The Puppiness Project – Don’t Fear Conflict

Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about the year she spent “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy.” The Puppiness Project is my attempt to learn the same from Honey, my Golden Retriever.

Honey and friend at the dog park

Would you like to sit down and have a chat?

If you read enough dog blogs, you discover that dog parks are either a harmless outlet for dogs to socialize with fellow canines or the puppy equivalent of a steel cage death match with danger lurking behind every tree.

Is conflict a big deal?

To understand the passion of the controversy, read Eric Goebelbecker’s post, Dog Parks and Why You Should Avoid Them (along with two pages of comments), over at DogStar Daily. Eric argued that dogs don’t need to socialize with other dogs to live a fulfilled life. That definitive statement shows that Mr. Geobelbecker doesn’t shy away from conflict.

What I noticed in the post’s comments is that no one stated that dog parks are without conflict. Where the two sides differed was on how to deal with conflict and whether it was a big deal or not.

Conflict in dogville

If you spend any time around dogs, you’ve probably witnessed a scrap or two. Most of the time the dogs resolve things themselves. Sometimes humans intervene. And, in a very few instances, someone gets hurt.

Most dog battles sound worse than they are. Even play battles sound pretty ferocious. But most of the time, it’s a whole lot of growling, mock biting, and slobbering.

At the dog park, you’ll meet mellow folks who always allow their dogs to resolve their issues, high strung people who leap in hysterically and make the situation worse, and a mob of people who fall somewhere in between. The wise dog people are those who head off conflict before it happens by observing the dogs carefully.

I am definitely more on the high strung side of the bell curve but I’m trying to get better.

Conflict in humanville

I hate conflict and will do anything to avoid it. I even step into other people’s conflicts because just observing them makes me tense and brings out my peacemaking tendencies.

This trait has some benefits. I usually understand differing viewpoints, even when I disagree with them. And I can be very persuasive.

I recently convinced a representative from a government agency to accept my interpretation of their regulations after they denied assistance to one of my clients. I did it by not assuming the person was a faceless bureaucrat but someone who really wanted to help people with their funding, who took her responsibilities of stewardship seriously, and by demonstrating how my interpretation of the regulations helped her meet the funding goals.

I was really proud of that one. Can you tell?

But there’s a dark side too.

I recently read a nasty comment on Facebook posted by a friend of a friend. I tried to use humor to remind this person how mean spirited his comment was just to get an even nastier diatribe in response.

A brief exchange with a virtual stranger made my stomach hurt. And kept me off Facebook for two days.

Conflict in perspective

Golden Retriever chewing treat on porch

I have no conflict with my treat. I want to eat it and it wants to be eaten.

You know the children’s rhyme, “sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me?” Well it’s true.

Coming into contact with the words of a nasty person did nothing to hurt me. Not really. It was just my emotional response to something spewed by someone who probably never gave it a second thought.

I need to toughen up.

It’s not a big deal to avoid conflict with people I don’t know on a public forum. But sometimes I can’t deflect conflict. Some things are too important to back down from. And even if I can’t persuade someone to a different viewpoint, I need to take a stand on principle.

And once I’ve stood up for my viewpoint, I need to shake it off, wipe the saliva off my ruff, and go sniff the next butt.
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  1. I helped get a dog park in my town but I’ve gone only once. It was the casual attitude of the people that turned me around quickly. They seemed to think it was social hour for them. My four little guys were totally intimidated.

    We are fortunate to live just down the street from a state university campus and it is never busy when classes are not in session. The few people who take their dogs there are very conscientious about controlling their dogs.

  2. I disagree that you are truely afraid of conflict. Or am I thinking confrontation? The fact you were able to jump in and persuade a government agent, or defend a friend with humour shows that you have what it takes to fight for what you believe in. Sure, it bothered you when they said horrible things in retaliation, but I think it’s normal to be upset by personal attacks. I am very impressed you put yourself out there in the first place! We need more peacemakers like you in the world. I think I could learn a lot from your approach.

    I guess I fall into the mellow category of dog park goers. I know my dog and I trust her to resolve minor problems on her own. Usually she just barks and then takes off in the other direction. Problem solved! Shiva is very good at setting her own boundaries. The only time I feel it’s necessary to jump in is if the other dog isn’t listening to her very obvious protests, or – more often – she isn’t listening to the protests of another dog. Otherwise, I think it’s important to let them figure it out themselves, kind of like children at a playground. Unless a kid is being bullied, it’s best to let them learn.

  3. Pamela,
    I too hate conflict and I too avoid it any costs, but I also can see both sides to almost any given conflict. I however lack your finesse, peace-making skills, diplomacy whatever you want to call it.

    We don’t take the dogs to the dog park much in the summer, the weather is too nice and the trails are right up the street. We did take them a bit last winter and I found most of the people to be fairly responsible. Most were willing to let the dogs work it out for themselves. It makes me nervous though because I don’t want to have to defend my dog in court because my dog was defending him/herself, it’s much easier just to avoid it.

    I once made a comment on someone’s facebook comment regarding a question. A local radio personality said, “I’m going to Florida, Disney or Universal?” I responded to the comment based upon my thoughts and experiences and someone jumped ugly on me. I stuck up for myself and told him it was my opinion and just because it didn’t gel with his was no cause for him to ridicule me. In retrospect it would have been nice in the person who originally posted the question stuck up for me. I just never posted on any of her comments again. And yes, my feelings were hurt and I reacted emotionally. It amazes me how a complete stranger can at times get me so upset.

    Enough ramble, as usual you have me thinking.

    • Someone got ugly over Disney v. Universal? Some people really need to get a life. And yes, the radio personality should really have been monitoring the comments. No one should allow a fan to be abused.

  4. Pamela, I am so with you in the avoidance of conflict thing. In fact, there’s a blog I used to follow that I gave up on because I found the opinions strident and judgemental to the point of abusive. And no, I didn’t weigh in with my opinion. I just moved on. Who needs to fight with strangers over what makes a responsible pet owner?

    But I will say firmly– I LOVE the dog park. Duh. And I will open myself to SCADS of abuse by stating openly that I’m one of those people you all hate because (gasp) I talk to other dog owners instead of playing with my dog. See, my dog likes to chase balls. He will fight with another dog over balls. So we don’t play ball at the dog park. I chat, he sniffs around, and we all shake our heads at his inept social skills with other dogs. Know what my dog park friends tell me? They say, “Keep bringing him. He’s come so far. He’s improved so much. And he’s so beautiful.”

    I do not have a single personal friend who owns a dog. Scout’s honour. If I didn’t go to the dog park, I’d have no one to talk to in real life about dogs. (One day I might meet some of you, but I haven’t yet.) Plus it affords me an escape from from my small community into a more pluralistic, multi-cultural world. If Mr. Geobelbecker thinks that makes me a bad dog owner because I go to the park for myself as much as for the dog… I guess I’ll have to cry myself to sleep, get up tomorrow, and manfully face the rest of my life knowing this dude disapproves of me. Sigh.

    • Lori – I talk at the dog park too. I don’t mind people standing and talking to one another as long as they are aware of where their dog is at any given time. Most;y we all walk and talk and the dogs run. My personal issue is with the folks on cell phones the whole time and don’t even know where their dog is or what they are up to. I’m one of the people who tries to prevent before anything happens, although I suppose people might think me the reactionary one because I react to prevent and they see someone reacting when there’s nothing going on. I think it’s great you take “our friend” to the dog park as long as he loves it and you do too. That’s my dog people connection too. :)

      • Well, now that I read this again I can see how judgmental this sounded. What I was trying to say is I don’t have a problem with dog parks, love them and I think it’s great that you take “our friend” to them.

        Since I’m =one of those who tries to prevent the conflict before it begins, I often wish that people would be aware of where their dogs are at any given time so the rest of us who are there don’t have to keep an eye on their dog for them. I’ve seen too many dogs get into trouble because their owner wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. It scares me when a dog is attacked and no one prevented it.
        Sorry Lori!

  5. I avoid conflict like the plague and I understood every word of what you wrote! Life would be a lot easier if I could just bark at somebody once, give them the stink eye for five minutes or so, and then completely forget about it!

  6. No dog parks here. Wouldn’t go if there were, for obvious reasons. lol I avoid conflict as well, but when I am pushed and is personal, I will stand up for myself. And it takes a lot for me to be pushed.

    I would probably fall into the peacekeeper role, among dog fights and people, but most of those are very small personal conflicts or in a business relationship. The rest I take as everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’ve been through too much in my life to be a good judge, but I do have a fairness for empathy and understanding where each party if coming from. Sometimes seeing both sides makes for it’s own conflict.

    I have always enjoyed your post that show your two-sided view. It is always good to open the mind.

  7. I’m totally non-confrontational and a coward to boot and I am also non-judgmental. Which makes me quite boring too:) But women at work often ask me for advice about all sorts of things so I guess I must have some redeeming qualities?

    I’ve had a similar FB experience which scared the living daylights out of me!

    I can only remember Frankie having scraps with one particular dog, a female border collie/siberian husky mix belonging to one of our Rally O instructors. She is quite stroppy and took offense at Frankie going into the dog club grounds for a while. He stood up to her when she came at him all guns blazing and after a few episodes of this Fusion decided he was OK after all. But he also doesn’t like every dog he meets and I’m always on guard as I don’t know which ones he will like and which he won’t. Having said that, it’s well over a year since he’s met a dog he didn’t like. Oh, apart from Buster the Boxer who has the most fabulous parents and we all just let them sort themselves out.

    You know, I can’t understand why everyone can’t just be nice?

    • I can’t understand it either! Especially when the people are on the same team and care about the same things. It baffles me. This is why I am too scared to talk to strangers!

  8. I try to avoid conflict but the older I get it tends to find me more:(

  9. Your post is so very timely. HumaneWatch hammered a BTC post last night. The battery of false accusations had my feathers pretty ruffled … until I had a chance to step back, breathe and have a little sleep on it. Today offers clarity, direction and a simple statement of fact in response. Did anything said on that post change? Not in the least. Like you iterate, the change happened within me as I worked through my own emotional reaction.

    As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl says, “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” Frankl

    In that moment of choice, we discover the power of our true self.

  10. I, too, prefer to avoid conflict, especially on Facebook as I consider it my “happy place”. Unfortunately, there are times when it seems to find its way to me. When that happens, I try to keep this in mind:

    How a person treats you is their karma.
    How you respond to it is yours.

    It may not be perfect, but it works for me.

  11. I read your post yesterday and it rang true for me then, but even more so today with all the brouhaha on BtC4Animals. When someone barks me, my first response is to think “Is it something I said?” But there are certain things that you need stand your ground for and bark back, if necessary. Still I try to choose my battles carefully.

  12. What an interesting topic. Thanks to Vicki for sharing it.

    I’m guessing most people think I’m the one who seeks conflict based on recent events, but I actually hate conflict. I avoid it if I can, with the exception of anything related to puppy mills and a few animal welfare issues. Those two issues I am willing to stand up for if I believe a wrong is being done or perpetuated.

    However, when I disagree with someone, I try to engage them in a reasoned way. I prefer to have a discussion (less conflict) to a shouting match (more conflict). I don’t know about you, but it seems like reasoned discussion, where each person gets a chance to speak, each listens to one another and tries to understand the other person’s point of view, seems to be lacking these days. I enjoy having people share their points of view. I prefer to learn than attack.

    I think dogs prefer to learn too. I think they prefer to avoid conflict for the most part, but sometimes how they speak to one another can look like conflict. With a few exceptions, they seem to resolve most issues themselves. That doesn’t mean I’m not watching and ready to intervene if needed. Dogs can teach us humans a lot of things.

    By the way, kudos on your successful persuasion with the gov’t rep. Can I hire you?

  13. I think there’s a difference between avoiding conflict and choosing to handle a potential conflict/disagreement in a calm way. Some people take pride in the fact that they “don’t avoid conflict” when what they really mean is that they’ll get in people’s faces and try to shout them down or engage in loud and direct confrontations. I choose to shy away from those – I don’t see the point. Shouting at me or getting in my face isn’t going to get me to change my mind – it’s just going to make me angry and dismiss that person as unreasonable.

    It sounds to me like you see conflict coming, and you choose to address it but in a more subtle way. I tend to think that’s the smarter way to address conflict if possible – calmly and rationally explaining your interpretation of the regulations at play (PS – you rock!), or atttempting to alert someone to the fact that they’re being mean by making a humorous comment to alert that Facebook poster that perhaps they’ve stepped over the line. Unfortunately, that person was too dense to catch the social cue you were sending and decided to be a jerk. Sometimes, it’s not worth the effort to engage jerks like that – it’s not so much conflict avoidance as choosing not to beat your head against a wall. :)

    I think you’re right – there’s no need to fear conflict. I prefer to say that I dislike conflict, but will engage in it when necessary or I think that it’s worth standing my ground. However, I’ll do it on my terms and in my way. The person who can argue a point calmly and rationally is the one who is the winner in my book, not the person who is the loudest.

  14. I have a tendency towards being the “peace keeper”. I truly dislike conflict, usually to a fault :( It’s hard when people are hurtful, and hard to “shake it off” when you feel like you’re just trying to do the right thing :)

    I have always kept an eye on my dog at the dogpark and been frustrated by the people that just let their dogs run wild . .it’s another one of those things that I’m working on!!