Not a day goes by that I don’t think of the privilege I have. I get to spend time with my dogs. So. Much. Time. No, I did not always have this privilege. I worked an outside full time job, I was busy with engagements, and nights out with friends.
When my husband and I quit our jobs, sold our home, and bought an RV to travel around the country doing animal rescue awareness, I was more excited about a certain aspect of our trip than all of the others…that I would get to spend all of my time with my dogs, my boys, Brickle and Digby.
Sure, we were spending a lot of time together already before the trip, trying to make a success of a dog treat business. And yes, we had some fun times in between filling and packing bags. But this was going to be different. Our focus was not just going to be visiting animal rescues and shelters. We wanted to show others how to live a healthy and happy lifestyle with their dogs. I would get to pretty much spend every waking moment with my dogs. And I knew so many would love to do what we were doing. I had no idea how awesome it really was going to be. But in a way that I never thought possible.
I have always loved my dogs. I loved them from the moment I saw them. And I thought that they loved me too. Unconditionally…right? Right. But the first thing that I realized, after about week two on this trip, was that I truly wasn’t loving them unconditionally. In fact, I found that I was expecting a lot out of them. I was expecting them to lose their individuality to fit into a mold of what a “good dog” should act like. You know the good dogs…they don’t pull on leashes, or bark when they shouldn’t. “Good dogs” don’t act protective around strangers, or growl or have bad days. Yeah. “Good dogs”? I found I didn’t want “good dogs”. I wanted happy dogs. Fulfilled dogs. Individuals. But I sure wasn’t showing that. Until I heard them. I heard them one day loud and clear. And once I heard that…I began to hear more. When my expectations and demands fell away, I started to hear what my dogs wanted me to know. Loud and clear.
What Your Dog Wants You To Know
- “I know about time”. We have all heard that our dogs don’t view time the same way as we do. While that may be true to a point, our dogs are very well aware when we are late, or when routines are thrown off. Being on the road, we found that keeping some sort of a routine was KEY to their happiness. What are we saying here? Time spent away from your dogs is inevitable. But making our dogs a priority, i.e, not taking that extra work assignment if we don’t have to, or rearranging our schedule to make sure that they are walked and fed on time IS important. Don’t fool yourself that they won’t notice. Would you notice if dinner was late? Would you notice if your family member didn’t come home at the expected time? Would it stress you out? Our dogs are no different.
- “I know when you are angry. I know when you are upset. And it makes me upset.” For us, traveling full time had a lot of ups. And it had so many downs. From days spent broken down on the road, to fights between ourselves about trivial matters, there were some days we wanted to cry and give up. But the days that I did cry, raise my voice, or have a panic attack were the worst on my dogs. Brickle would get sick if I got sick. He would cry if I cried. He held every emotion I had. But even when I tried to hide it, he knew. So I had to take a hard look at myself and think about how I was affecting my dogs. Stress couldn’t be avoided, but I could choose how I handled it. And when I chose to do that, to rationally explain to them what was happening and that we would get through it, I had their support. Not with distress, but with thankfulness that I had taken the time and valued their emotional well being.
- “I have likes and dislikes. I am not the same as all other dogs.” This was probably the loudest thing I heard my dogs say on this trip. Sure, I knew that they each had their favorite foods and treats. I knew that. But I had NO idea how different my boys were. Why? I suppose that honestly, I didn’t truly see that they were individuals. You wouldn’t look at human kids and think that they all were robotic and the same. Why in the world do we do this with our dogs? I heard my dogs say this loud and clear one day when Brickle was gazing at the ocean with a sort of calm reflection and appreciation, and Digby was pulling away from it like it was a horror movie. I heard my dogs say this loud and clear when Brickle heroically walked across a bridge in Pennsylvania and Digby wanted to jump off it it. You see, dogs ARE individuals. I believe that people may not want to hear this. If we truly see them as individuals, it gets harder to treat them as such and not be selfish with our time, with our resources. But they are. Listen. See them.
- “I. Am. A. Dog.” Some may read this and think…huh? Of course a dog is a dog. A person is a person. So why are we expecting our dogs to act like a person? We have put dogs into our world. And I am not naive to think that if my dogs truly had a choice, that they would choose to travel the country in an RV visiting shelters. Maybe they would. Maybe they wouldn’t. The fact is, we place them in our world with no choices. Most of the time, constraints are safety, i.e, leashes and fences. But your dog wants you to know that sometimes, these constraints are irritating and unnatural. And some days, they just want to be a dog, and to run and to explore. It is up to us to give them a way to fulfill these needs. Yes. Whether we are tired or had a bad day. They depend on us. Because they have no choice but to.
- “I love you. I really do.” I will be the first to say that I have wondered this. Do our dogs love us for us, or do they love us for what we do for them? If you take one moment today, to look into your dog’s eyes during a quiet time of day, you will find your answer. You will hear your answer. It matters to your dog that you rescued him. He remembers. It matters to your dog that you spend time with him. It matters that you care to talk to him. And to listen.
- “Sometimes, I would like to have choices.” Until I recognized my dogs as true individuals with true feelings, likes and dislikes, I never thought that they may want to be offered a choice now and then. Imagine always being told what to do with no choices. Of course, it is up to us to keep them safe as mentioned earlier. But have you ever been walking your dog and maybe they want to go another way? For my dogs, we go on so many hikes that they seem to pick their favorites. And I love that. On trails that have different ways to go, I often stop and ask them which way they want to go. You guessed it. Two dogs, two opinions, two different choices! But I let them work it out among themselves, and then, we start down on the path they chose. Why do this? Choices build confidence. Confidence is vital for a dog, just like for people. When we started letting them make choices, we saw their happiness build!
You see, being on this trip the past two years has taught me so much. But my dogs taught me more. I know that others don’t, and possibly will never have this privilege that we have had of traveling and being with our dogs every day. But if you stop…today…and take note of what Brickle and Digby wanted me to hear, possibly, you will hear what your dog wants you to know too. Don’t wait to hear your dog until tomorrow. We may not have that privilege either.
When you stop and take the time to hear your dog, you may not like everything you do hear. And that’s ok. We have all made mistakes, we all have room to grow, and to improve. Above all else, what your dog wants you to know is that time is short. Make the most of it and spend that time together. You will never regret it, no matter what paths you have to take to get there. You don’t have to travel across the country five times like we did. Your dog can tell you all of this in your own backyard.
-Rachael Johnson, Girl Person and Owner of 2 Traveling Dogs