I have had a number of people comment to me “When I die, I want to come back as one of your dogs!” So it got me thinking… Would you want to be YOUR dog?
Think about your dog’s life for a moment. Do they have an enriched life? How often do they get to experience something new? A new place, a new activity, a new toy, working on a new behavior? How often each day are their brains engaged in training or problem solving (like food puzzles, or other enrichment activities)? Novelty is enriching. Lack of novelty is boring. Doing the same things, seeing the same sights, hearing the same sounds over and over, day in and day out is not an enriched life. Zoos around the world are learning that their animals are much happier and healthier when they get enrichment in their daily life, so it seems reasonable that the same would be true of dogs.
Also consider your interactions with your dog. How much time do you spend actively engaging with your dog? I’m not talking about being in the same room or house together, I’m talking about DOING something with your dog. Going for a walk, training, feeding, playing, grooming, etc. Go ahead, take a moment to add it up for a typical day or week. This is the amount of time the dog gets to practice listening to you and for you to listen to the dog and learn to read their body language and other communications.
Now imagine you are dropped in a country where the language and cultural customs are completely different from your own, where you don’t know the language or what you should or shouldn’t do to keep from offending someone. Now consider that you only have as much time to work on learning the new language and skills each day as you currently spend working with your dog. How long would it take for you to be able to communicate your basic needs? How long would it take you to become fluent and socially acceptable? Aren’t dogs incredible in what they can master in a very short amount of time?
Now consider HOW you communicate with your dog. Consider that the person teaching you the new language and skills uses the same training methods and equivalent tools and has the same skill level as you do with your dog training. Do you look forward to those language lessons? What happens if you make a mistake? What if the trainer assumes you understand what they wanted, even though you actually have no idea what they want? Do you get any say or choice in what you learn or how you learn it? Do you want to be your dog?
Does your dog get routine care? Is he kept groomed so that he doesn’t have painful hair mats or long nails that push his toe joints into unnatural positions? Is he free of fleas and ticks and internal parasites? How quickly do you notice and treat illness and injury? Are his teeth, ears, eyes, and coat kept clean? Is he a proper weight? Do you know what the proper weight looks and feels like? Is he fed a quality diet? Does he get enough exercise to be fit and healthy? Do you want to be your dog?
How much choice does your dog have? Does your dog get to choose when to go outside? Is he a willing participant in routine care or is there only tolerance or is force involved? Is training a two-way conversation or a dictatorship? Does your dog have the option to say “no”? Do you want to be your dog?
There are 168 hours in a week. If you get 8 hours of sleep (does anyone really get 8 hours of sleep?) that leaves you with 112 waking hours per week for you and your dog to occupy yourselves. Most dogs DO sleep more than humans and depending on your dog’s age or breed, might sleep a LOT more than most humans. But their active time each day should be filled with as much mentally, emotionally and physically stimulating things as possible rather than the same ol’ boring stuff.
There is a big difference between “having a dog” and being willing to live the life you are giving your dog. Is it “just a dog” to you or do you feel that your dog deserves to have the best life possible? What can you do to make your dog’s life better?
This is just fabulous writing, Chris, and such a great reflection on being a good parent to a dog. You have a book in these posts! I hope you keep going and publish it and are richly rewarded for all your years of generosity in offering this wisdom on the DSA website and many other places! Thank you!!
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Thank you Julie!