Archive Post: The Weight of the World

I was recently reading an article about canine training and the evolution of both dogs and popular training methods, and something struck me about how the article defined a dog versus a wolf.  One of the genetic traits that the article pointed to that separated the dogs we have in our homes from their closely related wolf ancestors was that a dog faced with a problem will instinctually look to a human for support, even if there are other dogs around.
    I think this is true of domesticate bred horses as well. I don’t know if the science exists, but I certainly see this try all of the time in horses.  A horse that has little to no human experience will still engage with a person if given the chance, and when presented a problem will quickly turn towards the human as a solution if they are left the room to search.  When I think of how powerful this is, how much hardwired trust and interest there must be for this to occur, it is staggering to me, because with all great powers come great responsibilities.  What does it mean that there are animals in this world that have a faith in the human so deep inside of them, it is literally written into their genes?  What does it mean for us as humans interacting with these critters?  
    It inspires me.  It inspires me to try to be there the first time, and every time, they look to me.  I want to be a better communicator, so that I have something to offer back when they offer me their trust.  I want to be ready for this profound challenge, so that their faith will grow in me.  I often think about how I hope I can make it clear to the animal I’m handling, that their only job is to watch me.  My job, is to worry about everything else.  This is a tricky subject to navigate.  How to be clear and fair, and demonstrate that I am worthy of their trust, but not slide down that slippery slope where our relationship shifts from one of an engaged and interested animal, to one that is without emotions, and is simply obedient.  But, if this engagement is there, and cultivated, what a relief it would be, it could be, to have someone take the weight of the world off their shoulders!  How clear and easy it must feel to know that, under any circumstance, they should follow their domesticated instincts and look to the human, and the human will never fail, so there is no reason to worry about life when with a person.
    It also intimidates me, because I worry about what will happen when I miss those requests for guidance.  What happens when a core belief is disproven?  Can the animal forgive and ask again, or will they now always have a bit of doubt in them that wasn’t there when they were born, telling them that they might actually be on their own?  I think about this all the time, because I don’t want to be paralyzed by this thought.  Over and over, I see that animals do both of these things; they forgive, and they also retain that sliver of doubt.  For some reason, in most their capacity to forgive seems to outweigh all else when given a reason.  When I watch someone present to their animal that they are willing to take on the weight of the world, so that the animal may just live in the moment with the person, no matter how many years their roles have been reversed, it almost never fails that the animal accepts that offer.  So I suppose the responsibility is always, and completely, on us to know how to make that offer clearly, because the animal is always just waiting for it.