Many days, I wonder how I got to be so crazy. Many more days, I love the crazy. Because spending so much time with my dogs has been worth every sacrifice made. Because I spend most of my time with my dogs, I observe and see things about them that most dog parents would not because of working outside the home. And I don’t take this privilege for granted!
I see their individual personalities more vividly. I see how they contribute so much to my life. I sense more of a communication gap being bridged between us because we have more time that is focused on each other.
And because of this, simply talking to my dogs in “baby talk” or “dog talk” all of a sudden really didn’t seem appropriate to me. One day, I woke up and I realized that perhaps the best way of speaking to them was to do so like I would any other person. Any other person that I loved. Any other person that I respected. And the respect part is what I feel is lost with so many dog parents. And I saw that this past week at the dog park. Many. Times.
We were waiting to get into the dog park when a couple approached with two dogs. When they got out of their car, they were already screaming at them to slow down. As they approached the gate, they were yelling at them to sit. As they made them sit before they entered, they told them over and over how bad they were for not listening. One of their dogs growled and the other simply just couldn’t do what they were asking. Finally, they let them inside the park and said that they gave up. They seemed upset, and the dogs ran as fast as they could inside. They were so happy to be free and apparently at a favorite place. I don’t think for a moment that these dog parents meant any harm. But I do think that in fact, if they had been observers, perhaps they would have changed their tone and their way of speaking to their dogs.
As we played inside the park, another dog parent yelled for their dog not to swim in the lake. I think everyone could have heard her miles away. And I thought, as I chased Digby trying to hump yet another unsuspecting playmate, what was the best way for us to communicate effectively with our dogs? I am not a trainer and I don’t want to be. I have no degree in anything related to dogs! My on the job training however has proven to me one thing. It matters what we say to our dogs. It matters how we say it.
I am not sure when dog parents decided that berating, yelling or treating their dogs inferior was ok. It is not ok. Treating any living thing without respect not only is detrimental to that individual’s well being and self esteem, but it is not effective. Can we stop? Can we be quiet for a moment and think?
Imagine that moment when your dog drags you head first down a muddy mountain hill. Imagine that moment when your dog pulls you down in a pile of rocks in a campground in Illinois. I don’t have to imagine it. I was there. I could go on and on. Did my dogs injure me because they hated me, or because they just wanted to cause trouble? No. They were being DOGS. Newsflash. They are dogs. They are put into our world, but no matter how hard you try, you will not turn them into a person. Yelling, screaming, or hurting your dog will not cause your dog not to chase that squirrel. And I have realized, that in my life, sometimes, this is just going to happen. And when this happens, sometimes, my temper and hurt get the best of me. A deep breath and stopping usually helps to make me remember that they are my family. But they are dogs.
When we expect our dogs to live up to our standards, most will try. They will try to obey and to walk “correctly” and do all of this stuff we have invented to make them fit into our world’s conveniences. So many of our rules are for their safety. And I am all for that. But talking to my dogs, explaining why we have to do these things, is paramount to a good relationship in our house on wheels.
And hopefully, in your house, when you see how great it can be to actually talk to your dog and try and communicate, you will see your relationship change too. All relationships can be worked on and improved upon. But it starts with talking. It starts with saying how we feel. Listen to what your dog says too. It’s a two way street!
When we value the relationship we have with our dogs, others will notice how we interact with them. And all of our relationships, even with people, will be made better for it. Our dogs have much to teach us. Are you listening?