Friday, March 30, 2007
A few weeks ago at the library, I picked up the CDs for the book Cesar's Way. The author Cesar Milan is also known as the Dog Whisperer. What a name! I was excited to hear more from him since we have a 6-7 month old dog named Lucy. We got Lucy back in January from Mike and Kim, fellow Christians at the Contact Church. Mike and Kim get several dogs dropped at their doorstep, so they have a ministry to provide homes for these dogs. They called us about Lucy, and after some "counting the cost" discussions, Sarah, Miriam, and I took her into our lives. We are rather behind in knowing how to help a dog get trained, so Cesar was a welcome friend in helping us (and also Mike and Kim).
In the midst of listening to him (and watching him also on a DVD), here are some insights that have helped me from dog training in applying them to youth ministry (I hesitated to post this, but it really has helped me gain insight into how to train and nurture youth--though I heartfully acknowledge that they are not animals):
1. Dogs have a dog psychology, not a human psychology. Cesar says that we tend to humanize dog behavior with our own human psychology. Dogs need an alpha dog to lead the pack, to show them how to live. If you don't become the alpha dog, they will. Dogs also live in the present moment, not in the past and the future. Sounds like the ways things work with youth to me. If there is not a clear leader, then youth will take the reins. The ability to live in the present is often under-appreciated by adults, but we are often poor at this. This also means that the lesson you taught youth yesterday could be forgotten today and then tomorrow. The lessons have to be repeated over and over.
2. Dogs respond best to calm, assertive energy. Cesar says that Oprah is the best example of this, although I've seen her lose her "cool" a few times. Dogs, like youth, can feel the energy. When we get frustrated, they can feel it, and often that energy damages the relationship. From deep within our core, we can respond to youth in a calm, assertive way. I find myself wanting to be in check when my anger starts to rise. Maybe I'm taking their actions or behaviors personally. Maybe I'm making too much of something or come with unrealistic expectations.
3. Dogs need exercise, nutrition, and affection--in that order!! Last week, during Spring Break, we had a day with the teen boys devoted to basketball. We played from 1 PM, took a short supper break, and then played until 8:00PM. This verified a theory that Matt Hurley, a co-worker of mine, and I have held. These boys could play ball all day long. Around 4:30 PM, I noticed that the teens starting picking at each other and getting annoyed a little bit easier. Time to load up and eat at CiCi's Pizza. Throughout the day, we had times to stop and talk about being role models for the younger guys and how well they could do that. They listened a lot better because the first two needs were met.
4. Dogs get frustrated and need ways to channel that energy. Cesar points out that dogs get so much energy built up that they get frustrated and don't know what to do with it all. He tends to work with strong breeds of dogs the most since they are such high-energy dogs and owners don't know how to help them. He will get a Pit Bull on a leash, put some roller blades on, and go for a ride. The Pit Bull won't listen to anything before the ride. After the challenge of keeping up with Cesar, he is tired and better able to listen. I believe that youth have the same trouble, so much frustration is built up which comes out in awkward or hurtful ways. This can be redirected into exercise or an activity as a distraction, and then you can talk later about what was going on back there.
5. Dogs need to be rehabilitated, owners need to be trained. Cesar believes that since dogs are naturally pack animals, as they live with humans, they forget how to be dogs. In his words, he needs to help them to "learn how to be a dog again." He rehabs them and helps the owners to know how to let their dog be a dog. Often I wonder how much of problems that arise with youth is the junk--emotional baggage, sins unconfessed, addictions, misunderstandings from not listening-- that parents/adults carry in themselves. This is the junk that we then pass onto them. Don't get me wrong, I believe youth can be rebellious and choose wrong. I just think that youth, in the city or suburbs or rural areas, often have to grow up way too fast because adults are not being the grown-ups that they should be. Teens often need to "learn how to be youth again" in this season of life.