If you’ve read our blog over the years, you know the issues I’ve had with Louie, and how fearful he can be. I’ve learned many valuable lessons from our trainer, Zig, but one in particular continues to make an impact on us. Zig shared that Louie puts on an act of bravado by growling and barking because he’s masking how fearful he actually is. “You don’t want him to act out in fear because that can be very dangerous,” said Zig. “You can never be sure what a fearful dog might do.”
I recently reflected on this wisdom Zig offered some time ago. After an intense amount of work on building Louie’s trust in me and in others, his fear has all but subsided (except for a chance confrontation with a cat or someone new at my door). Occasionally I see a fearful reaction arise and in a second, if he can’t run (which is his first choice), he turns into a fierce dog. But just as quickly, with one command from me, he leaves it and moves on.
What is it about fear that causes such strong reactions? Sometimes we are afraid of something and, in a second, we make a rash decision to lash out or run. Sometimes sheer determination can look like courage when, in reality, we are aggressively masking our fear.
Police officers, firefighters, and other emergency personnel know what it’s like to make split-second decisions that override their fears. Their training has prepared them to act in the best interests of others—despite how they feel inside —because lives are at stake.
But what about the times when fear drives us to make a split second decision that is not in the best interests of others or us? Many times fear and pride go hand in hand and it becomes a vicious cycle. Fear of losing jobs, relationships, social status, leadership, or influence can drive us to make ourselves look better on the outside and attempt to make others smaller by comparison.
I thought about this crazy cycle as I watched the Bengals’ loss of a playoff game some time ago. Was it the fumble or the two plays at the end, or the penalty flags thrown? Or was it the vicious cycle of fear and pride?
I’m not a football strategist and talking football is a far stretch from dealing with little Louie and his fears, but everyone in leadership can learn lessons about dealing with fear and pride. Fear itself isn’t necessarily wrong—it’s a sign that we could be in danger and need to take the necessary physical or emotional precautions. And certainly we can take pride in a job well done.
But when fear is unfounded and pride is rooted in self-centeredness, the perfect storm develops and the vicious cycle begins. Sadly, the consequences can have an ongoing ripple effect, as I witnessed during that particular playoff game.
We need to choose our mode of operation before we find ourselves in situations where we might become fearful and reactionary. Firefighters and police officers are well trained prior to facing the dangers of their jobs. We would all do well to spend a little time assessing our fears, examining the issues that could cause us to operate out of self-centered pride, and identifying steps we can take to eliminate a knee-jerk reaction. Though I still have a long way to go, I’ve learned to stop for a moment before responding because that brief moment might prevent a negative reaction I may later regret. A “Help me, Lord,” is never a bad idea either!
As for Louie, I think he acts tough not only out of fear, but also out of his love for and desire to protect me. He has learned to control it because when I give a command, he listens. Somewhere behind those big brown eyes, he knows I love him and will always protect him.