I searched around for some meaning, some idea of what openness was really about. It’s such a quick word to run off the tongue, seemingly so easy to grab at the meaning of the word, that it isn’t until one pauses and asks oneself do I really, truly know what the word openness means, what it really conveys, that the doubt creeps in.
The dictionary didn’t help that much. Openness noun 1. The condition of being laid open to something undesirable or injurious. 2. Ready acceptance of often new suggestions, ideas, influences, or opinions.
No, that still didn’t offer a clear meaning of the sense of openness that I see in dogs, especially our dogs.
Then my eye wandered up the dictionary page to the entry immediately above openness; to open-mindedness: noun Ready acceptance of often new suggestions, ideas, influences, or opinions : openness, receptiveness, receptivity, responsiveness.
Bingo! Responsiveness, receptiveness! Those terms did speak to me. That’s how I saw the openness in our dogs.
Dogs don’t appear to engage in introspection, they don’t seem to worry about who they are. Their emotions are clear to us! One might say that dogs wear their emotions on their paws. They engage with the human world about them regardless of our human moods and more-or-less impartial to our situations or our choices. We call them and expect them to come. Perhaps, ask them to go to a part of the house if we are going out, or to stay in a place until we tell them they can move. Dogs appear simply to be there for us, as if only on our terms. As much as each day is unique and different, dogs offer a constancy, a reliability, that feels unmatched by us humans.
We depend on our dogs, as do the vast majority of people who have dogs in their lives. They calm us down in times of trouble; give us a better perspective of life’s ‘big picture’. We can so openly share a sense of joy with our dogs. Dogs give us permission to be silly with them, to hug them, to rub their tummies, to roll around on the floor with them. It is possible, easily so, to learn something from a dog every single day simply from observing sufficiently close these beautiful animals. Dogs ask only in return for food, water and affection.
The openness of dogs has been celebrated in many ways, in song and verse, for centuries. It is still to be celebrated today, for today that wonderful quality of openness is still vibrant in our dogs. It seems so much more than just the product of some evolution of nature. Reflect on the incredible range of species, on all that selective breeding, on the many differences in the environments in which dogs live out their lives. So many dogs and yet every one of them coming to us, to meet us, to be with us, just as they are, with no apologies and no covert agendas. As the author Susan Kennedy once said, “Dogs are miracles with paws.”
I have had a dog in my life, my beloved Pharaoh, since 2003. I have had a great number of dogs in my life since meeting Jean in 2007. As many as sixteen and regrettably now down to nine at the time of writing these words. I can’t imagine my life without our dogs. They truly provide unconditional love and they do so without hesitation. It is a simple yet immensely beautiful relationship. That love that we receive from our dogs comes from their openness. A dog’s openness is a gift. A precious, remarkable gift.
Now how on earth can one translate that across to the quality that we humans have to learn; to learn from our dogs? Are there any practical benefits for us in trying to practice the openness we see in dogs? By using the word ‘trying’ I’m admitting some degree of doubt about answering that question in the affirmative. Not doubting that there are benefits, just unclear about how to describe them. Unclear how we humans could ever match the openness of dogs.
So what I am going to do is to try flipping the issue on its head. Just stay with me a little longer.
I have referred to Jon Lavin many previous times in this book. In his world, his world of counselling and therapy, Jon speaks like this. Namely, that in the world of solutions focussed therapy, the area that Jon practices in professionally, the way forward with the person who has come to see Jon is always to focus “on what is working“. Jon explains that while one would initially allow the problems to be voiced, this negativity would always be a tiny piece of the overall process, say less than 5% of the session. That even if a client’s whole world seemed to be failing, there would always be something that was alright, always a 1% that was working, and that would be the place to start.
No better endorsed by the website of the organisation Good Therapy. I quote [my emphasis]:
Solution focused brief therapy (SFBT) targets the desired outcome of therapy as a solution rather than focusing on the symptoms or issues that brought someone to therapy. This technique only gives attention to the present and the future desires of the client, rather than focusing on the past experiences. The therapist encourages the client to imagine their future as they want it to be and then the therapist and client collaborate on a series of steps to achieve that goal.
Returning to the example of openness that we see in our dogs, maybe rather than wringing our hands because we will never be as open as those wonderful dogs around us, perhaps we should flip the idea on its head. Ergo, not strive to be the same as our dogs, just to follow their lead.
In other words, just be more mindful of the need for openness, to practice openness as a conscious idea, and to develop the habits of openness. Holding our dogs up as a marvellous pillar, as a wonderful example, of the goal of greater openness that we all seek.
1,039 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover￼￼￼￼
 I am indebted to Susan Kennedy’s writings for inspiring many of the ideas in this chapter.
 November, 2014
 Solution focused therapy was developed by Steve De Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg, and their team at the Brief Family Therapy Family Center in Milwaukee, USA.