Kemba the Wonder Dog

Meet Kemba. Kemba is our German Shepherd Dog (GSD), often referred to around here as “Kemba the Wonder Dog.”

Kemba is a petite GSD, relatively speaking, and our friend Rick says she is proof that gender transcends all species.  Kemba eats daintily and is gentle, nurturing and kind.  But be forewarned, Kemba has a protective side too. She stays on high alert for perpetrators to those of us she perceives as more vulnerable, like babies, the elderly and of course, me.  All bets are off if Kemba thinks that any of those she has chosen to protect may be in harm’s way.  If another dog approaches us on our walks in a seemingly aggressive way (i.e., if they so much as look at us), or the UPS guy simply rings the door bell, Kemba turns into a beast.  It’s all out “full protection mode” as she barks ferociously, teeth bared and hair on end.  She basically terrifies anyone nearby.  Though it might be great if I truly was coming into harm’s way, most of the time Kemba’s reaction is way over-blown for the circumstances. <sigh>  Such is life with a GSD.

Kemba and I go on long walks almost every day. In addition to being my guard dog and protector, Kemba has another very important purpose for our walks. She is determined to slowly and thoroughly sniff every leaf, twig or blade of grass over which any other creature in the animal kingdom has crossed.  I, on the other hand, am out for a fitness walk.  For me, that means we need to go as fast as possible, covering as much distance as possible in as little time as possible.  Thus, when Kemba’s radar is pinging from one thing to another, it can become painfully tedious for me to stop and wait for her every few steps as she completes her sniffing ritual. I  confess I sometimes even get a bit annoyed.  I often think or say, “For goodness sake, Kemba, can we just goooooo…?????”   (Insert any relevant emoticons here, lol.)

Which leads me to the point of this post.  It occurs to me people get stuck when they approach differences through the lens of their conflicting purposes, or positions.  In our story above, Kemba’s position is she wants to sniff.  My position is I want to walk fast. To move beyond positions, minimize frustration and more successfully resolve our conflict, Kemba and I will need to talk about what is behind our positions, to share one another’s interests. Thus, if Kemba could talk, she would tell me her interests include wanting to sniff in part because it’s a form of mental stimulation.  For her, sniffing is a way to assesses her environment. It gives her important information and supports her survival and maybe even mine too, given she sees herself as my protector. Meanwhile, I want to walk fast because I want to be fit and to age well.  If Kemba and I talked about our interests, we would likely find it quite interesting that, though our positions are different, our interests are actually very similar. Ironically, we share an interest of enhancing our chance of survival! If Kemba and I were two humans and if we were willing to look beyond our conflicting positions and focus instead on understanding one another’s interests, we would very likely be able find a solution that works for both of us.  In the case of Kemba and me, one solution has been to use a retractable leash, which gives Kemba a longer runway when she stops to sniff.  The other is to take her off leash occasionally, as I am confident in her dedication to me and to staying pretty close to my side.

Today’s take-aways:

My Habit:

  1. There are times when I may be standing firmly in my position without consciously knowing, much less clarifying with others, my interests.
  2. I miss opportunities to ask others about their interests and particularly need to refrain from assuming I already know what matters to them.

My Lessons:

  1. Clarifying my interests is important when I am frustrated.  It may require slowing down long enough to go below the surface and figure out what really matters to me.
  2. People often avoid talking about what is true for them. They fear being vulnerable and opening themselves to ridicule, judgment or attack.
  3. I could have less stress and less conflict in my life if I were to look for, listen to and be open to understanding both my own and other’s interests.

My Practices:

  1. Notice when there is a positional conflict and create the space to have a conversation that focuses on understanding the interests behind the positions.
  2. Yoga is new to me this year. I want to be intentional in slowing down, opening up and balancing my life.  Before each yoga session I want to state my commitment to take things a bit more slowly, a bit more reflectively with more openness to where others are and where they may be in any given interaction.


Book: Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury








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