Smoothing Hackles: What I Learned Making Friends with a Mean Dog

Teeth bared, the brindle fur went spiky on the back of his neck. He loped toward me, barking hostility. Face to face. No way around. Aggression in attack stance at arm’s reach.

One enters cross cultural ministry expecting to experience the new and different. The sheer width and breadth of the unknown had me wrestling with the Lord over our calling, long before we landed. I find I rather enjoy knowing how to do things well. Embracing God’s plan for our family meant peeling off my pride and independence at a deep level.

Childlike faith is a sweet concept, but sometimes a messy action.

Thumping your face into the glass wall of the language barrier can make your eyes water.  Discovering a driving law by getting a traffic ticket is humbling.  Ordering seafood pizza and finding curly tentacles on board is surprising (and chewy).

Figuring out how life works in a new country puts you in minor status again. You walk like a child, learning the streets. You talk like a child, learning the vocabulary. You pray like a child, learning to trust.

When we take our Abba Father’s hand in open-hearted faith, he gives us new vistas to understand his glory in.

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So when this muscular bundle of canine fury parked himself in my path declaring, “You shall not pass,” I stopped dead away.

I thought about our last encounter, where I had picked up a stone to throw. Some dogs skitter away at that tactic. This one had responded like an MMA fighter yelling, “Bring it!” Thankfully, the owner had heard the commotion and wrestled said beast back behind their home gate.

With a chance to start fresh, I looked at warm brown fur and amber eyes. I spoke calmly that he was okay. I wasn’t going to hurt him or the home he was protecting. As I set the tone of reassurance, I saw ears relax and hackles smooth. He sniffed my hand. Not only did I avoid battle, I made a friend.

Lots of dogs wander the streets of this country. Learning to watch body language and diffuse tension is a skill I never expected to grow out on my morning run. The locals often walk with a stick, ready to swing. I respect that sometimes defense is necessary. Not every puppy responds to social graces.


I see myself in those golden eyes, though. I can be all too willing to narrow my gaze when someone barks back at my sharpness. I am grateful to find safety and reassurance when I’m frazzled. At the heart of things, I want to make friends.

Each day, this land of “new and different” gives me a fresh opportunity to expand my vocabulary in the way of care and connection. Octopus on pizza may not be your thing. You may walk easier with a stick handy for growling dogs.

But love goes well on everything.

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. 

We love each other because he loved us first.

1 John 4: 16, 17a, 19 NLT


  1. This is so “Classic Kris.” Every word a careful communication of imagery and emotion. What a wonderful skill you have for self-expression to reveal your love affair with the Lord. Keep it coming!

    • Mike, you are awesome. I am laughing at the “Classic Kris” brand because you are spot on. I love that you know me so well, and LIKE me. 🙂 Such a privilege to do life with you, friend.

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