holy Eucharist. But the truth is that in communion with Him, Jesus also gives us our selves. Heart, soul, mind, and strength--our truly human selves are revealed when we belong to God, and come to fulness only in loving Him.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.