Today is National Dog Day. I was reminded of this on Facebook this morning from the multitude of dog related pages that I like. As I sat watching Jackson and Tinkerbelle play with the giant tennis ball that I picked up last week, letting them wear themselves out before I tried to concentrate on anything more serious than morning TV, I realized that every day is Dog Day in my household because we chose to own dogs.
I often think about the fact that my dogs had no choice in joining our family. And although I shy away from making bold statements that I cannot back up with facts or data, I think I can say that there are very few dogs who pushed their way into a home, held the owners hostage, and forced the humans to tend to their every need. We ask these same dogs who had no say in coming home with us to live in our human world where they must understand our peculiar ways, our much different ways of showing love and affection, and our household rules. How well would we do in this same situation?
It never would have occurred to me to be less than loving to my dogs as I was raised by animal loving parents with our Labrador Retrievers playing a major part of our family, but going through the last two years of training with Jackson has taught me invaluable lessons about treating him like a dog but loving him like a family member. I have altered my own behavior in ways as simple as the way that I pet him, no longer going over the top of his head but always reaching under his chin for a scratch because a trainer told me that dogs consider it rude to have anyone come over their head. I have found an inner patience that goes much further than simply reining in frustration on the outside. One of his peculiar habits is that he steals my possessions when I use the rest room despite the fact that he leaves everything else alone the rest of the day. I realize that this is some sort of game that I must have accidentally reinforced in him. I am still working on how to stop this behavior, but I blame myself not him.
With Tinkerbelle in our lives I am incredibly patient with her as she learns which are her dog toys and which are contraband items. It is all trial and error. We expect young puppies to realize that the fluffy toy that they are allowed to destroy is different than the fluffy throw pillow that decorates the sofa. Or that the rubber Bumi toy is different than the rubber bottom sneaker that sits by the door. I wonder how many humans would fail a similar test?
In our home, although it is puppy-proofed from dangerous items, we intentionally have left quite a few safe items out and about. If she never steals the shoe, how does she learn that it is a “no” and that the Bumi is a “yes” item? If she never tries to grab the throw pillow, she will never hear the “no” and receive her fluffy snake as a “yes”. It would never be fair to get mad at her over these lessons. After all, she was living happily in her litter of puppies where she knew all the rules; we are the ones who chose for her to enter this new world and change up the rules. I replaced my shoes with her Bumi probably fifty times before she learned but eventually she caught on.
On National Dog Day my hope is that more owners learn this compassion for their animals. I hope that they learn that their senior dogs cannot help their accidents in the house or that their puppies are still learning. I hope that they learn that their puppies with bad habits probably had some of the habits reinforced by accident with the help of the owners. I hope that more owners realize that their dogs did not ask to live in their homes. I hope that more owners realize that we owe our dogs great food, fresh water, love, tenderness, compassion, understanding, climate controlled places to live and sleep, proper training, mental and physical exercise, veterinary care, clean bedding, proper bathing, and every other basic need that they depend on us to provide. I hope that they learn deep down that this is their forever dog, not something to purchase or discard on a whim like a pair of shoes. I hope that they learn deep down that this is a living breathing creature and that life is not to be taken lightly for any species. I hope that all dogs receive the love that my sweet babies have from our family. And I hope that I can continue to make my dogs feel as loved and as happy as they make our family feel every day of our lives, not just on National Dog Day.