So I know this dog. He used to have a fairly free run of the house he lives in. But recently I visited his house and his humans, and he is now confined to the mudroom/laundry room most of the time, except for walks a few times a day.
His sin is that he has started marking furniture, walls, etc. all the time when let loose in the house. I’m not really a dog person, but confining this dog to a 5×7 room for 22 hours a day makes me incredibly sad for the dog. Even if he does have a window, food and water, he doesn’t have that thing that dogs crave: a pack to belong to and cavort with.
Avoiding the Problem
One thing that is really interesting about this confinement solution is how inconvenient it is for the daily lives of the humans. The mudroom is the most direct way out of the house to the cars, but the humans often take a route twice as long to avoid going through the mudroom and dealing with a dog that wants to escape. Rather than confront the problem and try to solve it, the owners disrupt everyone’s lives and say it’s all OK.
Sometimes our blind spots are in how much we are willing to contort ourselves rather than confront the issue. Kind of like how law firms will throw money at attorneys rather than deal with bad behavior of some partners, and setting actual limits and boundaries with clients. Or how we rationalize accepting beyond-the-pale treatment in the name of money.
I think the dog owners’ solution is a lot like how we treat those vulnerable, less-than-seemingly-perfect parts of ourselves. You know, the parts that hate law and want the hell out. Our creative selves. The selves that act up because there’s a deep disconnect between what we’re doing and what we long to do, and it’s a disconnect that is getting ignored.
So the vulnerable part of us festers until often, our behavior gets pretty out of hand. We work too much, we drink too much, we spend too much, we take too many drugs to numb us out, all in the name of making it through the day/week/month/year.
Rationalizing Bad Treatment
And then we rationalize locking up something important, like our own inner worth or another creature. In the case of the dog, avoiding the mudroom and keeping the dog cooped up is OK
- Because it’s easier to pretend it’s not a problem. After all, the dog acts better when he is out—therefore he must be happy enough;
- Because the humans are too busy to supervise the dog for every single second when he does roam the house;
- Because it costs money to get a trainer to fix the marking problem, and they don’t have much spare cash;
- Because they don’t know of anyone who can help retrain the dog (not that they’ve looked around); or
- Because there’s a chance that even after getting training for the dog, the problem still won’t be solved.
Our Dogs, Our Creativity, Ourselves
It’s interesting that in none of this is there any talk of the needs of the dog, or the valuable things he does bring to the household, like unconditional love and companionship. So the situation continues, with a small being confined to a small space because some of his behavior is a problem.
Like it or not, this is usually how we treat our inner, unruly creative selves. If creativity is nice and predictable, pretty and conventional, well-behaved and not disruptive, then it’s fine. Otherwise, it needs to be confined, corralled, penned up and generally controlled.
The problem, of course, is that creativity usually isn’t nice, predictable, conventional or well-behaved. The essence of creativity is disruption of the status quo. So true creativity really freaks out those who cling to the known as their chief coping mechanism in a chaotic, changing world.
If the story of the dog makes you uncomfortable, good. Start thinking about your own secret dreams and desires as if they are that dog. How can you let the dog out to roam the house? How often can you throw a ball for it? How often and for how long can you take it to the dog park or an open field? What kind of training can you get for your inner dog so he’s not such a pain to be around?
Pick one and do it this week. Let me know how it goes.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who doesn’t know a whole lot about training dogs, but knows a thing or two about training humans and unleashing their creativity. Get an idea what it’s like to let your inner puppy out for a romp by trying out coaching in a discounted sample session. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your session today.