The Disarming Dog
Following Christ's example of using commonplace things to represent important principles of life and Christianity, Mrs. White watched for daily events she could use to illustrate ideas in her writing and speaking. Many of them she recorded in her diary, where they would be available when needed. The entry for Friday, April 1, 1859, contains an example of the little incidents she looked for.
Traveling in a buggy between Battle Creek and Jackson, Michigan, Ellen White watched the landscape putting on its first spring garments. The weather was cool, and a soft breeze created by the vehicle's movement bathed her face. After a while she noticed a small short-haired mongrel dog trotting beside the carriage. Smiling to herself at the dog's decision to accompany her, she returned her gaze to the road ahead.
Several minutes later they approached a bridge across a creek. Waiting near it, a large savage-looking dog loomed up out of the dust of the road, apparently prepared to pounce upon the smaller animal. Seeing the huge black creature, the dog beside Mrs. White's buggy slowed. Although he could sense danger, he did not turn and dash away, but crouched close to the ground, his tail and head held lower than the rest of his body.
Cautiously, he crawled slowly toward the bigger animal.
Mrs. White halted her buggy to watch the dog's unusual behavior. When he passed within a certain distance of the black dog, the larger one leaped astride him, snarling, his teeth bared. The little dog seemed to know that he could not defeat his tormentor in a fight. Instead, he rolled upon the ground, his unprotected stomach exposed to the teeth of the larger dog. Had he tried to defend himself, his action would have caused his enemy to instinctively attack. By timidly rolling on his back, the mongrel dog avoided triggering the bigger creature's fighting instinct.
The mongrel's act of trust left the huge dog confused. It could not fight another animal unless it responded with equally threatening gestures. The little dog refused to return the threats. Unable to fight someone who would not fight back, the larger dog walked away, leaving his intended victim on the ground.
Slowly, carefully, the mongrel rolled on his stomach and stood. His body tensed briefly, as if he wanted to flee, but fear prevented him. Keeping his eyes on his former attacker, he slunk in the opposite direction until he thought he had put a safe distance between them. Then he burst into a run, still watching over his shoulder to see if the bullying dog followed. Seconds later the little dog disappeared around a curve of the road, and Mrs. White resumed her journey.
The dog's behavior greatly impressed Mrs. White. Instead of condemning it for cowardice, in her diary she commented, “If human beings would manifest such humility under injustice as this . . . creature, how many unhappy quarrels might be saved.”
Wolves and many other animals besides dogs will not fight each other if one refuses to respond to signs of aggression or belligerence, such as growling, bared teeth, or the display of a bright color patch such as some birds have. When this happens, the attacking animal always gives up and goes away. It is a part of their normal behavior pattern.
Human beings act in a similar way. Some people seem determined to quarrel, but they cannot quarrel by themselves. It takes two people. When one person refuses to argue or fight back, the other has to give up and go away. Mrs. White knew the principle, and when she saw the little dog act it out, she instantly decided to record the incident so that others could understand it and see how it worked. The use of such illustrations and examples has helped make her writing practical and appealing.
D. A. Delafield and Gerald Wheeler