Bring your life into balance

Empathy works. It always does.

Puppy training and skillful means

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Image courtesy to Commons CreativeTraining a puppy is like training yourself in skillful means.

Thich Nhat Hanh describes skillful means as the ability to deliver your message in a way that liberates the listener. It is the skillfulness to adapt your message, so that your friend gets what you’re talking about and taps into the unlimited wealth of peace, love and freedom within themselves. Someone with skillful means understands the inner experience of their friend and changes his message accordingly.

It is not about thinking what is right, being stuck in dogma’s, or how things should be done. Skillful means is only about what works.


I realize I have not been that skillful in training the puppy to listen to me, to understand her place in the pack, and to be safe around the kids.

After I see Luna play with other dogs, I know how to change my training strategy. She bites the dogs, jumps on them, almost attacks them. And they bite back, chase her around, push her away. And from the wagging of the tails, I can tell they are playing and loving it. They are excited to be together and be buddies.

All of a sudden I understand that I have tried to impose my language on her. I am trained in Nonviolent Communication and have learned to ask people to contribute to my needs, to give from their heart, from the joy of giving. And if they don’t want to, to guess the needs they are trying to fulfill by not supporting your request. And then find a solution that works for everyone and every need.

That probably is not the language of a puppy.

This puppy understands me grabbing her in the neck when she bites, pushing her down when she is too riled up, giving her treats when she listens, being petted when she calms down. A simple strategy of admonishment and rewards.

It seems more manipulative, yet it creates the same results: everyone’s needs are supported. The kids need for safety, the puppy’s for belonging, and I feel relieved that I don’t need to be on edge all the time.

I guess that is skillful means.


You want help to develop your skillful means and support everyone’s needs? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session. I would love to help!

Author: Elly van Laar

I am a coach. I specialize in helping mission-driven professionals bring their lives into balance. I have a Master's degree in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands. I'm currently in an ICF-coaching certification program. I love meditation, walking, gardening, biking, and hanging out with family and friends.

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