If you celebrate Christmas then I am guessing many of you will be buying a gift or two for your dogs in the coming weeks. I’ve been debating whether or not I will be doing the same.
Two years ago I chose not to buy my dogs any gifts because they already had SO many toys in their toy basket. Then last year, I broke down and purchased a new Woobie for Daisy (that Jasper destroyed fairly quickly), some stuff-less squeaky toys for Cupcake (that she still has and loves) and new Kong Squeaky balls for Jasper (one of which still survives) for Christmas.
This year I am leaning towards not buying them any more toys. Don’t get me wrong, my dogs would be happy to have a new toy to play with, but they also wouldn’t mind not getting toys either. The things that make my dogs most happy are not “things.” They love what cannot be bought. So this year I am thinking I will give them more of what they really want:
- Longer walks in the park.
- Longer walks in new parks.
- More time learning new tricks and commands.
- More time playing outside in the snow.
- More time cuddling and playing inside (when it’s cold).
What are you getting your dogs (and cats) this year?
There may not be any of this going on this year, but maybe that’s okay.
Most people who know me probably think I am not a morning person and probably get up a little later in the day. But the truth is I am an early riser who likes to putz around a bit before getting ready for the day. Here is just a synopsis of our morning.
What are your mornings like with your dogs?
The sun is still in hiding but we get up.
The first order of the day? A downward dog stretch.
Butt in the air.
Cuddle time with the Shelties. A scratch behind the ears is heavenly.
Chilly morning potty break.
Check the yard for rabbits and squirrels.
Food preparation under watchful eyes.
Cupcake lies at kitchen’s door. Waiting.
Bangs from Daisy’s kennel door. She paces as she waits for her food.
Towel placed on the kitchen floor. Cupcake is a sloppy eater.
Jasper paces, then sits, as his dish is placed on the living room floor.
Daisy waits anxiously for food to come to her kennel.
She waits again for me to leave so she can eat in private.
Food gone. Inspection tours begin.
Jasper checks Daisy’s dish.
Cupcake checks Jasper’s dish.
Mom eats breakfast as Daisy slumbers at the other end of the couch.
Watchful eyes hoping for for to fall.
Repositioning of doggie bodies when food fails to come.
Mom’s computer time. Gentle snoring is heard from the other end of the couch.
Computer time ends.
Cuddle time with Daisy begins. Belly rubs are her favorite.
Soon it is shower time.
Cupcake guards the bathroom door; Jasper the bedroom.
Mom is ready for work
One more chilly potty break.
Cupcake announces to the world she is there. (One must let the world know.)
Excited little feet dance their way inside to wait for frozen Kongs before mom leaves.
Nap time later.
I first saw her, the young Husky, as the dogs and I entered the dog park. She looked sweet and friendly. She waggled her butt as she sidled up to me and asked for a pet. I reached down to pet her when I heard her scream and watched as she ran down the path to my left. At first I was confused. What had just happened? I watched her run, frenetic and scared, and then scream again and run in another direction. Then I got mad. I couldn’t see the shock collar around her neck, but I knew it was there. Someone was shocking her. I looked around the park, trying to identify the idiot shocking his dog and scaring the shit out of her.
I finally saw him standing across the park near the open field. I watched him as he called his dog’s name, and when she didn’t respond, hit the button on the remote in his hand. Immediately after that, I would hear the now familiar scream and watch as his poor dog ran in yet another direction. She was trying to escape he shock and didn’t know how, so she just kept running. She was completely terrified.
I couldn’t help but wonder what he hoped to gain from this experience. Control of his dog? A sense of superiority? A need to feel all-powerful? What was it that made him think shocking his dog was more preferable to using a more positive method of training? Why did he choose to shock his dog for not coming instead of praising her for coming to him?
tr.v. con·trolled, con·trol·ling, con·trols
1. To exercise authoritative or dominating influence over; direct.
2. To adjust to a requirement; regulate.
3. To hold in restraint; check.
4. To reduce or prevent the spread of.
As human beings, I think we often feel the need to be in control. The need to feel like we have a say or an ability to affect an outcome. I know I do. I try to control the outcome of many things in my life. But I know that the control I “think” I have is really more of an illusion of control than real control.
The man shocking his dog thought he was developing control of his dog through use of force. He thought that using a shock would force her to come to him. The reality is that he never had control – from the first shock to the last one. His dog was scared out of her mind and running in fear. She was so scared that she couldn’t even hear him call her name. The control he had was an illusion.
Recently, I read a blog post that addressed The Control Myth we all have when it comes to our dogs. It was written by a certified dog trainer named Michael Baugh. His words were quite powerful and insightful, and even though his post was directed towards other dog trainers, I think we all can take something from it.
At one point in the piece, Michael asks us “What do we want, control or connection?” What a great question. What is it that we want with our dogs? Is it really control we want? Or is it the bond and connection that we crave?
In Michael’s words… “The illusion of control is alluring. But connection, a real bond with another living being – that’s the stuff. That’s the stuff.”
Yes it is. It is “the stuff” that we all want.
Controlling a dog using force might make one feel powerful and in control at the time, but it never feels good in the long run. It doesn’t increase the bond with your dog. It doesn’t make you feel good about yourself either. It can often leave you feeling guilt and shame.
Control is temporary and fleeting. Connection is something strong and lasting and so much more powerful. It’s what fills us up. It’s what makes us smile when our dogs greet us at the door after a long day at work and it’s what makes us cry when we have to say goodbye to them. It’s what we crave. What we want most in this world.
The question is can we give up our need to control our dogs so we can have the connection we so fiercely desire?
I really hope so, because there is so much more to be gained by building a connection with our dogs than to be gained by control.
We can achieve great things with our dogs, or we can find greatness in the simple things with them. Even the dogs who seem to be out of control have a place with us. Chodron was speaking about our fellow humans when she wrote, “Be grateful to them; they’re your own special gurus, showing up right on time to keep you honest.” I think we can apply the wisdom here to our dogs as well. Who’s teaching whom? It’s hard to tell. Maybe not knowing makes the joy even greater. The Control Myth by Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC
When I first considered offering to foster for Minnesota Sheltie Rescue, I wrote a blog post about it. In the post, I included a picture of one of their available dogs cuddled up and sleeping with a stuffed toy.
The dog in the picture was Lady, now known as Cupcake. My Cupcake.
I couldn’t possibly have known then that the dog I would end up fostering would be the very same one in the picture. Nor could I have known that the dog I ended up fostering would get lost, then found, and then adopted – by me. I also couldn’t have known that meeting Cupcake would lead me to become an advocate for lost dogs or for Shelties in need or that so many other people would become advocates for other lost dogs because of her.
We often hear people talk about those special people in our lives who make a difference in how we see ourselves or who cause us to change directions in our life. But, how often do we think about the dog that has changed our lives in ways we never expected?
I can think of many examples of people in my life whose life was changed after meeting their dogs – like my friend Edie, who adopted her first dog, Frankie, and ended up writing a book and starting a blog to write about her experiences with him. Or the the lost dog I read about recently who had been adopted so he could be a companion to a woman with cancer and ended up being a comfort and lifeline for the husband when she died. Or my friend Debbie, who adopted a fearful dog named Sunny and ended up writing a book and a blog to help other owners of fearful dogs.
Dogs enter our lives in mysterious ways and sometimes they impact it in ways we never expect. Cupcake certainly did that for me. Has a dog changed your life in some way? If so, how?
One thing that can be difficult about having a fearful dog is finding someone to watch them who understands their unique needs. Not everyone who works in the pet industry is experienced with or understands how to work with a shy dog. As a dog owner, my biggest fear is that they will somehow damage my dog’s progress without knowing it or somehow lose them because they did not understand their high flight risk.
It’s one of the reasons that most of my vacations these days are “stay-cations” and not big trips to exotic and exciting places. It’s the reason I don’t go to blogging conferences or go to visit some of my blogging friends. I can’t just leave my dogs at a boarding facility or with any pet sitter I hire for those few events when I need to be away. I can’t just trust that someone will keep them safe or that they will know to be gentle and quiet and kind around Daisy. I have to be very cautious about who I trust with my dogs because the progress they have made could easily be damaged with one bad interaction. And in Cupcake’s case, one bad decision could lead to her becoming lost again. I just can’t risk it.
But, last week I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. I had committed to helping out at the sheep herding trials (something I very much wanted to do) without understanding the extended time commitment involved. I would need to be at the trial (almost an hour away from home) from 7 AM to 5 PM. That was a problem. How could I leave the dogs for that long? Who could I trust to let my dogs out if I decided to go? Who could I trust not to “accidentally” let them out of the yard or the front door? Who would understand that Daisy is sensitive to movement and sound and that Cupcake is not trusting of many people? Who could I trust to let them out and not put them in harms way?
In the past, I’ve relied on family or just committed to a half day so I could still get home to let my dogs out or just chosen not to go at all. But, this was one time I didn’t want to opt out. This was something I had been looking forward to doing for several weeks. So the question was… Who could I trust?
I started with a friend who is active in the Lost Dog community because I knew she would be extra cautious about keeping gates closed and ensuring she came into the house in a way that would prevent a dog escaping, but I quickly realized that my dogs might be scared by her presence, having only met her a few times.
Luckily, I have a friend that not only knows my dogs, but understands some of the issues my dogs have when it comes to strangers. She is also someone who helped in Cupcake’s search, so I knew I could trust her to keep the dogs safe too. And, as it turns out, Kellie was the perfect choice. Yes, Cupcake barked at her the whole time (unless she was petting her). Yes, Jasper tried to hump her (something he never does), and yes, Daisy was a little difficult to get inside the house (she has problems with entrances and exits), but in the end it all worked out. Kellie was able to safely care for my dogs, and I felt better knowing she was the one doing it. I was (am) so grateful she was available to help me out.
But, going through this experience made me realize how limited I am in my ability to do certain things. It also made me realize that having a fearful or shy dog should not limit one’s ability to enjoy some time without them. I can’t always forgo events just because I have fearful dogs. I need to find an alternative that work for both them and me. What if I was hurt or unable to come home? Who would care for them then? What would I do if that happened?
Clearly, I need a plan for handling future events like these. I would love to hear what other owners of fearful dogs do when they want to go on vacation or need to spend the day or weekend away. What do you do? How do make sure your dogs are safe while you are away?
Monday night, as I came back into the living room from the kitchen, I noticed Daisy with her head hooked back over the arm of the couch watching me. I was suddenly hit with a pang in my heart. That was something Aspen (her doggie sister) used to do. She would hook her head over the arm of the couch and cock it back so she could see what I was doing in the kitchen. It was one of those things that always made me smile. It was her “thing”, her quirk, what made her, her. You know what I mean?
Every dog has that “thing” that makes them special to us. That one quirky part of their personality that stands out in our minds. The thing we miss when they are gone.
All three of my dogs have quirky things they do that makes me smile. They are the things that make them each unique and special in their own way.
Cupcake smiles all of the time, barks when Jasper gets excited and loves to steal toys out of Daisy’s kennel, but there are two quirky behaviors of hers that always make me smile. The first is when she goes out for her last potty break before I go to work. When she goes outside, she just barks. That’s it. Oh she’s not barking at anyone or anything. No. She’s barking at the world to let everyone know she is there. “Hello world! Cupcake is here!” It cracks me up every time.
The other thing she does is put her front paws on my lap (when I am on the couch) and smile and waggle her little butt and tail. I just can’t help but smile. I love it when she does this.
With Daisy, it’s that coy look from the end of the couch and the tail thump that follows and the more recent addition of her choosing to cuddle with me. My heart melts every time.
Jasper has so many quirks, I cannot even begin to name them all, but the one thing he does that always makes me laugh is he gives me something I call “the stare.” I never know what he is thinking or what he wants, but he does it all of the time. Sometimes he just stands there and stares at me and I stare back at him. This can go on for several; seconds and sometimes minutes. You would think it would be a bit intimidating to have a dog staring at you, but it’s not with him. It’s like he is deeply contemplating something about you and hasn’t quite figured it out yet. It’s quite amusing to see.
I love my dogs. I love their quirks and everything that makes them who they are.
What quirky things does your dog do that make you smile? What funny behavior so they do that makes you smile?
We humans often make assumptions about our dogs.
“He ate my shoes because he was mad that I left him at home.”
“She got into the trash because she was trying to get back at me.”
“He was bad dog because he wouldn’t listen to me.”
“She looks guilty, therefore she must have done it.”
But I wonder how often we actually take the time to examine the reasons behind the behavior?
This past week, I had the misfortune of having someone make some unflattering assumptions about me. It was not a good feeling. I felt hurt and embarrassed and yes, guilty, even though I had no reason to feel so. I think what bothered me most is that no one bothered to ask me what had happened or why. They just assumed I was guilty.
As I tried to come to a better understanding of how and why something like this could happen, I started thinking about how applicable my situation was to what happens to dogs – an assumption of guilt without seeking to understand.
Because they can’t tell us what happened or because we don’t have all the knowledge and skills to understand them, we tend to make a lot of assumptions about our dogs. We assume the one looking most guilty must be the one who got into the trash or destroyed our favorite pair of shoes. We assume that a dog acting out must be a just a bad dog or be mentally unbalanced. Rarely, do we stop to observe the root cause of a dog’s behavior to better understand why they are behaving a certain way.
Most people assume a dog looks guilty because they ARE guilty, but what is often missed is how much our behavior impacts our dog’s behavior. It is often a reflection of what WE are doing. Studies now show that tone of voice and an owner’s behavior has a lot more to do with a dog’s guilty look than actual guilt.
A dog who bites may be a bad dog in our eyes, but he could just as easily be reacting to a sound or another trigger in his environment that makes them fearful and stressed. (A friend recently shared a story of a dog that turned into “Cujo” whenever she heard a common sound in the house. Turns out the dog had started to associate the noise with people coming up behind her and scaring her. She could no longer hear them.)
Sometimes a physical impairment can also cause a dog to behave oddly. I’ll never forget the story one animal rescuer told me about a dog she fostered and later adopted. The dog had been poorly treated by his previous family because they thought he was stupid and stubborn and because he wouldn’t listen to their commands. Imagine her surprise when she took the dog in to foster and discovered he was deaf! The owners had never taken the time to observe his behavior long enough to realize he could not hear them. They had just assumed he was a bad dog – for four years!
As I look back on my experience last week, I can’t help but feel fortunate. As a human being, I have the ability to address my issue directly. I can use my voice to share how a person’s assumptions were wrong. I can use emails and paper documentation as evidence.
Dogs, however, only have us to rely on. I may not have always done so in the past, but I intend to be a much better steward of my dog’s trust. When I find myself assuming, I am going to stop and observe instead. There’s so much more that gets accomplished when one asks questions first, don’t you think?
Looking back on her early years over these past few weeks has made me realize how far we have come – both of us. We are as close as any dog and owner can be. She is my co-pilot, my friend, my cuddle-buddy and my companion. She has made so much progress in the six years she has been with me, more than I ever could have hoped.
And while she is still active and agile and happy, I have started to notice a little stiffness in her hips that was not there before. It is a reminder that our time is limited and that she soon may not be able to enjoy our long walks through the woods as she does now.
Maybe that’s why reading Carrie’s blog post (Separation Anxiety) on Tales and Tails this past weekend touched a chord with me. In it she talks about leaving her Greyhound, Bunny, behind so she can take their new and younger girl, Flattery, out to get some more experience with being in public. Her words “I know that she’ll be okay when I leave home without her, and she has been, but I feel like I can’t even look her in the eye when I take Flattery and leave her behind.” so resonated with me.
I remember feeling the same way when I left Aspen behind while I took a much younger Daisy to the dog park. Aspen had always come with us when we walked. She had always been so happy to go, it was her favorite part of her day. But as she got sicker and weaker and was unable to walk long distances any more, I had to make the difficult (and heartbreaking) decision to leave her at home. I still remember the guilt I felt in doing so. Oh Aspen still got her own much shorter walk at home, but it wasn’t the dog park. It wasn’t what she loved.
Now as Daisy gets older, I worry about having to make a similar decision for her some day soon. I think it would kill me a little inside to do so. She loves the dog park so much. It is where she first learned how to be a dog; where she learned that people could be trusted. It’s where she learned about friends and the joy of running through fields, and playing chase, and sniffing out new smells.
How could I take that away from her? I hope I won’t have to make that decision, but still, after reading Carrie’s post, it weighs on my mind.
Have any of you had to face making a similar decision? how did you handle it? Did you feel the guilt too?
A co-worker of mine just returned from a two-week trip to Europe. She spent a good amount of time in Finland and Sweden, and some time in Belgium and elsewhere. Of course, she had a great time (who wouldn’t?) and saw lots of great sights. but there was one thing she said she noticed above all – the huge number of well-behaved dogs walking with their owners. She said she saw dogs everywhere she went and she was amazed at how well-behaved they were. No jumping up on people. No begging for food. No barking uncontrollably.
It seems she isn’t the only one to notice this either. Scout’s mom posted this on Dogster in 2006:
My husband and I took a trip to Paris and Germany and noticed the oddest most amazing thing. EVERY SINGLE DOG WE SAW… that’s right EVERY SINGLE one in the big city in Paris, in the small towns in Germany were well-behaved and walked behind their furless ones! It was so weird. It was like all the dogs were sedated! They didn’t pull on leashes, they didn’t look at people, they didn’t beg for food at the cafes and most of all- none of them were shy! Some were even off leash in Paris walking next to their furless ones- even stopping at the cross walk!! My husband and I took so much video of these dogs because we just couldn’t believe it! All kind of dogs too- big dogs, little dogs, all kind of size dogs. Has anyone else seen this in Europe? It makes me want to send Scout to Europe for training! We can’t figure out why- maybe because their lifestyle is so different? Different quieter home life? It was so cool!
There were lots of interesting responses to Scout’s mom’s question. Some thought it was because dogs in Europe were allowed to go everywhere with their owners and therefore had to behave better. Others thought it was because they got out more than American dogs and got more exercise than American dogs. I suspect there is truth to both of these theories, but it seems like there must be more to the story, so I am asking you, my readers, for some input.
Are dogs in Europe better behaved than American dogs? If so, what makes them appear to be better behaved than American dogs? What behaviors do you see with dogs there that you don’t see here?
Do you live outside Europe and America? How would you describe how the dogs behave in your country?