I came to have Sasha when I got out of the army and settled in Columbus. I went into PetSmart on a whim. She was in a bottom cage in the corner. Chaos and pandemonium were erupting around her. Dogs were barking like you wouldn’t believe, and the metal cage doors were clanging. She was lying quietly in her cage. Her eyes were closed; maybe she was sleeping. I thought she must be deaf or seriously depressed because she was not participating in the surrounding chaos. I walked over to see what response I would get. She stood, stretched, and wagged her tail to say hello. I discovered she was neither deaf nor depressed, she simply behaved in a very relaxed manner.
It reminded me of Jesus in the boat with the disciples during the storm.
We took a walk in the parking lot, and I tried to talk myself out of her but I had been 3 years without a dog. I was not very successful. We got what we needed and went home. We fit together really well, and I began to think about her training.
I did not want to train in a way that would instill fear in Sasha, so I promised both of us that there would be only love and affection for good behavior. Bad behavior would be corrected, but not punished. I believe it is better to be loved than feared. I wanted Sasha to respond to me with love and confidence. I wanted her to voluntarily submit her will to me, not because she would be punished if she didn’t, but because she would become a better dog if she did. There could be no screaming or hitting in the training.
For a woman with anger and control issues, this would be more of a project for me than for Sasha. I am an adult who was fear trained as a child, and I needed to check the progress on my recovery.
This became a spiritual experience for me, because as I trained Sasha to be obedient to me, I began to discover my level of obedience to God. I was not doing nearly as well as Sasha. John 14:23 began to stir in my heart. If a person loves God, they will obey his teaching.
The most important command Jesus gave us is Matthew 22:37—to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. I John 4:18 also began to stir in my heart. There is no fear in love, because love dispels fear. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. I began to think about obedience as being a demonstration of love rather than avoidance of punishment.
Job 12:710 tells us that if we want to know who God is, we are to go ask the animals of creation, and they will tell us their lives are in the hands of their Creator. I believe God uses the natural to show us what He is trying to accomplish in the supernatural. Now, here I am, a very ordinary woman with this very ordinary dog who is trying to proclaim the Gospel with the animal God designed to be “man’s best friend.”
When we talk about fear training, we also have to talk about treat training. The risk of treat training your puppy/children they will love the treat and not you. Anybody, anywhere, anytime can then come and offer your puppy/child a treat and then walk off with your puppy/child. Psalm 37:4 tells us to delight ourselves in the Lord and He will give us the desires of our heart. There is a caveat to this verse. God will give us our heart’s desire when He is sure He will not lose us to that desire.
God wants to be loved for who He is, not what he can do for us. Just as I want to be seen as Sasha’s reward, God wants to be our reward.
Yes God gives us good gifts, but His best gift is Himself. The 2 greatest gifts God has given Sasha is a good master and a willing spirit. Sasha does get treats, but my primary reinforcement for her is my praise and affection. I will also acknowledge that her attention is much more focused when she knows there is a treat involved. I tend to use treats more when she is learning something new. The point I am trying to make is that God’s love and affection for us are so much better than any material blessing He could give us.
Come is the first command I taught Sasha. It was also the first command Jesus gave His disciples. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.” The reason I want Sasha to come to me is because I am the one with the power to change her life. I took her out of the cage in PetSmart. I take the leash on and off. I don’t know what kind of cage holds you or what kind of leash entangles you, but I do know Jesus Christ is the One who wants to change your life, let you out of your cage and untangle your leash.
Sit is the next command Sasha learned. Psalm 46:10 declares, “Be still and know that I am God.” God will be honored throughout the world. He will be honored by every nation. Why is it important to learn to sit? If Sasha will not sit, she will not learn. Sit is the basis for the next commands I teach. If we do not sit with God, we will not learn who God is. If we do not learn who God is, we will not love Him. We do not love what we do not know.
I am not training Sasha for obedience just so I can boss her around or manipulate and control her. I am trying to set her free to be a better dog! I want so much more for her than to just lay around the yard collecting fleas. Jesus Christ wants to set us free from sin and set us free to be His.
A dog who rebels is on a leash, behind a fence, in a cage down at the pound, or dead in the street. But, a dog who has been inspired by love to honor and obey is free to be a joy both for itself and for its master.
I am not suggesting that crates, leashes, and fences are inappropriate. They are safety features and training tools that Sasha has to yield to everyday when she is either not with me or as the law requires. When Sasha and I are taking our daily walks and she takes advantage of being off leash by chasing a cat, I put the leash back on her because she has disobeyed the heel command.
Dogs do not get to choose their owners, and some very capable dogs are never presented the opportunity to learn obedience. So, they live their lives in a crate, on a leash, or behind a fence. Some dogs have great owners who want good opportunities for them, but for unknown reasons, the dog does not take well to training. They may end up behind a fence, in a cage down at the pound, or dead in the street. Sasha’s ability to be obedient allows her a freedom that most other dogs do not have.
How does a dog or a person get to the point of willing, loving, trusting obedience? This is the million dollar question. It is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to that point, but there has to be a willingness to be brought to that point. It is also dependent upon the daily practice of surrendering one’s will to Christ’s care and control.