28 ACResolution Magazine
present in a session with two Ph.D. psychologists in the
throes of a divorce. Both had, as one would expect of professionals in general and child psychologists in particular,
presented themselves as reasonable, committed to their
children’s’ welfare and to the importance of cooperation.
Seasoned practitioners are of course wary of such positive weather reports and know that divorces between
professionals, especially therapists, lawyers or doctors,
can quickly turn ugly. They often bring to a dispute an
intensity and passion that few others can muster. Maybe
it is because as experts they know so much, or maybe it
is because for all their training and education they are as
confused as the rest of us and have a harder time admitting it. In any event, professional people, despite claims to
a higher level of rational discourse, can be the most angry,
least reasonable, and most difficult clients. These two
confirmed my suspicions, but no matter how prepared,
you can never be ready enough.
In this particular mediation session, He was screaming
something about how she had betrayed him and the children. She, his wife, sat momentarily still, readying herself
to respond in kind. Rugger, who up to this time had been
laying quietly, now looked up and away, ears down with
an apparent expression of dismay that Labs display when
humans are angry and heated ---they seem to take it
personally. Being opportunistic, I seized the moment for
my intervention: “Folks, I’m sorry to interrupt, but your
discussion seems to be upsetting Rugger.” They stopped
on a dime and apologized. While all of my previous best-devised and well-studied efforts to manage the conflict
were to no avail, they accorded Rugger the special consideration and courtesy he deserved. Dogs are, after all, a
But it only worked for a while. Conflict mediators know
that any particular tactic, no matter how good, seldom
works all of the time. You need a broad repertoire so that
if one technique doesn’t work, there’s another in reserve.
Suffice it to say, the verbal battle between the par-
ties resumed with a vengeance later in the session. This
time however, it was Reilly who offered up an even more
potent intervention strategy unavailable to human conflict
moderators. As ‘He’ again became agitated and animated
with arm outstretched and forefinger pointing toward the
heavens, shrieking about how ‘She’ was destroying his
family and was the sole cause of his and the children’s
ruination, I looked again toward Rugger for my salvation.
This time, however, being old and half deaf, he was fast
asleep. I would learn in later months to surreptitiously
nudge him so that he would lift his head, if for no other
reason, because he was bewildered by the interruption, so
that I could pretend he was disturbed, but this time I was
regrettably stumped. Then I noticed that Reilly, usually
next to Rugger, was not there.
Terriers in general, don’t seem to be as sensitive to
human stuff, so I didn’t immediately think much of it. In
the same instant I realized the man’s tone had suddenly
calmed and I watched the blood in his flushed angry face,
visibly recede. I followed the gaze of his eyes downward
down toward his legs. There was Reilly; he had walked over
and gently placed his chin on the guy’s knee in mid scream
and with what I gauged to be a quizzical expression so as
if to say “what’s wrong, can I do anything?” looked up at
him. A calmness seized the room and by the time I looked
up at him, he was smiling, patted Reilly, and apologized for
No mere mortal mediator could have done the same.
Dogs have a capacity to trigger a human response and
dissipate stress in ways unavailable to other humans.
Since then, there have been countless other examples
revealing their talent as conflict mediators. Even if dogs
merely pretend to like us for the security and comfort
they obtain, we as humans gain more than a fair trade-off in support and service. It is a pretense that works to
our advantage. and, as further benefit, that would to do
any wily dog proud, all expenses---food, toys, vet bills---can be bona fide tax write-offs, although I might need
to bring Rugger and Reilly with me to the IRS audit to
soften their hard hearts as only dogs can do.
Consider co-mediating with a dog. Not only will he or she
likely be amenable to all your fancy human tricks, unlike
other mediators you might team with, but the presence
will help you appear to be the person your dog seems to
think you are.
Conflict mediators know that any particular
tactic, no matter how good, seldom works
all of the time. You need a broad repertoire
so that if one technique doesn’t work,
there’s another in reserve.