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What Dogs Can Teach Us: Leave It

We ask our dogs to LEAVE IT all the time. It’s a handy dog training cue that essentially means “Let it Go.” Ignore that food on the ground. Stop fixating on that squirrel in the tree. Don’t snark at that other dog. Yes, I know he’s being rude, but keep on walking. We ask, and if we’ve done all the groundwork, our dogs often comply. They let it go. They move on.

The things that cause our dogs to react are just triggers, after all. They typically bode no real intent. LEAVE IT, we tell our dogs. It isn’t real. It isn’t scary. It isn’t important … is what we mean. Focus on me, we promise, and everything will be fine.

Much like reactive dogs, reactive people lash out over some seemingly small trigger — be it a real or imagined transgression. Usually, the actual issue is something else entirely.

Once past threshold, as the research shows us, everyone around them goes on a rollercoaster ride of emotion.

Unleashed, that kind of fury cannot be called back.

Unlike most “dog fights,” which often amount to little more than noise and movement, people do real damage with their words and through their actions.

Sometimes what’s said and what’s done cannot be taken back.

A snark is one thing. An unprovoked attack that reaches beyond the moment is another. It’s true with dogs. It’s true with people.

Irrevocable. That’s the word for it. Irrevocable.

Being a trigger sucks. Cast in the role of villain in some drama I didn’t even know existed, I now look to Lilly for guidance.

LEAVE IT, she tells me. It isn’t important.

I’m trying to believe her because so many times before she believed me.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Jana Rade - August 3, 2011

Awesome! How come I missed this post when it came out?

    Roxanne Hawn - August 3, 2011

    You must have been busy that day or something, @Jana. Rather than opening a can of whoop ass, which is what I REALLY wanted to do, I wrote this a while back.

Stephanie - Wasabimon - October 14, 2010

Oh dear, you made me cry. This is such a good piece. True essay material.

Kris Bordessa - October 7, 2010

I’ve been in that position, and this is excellent advice. I hope I can remember it next time!

Jennifer Margulis - October 6, 2010

I’m so sorry you had to deal with an inappropriately reactive person. And so glad that your dogs can help guide you and protect you and make the situation not as awful as it must have been.

Hugs to you.

KB - October 6, 2010

I look to my dogs all the time for guidance on “leave it” and moving on from our human conflicts. But, it sounds like yours may be harder to leave. I’m so sorry that even more stuff is going on around you. I especially hate when stuff like that blindsides me. I’ve experienced that recently and it just stinks.

Aly - October 6, 2010

if only we had handler’s who could give us a well-timed “leave it” when most appropriate. Nice insight!

Ruth Pennebaker - October 5, 2010

Excellent, moving, wise post. I’m hoping it all gets better. Thinking of you.

MyKidsEatSquid - October 5, 2010

Great advice Roxanne. Although my dog is still trying to master leave it, I think it’s something I need to figure out too. We often talk before we think, huh?

Melanie Haiken - October 5, 2010

Really love the power of using this phrase (in the commanding tone you’d use for a dog) for this situation. So clever! I just joined a therapy group that’s working on this very “life skill.” Think I might share this with the group!

Jesaka - October 5, 2010

I love the power behind “leave it.” It’s short, simple and commands on-the-spot action. Definitely going to use this next time I find myself boiling over!

Christine - October 5, 2010

I love this; what a great reminder. To leave it, and move on. There is so much more out there to pay attention to!

Susan - October 5, 2010

Boy can I relate to that! I’m a passionate, creative person who cares deeply about people and projects, which for me also means I have a bit of a short temper. This is a great reminder to take a breath and leave it.

Frugal Kiwi - October 5, 2010

Great advice. So hard to leave it sometimes, though.

Alexandra - October 5, 2010

Loved this post! So true.

LorieAHuston - October 5, 2010

I’m so sorry you have to go through this, Roxanne. I agree with what Alisa said, that people are usually reactive because they’re unhappy. It’s really their problem, not yours. But, of course, you still have to deal with the fallout, which often isn’t easy.

Take that guidance from Lilly, if you can, and LEAVE IT. She’s a smart girl 🙂

And always know that there are people that care about you and support you, whatever happens!

Kerry - October 5, 2010

there is so much going on in other’s lives we don’t know. I am sorry you are having to deal with this, but glad you are finding wisdom and compassion to do so, and that Lilly is a good companion to you as you do.

Alisa Bowman - October 5, 2010

It’s a great mental mantra, isn’t it? I think it helps to know, too, that when people are reactive, it’s usually because they are deluded and unhappy themselves. Like a drowning person, they falsely believe that dragging others down with this will somehow help them survive.

Maery Rose - October 5, 2010

Oh, I hate when that sort of thing happens. Leave it sounds like a good idea. Does it help if some of us get indignant and snarky for you? You deserve so much better, Roxanne.

sheryl - October 5, 2010

Yes, we can learn an awful lot from our dogs. About patience, love and forgiveness. Hope you get the guidance you need from Lilly right now. Sounds like you really need it. I’m thinking of you, Roxanne.

Debbie Jacobs - October 5, 2010

Oh my. Breathe.

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