For A Bunch of Dumb Dogs, They’re Pretty Smart

Bounced in the meadows.

Ripped through the underbrush.

Splashed in the creek.

I released the hounds and they…




Daisy and Lily, two yellow labs, joined my pup Penny and me on a hike through the woods and meadows at an out-in-the-country county park. The dogs embodied pure delight as they romped together.

Lily the Sprinter, Penny the Follower, and Middle-of-the-path Lily

I must admit one thing up front. I love the basic nature of retrievers. They explore their surroundings with exuberance. At the same time, they aren’t about to abandon you. If they go beyond sight—their sight of you, not your sight of them—then they come back to make sure you’re still around. They adjust their explorations to your wanderings. They may venture off the beaten path, but they’ll return to assure themselves you’re all headed in the same general direction.

When paths diverge and choices must be made, they may take a few tentative steps in one direction, but they have no confidence in their choice until they see you’ve joined them. If you turn in the other direction, they return to the divergence then barrel down the new path with enthusiasm.

Here are some things I observed and pondered during our afternoon jaunt.

1.) Dogs have personality. Lily burst in and out of the thickets. She plunged down the embankment and into the creek. The cleared path was a mere suggestion mostly ignored. She ventured the farthest the fastest.

An older Daisy trotted down the middle of the path. She moved at a slower, more leisurely pace and didn’t care two woofs about keeping up with the more energetic Lily.

Playful Penny chased after Lily. She never took the lead but always followed.

2.) Dogs don’t worry about trying to be something they aren’t. They are comfortable in their own skins. Lily ran. Daisy walked. Penny followed. And they never changed.

3.) Dogs need community. When we headed back toward the car, something interesting happened. Lily the sprinter disappeared from our little pack. I could hear her crashing through the weeds then splashing in the creek. At the same time, Daisy and Penny remained nearby and within easy view.

Lily barked.

I said, “Up here, girl,” and continued to call her until she reappeared.

This happened a second time.


“Up here.”


Lily loved exploring but she also needed the reassurance of the pack.

It’s interesting to ponder the personality of pups but it doesn’t do us much good unless we can learn from the observations. So here’s what I figure about us.

1.) We have distinctive personalities. Some people may be similar. None are the same.

During my missionary days, Frank Decker, the Russian Far East director, came from the U. S. to lead our group in some training and team building. One session dealt with leadership styles based on a personality inventory.

A numbered strip of paper hung on the wall and encircled our apartment living room. Each team member received a number based on his or her answers to the personality inventory.

Frank instructed us to find our number on the wall then stand under it. Our eight-member team stretched from one end of the leadership spectrum to the other. The survey illustrated something the team already knew from our time together in country. Our personalities differed widely (and, at times, wildly).

2.) We worry about the differences. Unlike dogs, we don’t feel comfortable in our own skins. We clash with certain personalities and wish they were different. “Why does he have to cut up all the time? Why can’t he be more serious like me?”

Or we envy other people’s strengths. The quiet person wishes she could be more forthcoming. The extrovert wishes he could listen better.

I wish I had the organizational skills of a Michael Hyatt. I have long-term goals and make out daily to-do lists. I really do. I’m going to get organized one day. I really am.

But I lose the lists, get bogged down in the details, and slowly sink into the muck and the mess of my disorganized mind.

I must not be right in the head.

Ever feel like me?

3.) We need community to learn the truth about who we are. If you’ve read my blog long enough, you know I play the community note a lot. Within the context of community, we explore who we are and where we fit in the One’s grand scheme.

Let me explain by way of something I did as a kid (and maybe you did too). I remember standing in front of a large mirror. While looking at my reflection, I would admire my bat swing. I hit well in front of the mirror. I won many a World Series game in front of the mirror. I was a great ballplayer in front of the mirror.

But in the context of the community called Little League, my real personality and abilities emerged. I found I didn’t have great hitting skills. I also learned baseballs thrown in my direction scared the pee out of me (seriously, I had the wet pants to prove it).

I wouldn’t have learned my strengths (and I did have a few) or my weaknesses if I’d only stood and admired myself in the mirror. I needed a community to help me see who I really was.

Question: How has community helped you develop and understand who you are?

About tnealtarver

I've traveled and spoken around the world but always love to come home. There I eat exceptional meals, drink coffee to my heart's content, and get loved like nowhere else on earth. I believe a community centered in Christ should be all that and so much more.
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