Written By: Hans Appel
“The more I learn about PEOPLE,
the more I like my DOG”
I’m a dog lover! I’ve had dogs my entire life. I’m that guy who enjoys seeing pictures of other people’s baby puppies. I make no apologies...
There’s nothing I enjoy more than coming home to my baby Sheltie (similar to miniature Collies for those non-dog people). Shelties come from a long line of worker dogs who are very smart and originally were trained to herd sheep. They require lots of exercise, attention, and time. And that’s fine by me, because I love them unconditionally. My 6 year old Maya loves to go on daily walks. Each day, my wife and I take Maya for at least a 3 mile walk. Sometimes we go 5-6 miles and on occasion we take her 10+ miles...she’ll walk as long and as far as we choose to go. Sometimes we both take her while other days, it's only one of us. But Maya walks EVERYDAY, rain or shine!
Her daily walks are critical to her routine, happiness, and fitness...and she actively reminds us if we’re running late for our morning walk. On a good day, Maya gets barked at by Rocco, the neighbor schnauzer (we think she has a crush on him), or sees a squirrel and/or rabbit. On a great day, we venture to walk by the Columbia river, drive to a forest hike in Mt. Rainier or see a baby deer in the woods near Suncadia. On an exceptional day, Maya wakes up on vacation in Santa Monica which includes a walk along Ocean Ave, breakfast outdoors at the Courtyard Kitchen, and a stop at the dog bakery. Make no mistake, she loves EVERY days’ walk.
Without fail, my wife and I notice landmines of dog poop on sidewalks, streets, and other surprise locations. Since we’re so diligent about cleaning up after Maya, we always wonder, who are these people who aren’t cleaning up after their animals? I imagine the arrogance and indifference someone must have to observe their dog going potty and then simply ignoring it. Perhaps, their thinking to themselves: ‘someone else can clean that up.’ Such selfishness irritates me and has gotten me thinking...If the roles were reversed and the dogs were expected to do the cleanup, I can’t imagine a dog being this character weak…
Dogs have exceptional character. Furthermore, their incredible judges of other's character. Oh, I know. The non-dog folks are rolling their eyes at this, actually they may have already given up on this blog post. But here’s the thing, dogs are incredible at identifying the energy, emotions, or intentions in others. They make exceptional therapy, service and emotional support animals. Caesar Milon reminds us to be the pack leader in our home as dogs inherently look to adults for leadership but can spot inauthenticity like nobody’s business.
But dogs are more than just keenly observant. They’re CharacterStrong. They have a commitment to their loved ones that shows up as soon as you walk through the door. A human has NEVER greeted you like a dog greets you. They absolutely love when their family arrives home. Dogs demonstrate patience when your figuring out how to train them or how to help them when they don’t feel well. They’re selfless and kind in their actions with children in the home. Often times, dogs are intensely protective of newborn babies and can be incredibly gentle with small children. They always respect the pack leader and are quick to forgive when we fail to feed them on time or discipline them for something they don’t understand. If you catch your dog doing something their not supposed to do, they demonstrate honesty by hanging their head and putting their tail between their legs.
And these Character traits can be learned even after horrible animal abuse and neglect. My good friend, Kim Hobbick volunteers at Pets OVER Populated Prevention (POPP). She helps find forever homes for rescues, strays, and lost animals. Many of these dogs end up in her care because their unwanted or forgotten. However, with some training and love they make miraculous turnarounds. Kim and her fellow volunteers have even created a student leadership program that gives kids an opportunity to work with these wonderful animals. We’ve had a number of students involved with POPP and have found it to be a fantastic leadership experience.
Maya always enjoys making yearly appearances at the Pooch & Pal Run & Walk Charity Event. This usually involves several television appearances as Maya helps Kim promote the special event. Indeed, dogs are incredible character role models.
Of course, humans don’t always model amazing character for our animals. Maya genuinely loves almost everyone. She’s uber friendly and super sweet. And unless she senses danger or concern, she generally assumes good in all. On the other hand, we do have to routinely encourage her to Choose Love toward the vacuum, mailman, and microwave. But nobody’s perfect! Despite her amazing disposition, my wife/I noticed something a while back.
One of our older neighbors had a dog named Ichibon. Now, while Ichibon was a nice dog, Ichibon’s owners were...well....kinda...grumpy. To be honest, we never really connected with these folks and over time, although I’m ashamed to admit it, we really didn’t enjoy them. While Maya was initially indifferent to Ichibon, she quickly began growling or barking anytime she would see him in the neighborhood. And not a playful bark but a deeper angrier sound.
Yeah, that’s right...my wife and I had unintentionally trained Maya to hate this dog (and by association our neighbors). Now here’s the sad thing, Ichibon passed away a couple years ago; but, Maya still growls and barks whenever we walk past those neighbors. It’s kind of embarrassing! For a dog that's so well behaved in all other settings, locations, and experiences...her dislike of this one family...overrides her sense of right and wrong. Of course, she would never hurt them but there’s a resounding dislike despite their dog no longer even being around. Obviously, this isn’t some canine hate crime confession and it’s probably something we could’ve and should’ve trained out of her, if we didn’t find it amusing at first. However, it goes to show you how much WE still have to learn about character. Humans could learn a lot from our canine companions. Additionally, it’s important to be aware of how influential we all are on the people (or in this case: animals) we lead.
Award Winning Culture takes the time to see the good in everyone by learning their individual strengths and stories.
Sadly, we’ve never taken the time to learn our neighbor’s story. It’s kinda scary to realize how quickly and intensely Maya picked up on our slight annoyance with them. On pure nonverbals alone, Maya learned that WE don’t like THEM. In a world with ever increasing anxiety, hate, and violence and decreasing empathy, this has startling implications to education. Imagine this in our schools…
*I wonder if students know who your favorites are?
*I wonder what energy you're giving off about your
*I wonder if parents pick up on your feelings and attitude about your colleagues?
*I wonder how the lounge gossip travels around the school community?
*I wonder what unintentional signals we’re giving off as the 'pack' leader?
*I wonder how lovely our world could be if we followed the Character lead of man’s best friend?
My challenge to educators is to take a close look at your own words, actions, and feelings at school. We MUST avoid creating bias, negativity, and alienation through our unknowing influence on others. And even more importantly, we must increase our tolerance, love, and respect for others by learning their stories. Above all KINDNESS and EMPATHY WIN! Afterall, character is winning the daily battles of what you want to do vs. what you should do...
TODAY….I’M STRIVING TO BE THE PERSON... MY DOG THINKS I AM.
About the Author
Hans Appel has worked as a counselor in the Richland School District for the past 18 years and at Enterprise Middle School since it opened. He’s passionate about school culture, servant leadership, and kindness. In 2018, EMS was awarded the ASCD Whole Child Award for the State of Washington and the Global “Class Act Award” for creating a culture of excellence through kindness, service, and empathy. Recently, Hans launched his own blog about School Culture and this fall rolled out a student-led leadership podcast called Award Winning Culture: Hosted by Wildcat Nation, which can be subscribed, listened or reviewed on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, and Libsyn. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Hans on twitter @hansappel094. Follow AWC on twitter at @awculture or Instagram @awardwinningculture. Wildcat Nation at @emswildcats1 and Instagram @emscounseling #WildcatNation #AwardWinningCulture
Award Winning Culture was created by Hans and Jennifer Appel with the sole purpose of creating an educational mindset of Positive INTENTIONALITY and ACTION; with a daily mantra to make our sphere of influence stronger through Character, Excellence, and Community. Part of AWC's mission is to highlight outstanding educators, companies, and resources that support an Award Winning Culture. Both Jennifer and Hans work at Enterprise Middle School aka Wildcat Nation. Wildcat Nation received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness.