I remember that dog fight—exactly a year ago, on another hot August day. Litter-mates Mamba and Rosebud were camped out in the shade on the north side of our house. Rose lay beside a bowl of kibble, and Mamba lazed about six feet away.
“Aw, Rosie,” I said. “You guarding your food? Your sister wants some, too, you know.” I toed the bowl toward Mamba.
Almost as if a ventriloquist had thrown a fake growl, a quiet rumble came from our perennially-happy Rosebud.
Instantly, Mamba flew at her sister, seized her cheek, and shook.
Instantly and violently.
Rose, the side of her face clamped in Mamba’s jaws, managed to curl toward Mamba’s foreleg and sink her teeth.
The fight was on.
It was horrible. They slashed each other across the lawn, fangs bared like wolves, their snarls as vicious as any I’ve ever heard.
Of course I intervened. I sprayed them with the hose and screamed. When that didn’t work, I foolishly jumped into the fray and yanked collars.
They fought on.
When I threw a blanket over them, Rose saw her sister compromised and launched at her with renewed fury.
For ten minutes they battled. Then twenty. Twenty-five. They tumbled through the fence and into the pasture toward the woods, their wounds gaping, blood flowing. I phoned my husband, then raced for help from a neighbor.
We returned to an eerie quiet. A search of yard, field and woods turned up nothing. Only when we circled the house did we find the dogs lying on opposite sides of the garage, bloodied and panting.
My husband arrived a half hour later. Assessing the wounds, he retrieved a needle, suture and scissors from his veterinary truck—but no lidocaine. He knelt beside Rose.
“Aren’t you going to numb her first?” I asked.
“Nope. With all that adrenaline pumping through her right now, she won’t feel a thing.” Sure enough. He quilted both girls’ injuries and neither one so much as flinched.
After a few grim weeks, they recovered, but the friendly camaraderie they had enjoyed since their birth five years earlier had vanished. They wanted nothing to do with each other. Though their estrangement gradually subsided, it took months before they stopped eyeing each other suspiciously.
Today, all’s well. But that fight taught me a few things about conflict that apply to more than dogs. Whether I’m encountering a minor disagreement or a potentially relationship-shattering blowout, I’ll handle it differently next time.
Here’s what I’ll try to do:
1. GET ALL THE FACTS
I’ll search for facts beyond the ones already influencing me. I’ll suspend blame and judgment and listen to objective details from those involved.
Facts: Rose growled because Mamba was eating her food. Dogs growl about things like that.
Facts: Mamba attacked. Alpha dogs don’t take kindly to usurpers.
Facts: Before the snarling and biting began, I upset the order of things. I forgot dog rules and fed them both from one bowl: Rosie’s.
2. QUESTION THE STORY I’M TELLING MYSELF
Things aren’t always what they seem to be. The story I tell myself about the facts may not be accurate. In other words, my perception may not be reality.
I heard Rose growl and saw Mamba attack. Then I told myself that Rose shouldn’t have growled and Mamba shouldn’t have attacked her. If I had considered facts about dogs and questioned that assumption, I may have responded differently. Instead, I probably made things worse by overreacting.
3. OWN MY ROLE IN THE CONFLICT
When I admit what I contributed to the problem, I’ll be less likely I’ll be to repeat whatever fed the conflict.
Once the furor died down, I asked myself who was more to blame, Rose or Mamba— certain one of them was the instigator. When my husband quietly said “Neither,” the light went on. Whether my role was 5 percent or 90 percent, I needed to own it if I wanted to avoid the same problem in the future.
4. PAUSE AND PRAY FOR WISDOM
Yes, even in the middle of a dog fight.
When I feel threatened or afraid, my rational thinking suffers and I go into flight or fight mode. In that state of mind, I won’t make the wisest or most loving decisions, and I may say or do something that only amplifies the problem. Instead of reacting, I can trust God to help and quiet me.
5. FOCUS ON THE RELATIONSHIP, NOT ON BEING RIGHT
True relationship reconciliation (which usually involves dying to self-interest) mirrors what Christ did for all of us—and opens the door to even more of Love’s great work.
On the other hand, when I care more about being right than about creating safety and trust in my relationships, I risk alienation and mistrust.
I heard once that conflict handled badly is always about winning. Much like a dog fight, yes?
How do you handle dog fights? I’d love to hear.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
“A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.” Proverbs 15:18
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry . . .” James 1: 19
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