Life Lessons From Walking the Dog

My dog taught me something about prayer this morning. 

Scout is a two-year-old beagle mix. He’s friendly and good-natured with people, but he gets very agitated — even aggressive — around other dogs. This morning, our walk together began in blissful calm. The morning temperature was mild. There was a gentle breeze. And Scout was walking next to me, matching my pace, the slackened leash swaying between us.  

Then Scout spotted another dog.  

One of our neighbors passed us on the other side of the street walking her own dog; a big, white Labrador. As soon as Scout saw it, he went into attack mode. The perceived threat of another dog triggered his fight-or-flight instinct. The hair on his back stood up. His tail and ears did the same. He wheezed and huffed (he doesn’t usually bark). And he pulled hard against the lead.  

When he does this, I usually give him a calming “shhhhh” and tow him quickly away from the encounter. Scout only weighs 35 pounds so it’s easy enough to pull him along and continue our walk. Except I noticed something this morning: Scout stayed in attack mode. After we passed the Lab, Scout didn’t return to the calm, slack-leashed companion he was when our walk started. He stayed on edge for the rest of our walk, as if waiting — suspecting — another “threat” to emerge at any moment. I no longer had his attention — couldn’t get his attention if I wanted to — because of his sentry-like posture toward the world.  

I think there’s something we can learn from Scout, because we make the same mistake he does. We are so distracted by perceived threats that we fixate on them rather than on our Master.  

Scout was threatened by a big dog. What threatens you? A coworker angling for your job? A spouse who has grown cold? A political ideology that might make life harder? A verbal jab from a friend? A diagnosis? A habit you can’t kick? The reality is that we all face threats. Bad things happen. And, more to the point, bad things threaten to happen almost every day. Life can seem like a perpetual fight-or-flight scenario where our highest ambition becomes escaping unharmed. And it will always be so as long as we pull against the lead with our hair standing up. But if we’ll look away from the threats, return our attention to the Master, and listen to his calming shush, I think we’ll find our walk through life much more pleasant. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “You will keep him in perfect peace who’s mind is stayed on you.”  

Now if I could only teach that to Scout.