2/26/17 “Dogs and Trust”

Good day, team.

Yesterday, I learned that our good friends Bennett and Andy lost their dog Aspen to pneumonia. Their wonderful golden retriever finally succumbed to poor health after fighting off lymphoma for a year.

Aspen was just one of those dogs. When she approached, you just had to pet her. There was something about the way that dog was able to make loving eye contact with you that drew you into a strong, intimate connection. At the same time, Aspen had that playful puppy-like energy that always made you want to run out into the field with her to throw sticks. Nature and travel author Edward Hoagland once wrote, “In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.” In reading this, I realized that with all the dogs I’ve ever had, I was happiest with them when I allowed myself to become a lot more like them.

In thinking of Aspen, I am reminded of the trust equation. I often use this equation with my clients to help them understand what it means to trust others. Here’s the equation:

Trust = reliability + competency + intimacy


So, what does this means? When we begin a relationship with someone, we generally want to know whether he or she is reliable. If we’re meeting someone for the first time at 2 p.m., does she show up? If she’s late, does she call you to let you know she’ll be late? If she doesn’t show up, that’s usually an indication that she can’t be trusted.

Once we verify that someone is reliable, we look to determine whether he or she is competent. Can she actually do what she says she can do? Does she hold up her end of the relationship? Finally, if we determine that she is competent, then over time and with experience, we begin to develop a more intimate relationship with her. That is, we know she has our backs when things get tough. We can rely on her to tell us the truth, no matter how painful it is. And, most important, we know she cares about us and will always try to consider us when doing things that impact us both.

Intimacy is the bond that creates loyalty and a safe place for people to interact. It’s often the difference between a good team and a great team. A good team has players that are reliable and competent but not necessarily intimate. Great teams always have that intimate connection, and the players are always there for each other, no matter what.

All of these qualities are divided by self-orientation when it comes to trusting others. No matter how reliable or competent we are or even how intimate we are able to be with others, if our partners think we’re only engaging with them for our own benefit, they won’t trust us. Conversely, someone may be unreliable at times or not competent, or even struggle with intimacy, but if we know they’re in this for the benefit of us both, we will continue to try to trust them. If we know that our hearts are committed for all of us to succeed, then trust can build within the team.

So, what does Aspen have to do with this? My observation is that most dogs are a great example of the trust equation. Because of their capacity for unconditional love and adoration, we find their self-orientation to be very low and their loyalty extremely high. Perhaps it’s in their DNA to consider what’s most important for the pack and, in particular, for the leader of the pack. That level of devotion is something dogs exhibit to us daily, and it reminds us of how valuable they are in our lives. They may not always be the most reliable, and we may even question their competency when it comes to what we expect of them as dogs, but there’s never any question about their orientation. They love us, no matter what.

A client of mine once said, “Well, I travel a lot for business, and it’s always interesting to come home after a trip and see who’s most happy to see me. As soon as I drive up, our dog Max jumps up on the car door, hell-bent on getting to me as fast as he can. And when I open the door, he’s in my face, all fur and paws and tongue, just completely ecstatic to see me. Once I fend him off, he follows me faithfully as I go into the kitchen to say ‘Hi’ to my wife who’s making dinner and is on the phone. She gives me a slight nod, allows me to kiss her cheek and continues on with her phone call. As Max and I walk into the living room, my kids are watching TV. I give them a hearty ‘Hello,’ and they briefly glance at me and say, ‘Oh, hi Dad,’ and then their full attention is back to the TV. When I finally make it to the bedroom to unpack, there’s Max still right there with me, giving me his full attention and love. There’s never any doubt in my mind about Max’s love and devotion to me. But sometimes I wonder about the rest of the family!”

All the great dogs I’ve known over the past few years — Aspen, Yuba, Bodhi, Molly, Kiwi, Louis, Bruno, Astro, Ashley and Oso — have enriched my life. When I think of them, I realize how they’ve inspired me to unconditionally love others and to not be afraid to trust people.

This week, in memory of Aspen and all great dogs in the world, think of how they love and trust us unconditionally. Consider how much you can gain by trusting others. Do you only trust people when you benefit from something they do for you? Or do you trust them unconditionally because they’re also human? Are you willing to forgive your friends or teammates their momentary foibles or poor behavior because you know we’re all subject to these things and it’s not a good representation of what’s most important about us? How willing are you to be vulnerable with others and allow them to care for you?

Try allowing your natural tendency to love and trust others to emerge. If you have a dog, watch how he or she does it. We can all learn lessons about unconditional love from our canine friends. As the saying goes, “The more people I meet the more I like my dog.”

Have a good week,


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