When have you witnessed an animal overcoming fear or anxiety to burst into the light of self-confidence?

Facing Your Fears

We often take Leaf to the dog park.  We especially like the one that has a river running through it.  At this park Leaf runs, plays, explores, and has a great time.

On a recent November day Leaf was having a lot of fun.  I (Allen) would throw the ball into the river, making sure it didn’t float out too far. Leaf would go in after it with only a bit of hesitation as he evaluated the distance and possible challenges.

We walked the long distance to where there is an inlet of still water from the fast-moving river. The water in this inlet is dark, undisturbed, and appears to be deep. It’s unlike the river where there are all sorts of activities with dogs jumping in, small waves from the boats passing by, and people chatting and throwing sticks into the water while intermittently sipping on their Starbucks coffee.

This inlet also had a few ducks swimming nearby. But the real difference was how still the dark surface of the water was, as if there were unknowns lurking below it.

Leaf loves his black-and-white ball.  He lives to chase and find it, often running into the water and retrieving to bring back the ball for more tosses.

After we arrived at the inlet I threw Leaf’s ball into this different type of water. He hesitated.  He looked at the ball and at me. I said, “You can do this.”  It was not that far for him to swim and retrieve the ball, maybe six feet away from where he stood on his short legs with water up to his knees.

A gentleman sat on a log nearby and watched us.  I learned later that his larger dog was also a rescue. Like Leaf, the man’s dog had become a wonderful friend and companion. The man called out words of encouragement for Leaf to go and get his ball.

Leaf barked at the ball. He whined and whimpered as if pleading with it to return on its own. Since the ball wouldn’t cooperate, Leaf took one careful step after another into the water. It was clear that he did not know if he might be hurt by some unknown danger lying in wait below the surface.

Nearby, maybe three or four feet to the left of where Leaf’s ball floated, an old rather large tree branch had fallen into the inlet.  Leaf looked at the branch. He assessed the situation and worked out a strategy.

Carefully he jumped up onto the long branch and slowly walked toward where his ball floated.  He took one cautious step after another. As he drew closer, I could tell that he still felt conflicted. Should he continue on his quest or retreat to the safety of land?

Bravely he continued onward.  After arriving at the spot closest to his floating ball, Leaf had to make another decision.  Would he jump into the ominous water or retreat from a dive into the unknown?

The gentleman said that watching Leaf’s dilemma and problem-solving skills was the cutest thing he had ever seen a dog do. He commented on how smart Leaf was to find a way to retrieve his ball.  He also observed how conflicted Leaf seemed to be.

I said nothing to Leaf at this point. I knew he needed the freedom to make his own decision.  And he did.

He held tightly to the branch with his paws. He jumped into the murky, still water. His head and body dipped under the surface for a second.  He emerged from the dive, saw his ball, grabbed it in his mouth with determination, and victoriously swam back to shore.

Leaf had conquered his fear. A bright light of new confidence emanated from him.  Both the man who had been watching and I were totally enthusiastic about Leaf and his victory over fear.  He had made the decision to face the unknown, and I was so proud of him.

See Video of Leaf playing at the dog park at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiVo_Jdt8lA

What fears lurk in the dark, still waters of your life? When have you witnessed an animal overcoming fear or anxiety to burst into the light of self-confidence?

Allen and Linda Anderson

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