One thing I’ve learned about rescue dogs—they come with a lot of baggage. Not unlike every single one of us reading this blog. Since I’ve adopted Louie in 2013, one thing remains constant: fear is his one of his top issues. While I continue to learn many valuable lessons as I work with Louie, one in particular will forever make an impact. I’ve learned not to let Louie act out in fear because that can be very dangerous. You can never be sure what a fearful dog might do, no matter how sweet they appear to be most of the time.
I recently reflected on this wisdom. After an extraordinary amount of work on building Louie’s trust in me and others, all it takes is one chance confrontation with a cat and/or someone who looks like they might pose a threat, and we’re back at square one. He immediately resorts to being fearful—and if he can’t run (which is his first choice), he turns into a fierce dog.
What is it about fear that causes such strong reactions—in dogs and people?
Sometimes we are afraid of something and, in a second, we make a rash decision to lash out or run. Occasionally, sheer determination can look like courage, when in reality, we are aggressively masking our fear. And as leaders, it is essential that we recognize this in ourselves as well as the people we lead, so that we can help process through whatever may be causing this fear.
Many times, people act irrationally because fear drives them to make a split-second decision that is not in the best interests of themselves or others. 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—that’s pride.
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.
We need to choose our mode of operation before we find ourselves in situations where we might become fearful and reactionary. First responders 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 an adverse reaction I may later regret.
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. I am still working on helping him to learn to control his reaction, and when I give a command, he listens. Somewhere behind those big brown eyes, he knows I love him and will always protect him. Feeling safe is the beginning of letting go of fear.