Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Edward Hoagland had it right

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog. ~Edward Hoagland

This has long been a favorite quote of mine because it so succinctly demonstrates much about our relationship with dogs. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have clear ideas of what they wanted when deciding to add a dog to the family. Some pet owners are looking for simple companionship, some want a playmate for their children, or are looking for a show or sport prospect, while others want a watch/guard dog.

Regardless of why, the one thing everyone has in common is a reason for wanting a dog, and the reasons nearly always have to do with us humans --- our wants, our needs, our hopes. We have a desire to have our pet be a reflection of what we want from the relationship. Sure, we’re aware of the needs a dog has in terms of proper food, veterinary care and shelter, but we provide those things as part of the payment for getting what we seek out of the bargain.

However, the strongest bond between pets and owners comes from not only giving them the physical amenities they need for a good life, but also in taking a good, honest look at your dog’s world through their eyes to discover what means the world to them, separate from what they do for you, and being as creative in addressing their needs as we expect them to be in addressing ours.

We ask a lot of our canine friends in exchange for providing them room and board. We want our dogs to respond to us immediately, suppress their natural instincts, be attentive when we want attention but not want attention when we’re busy, walk politely and never dig, chew or pee on anything we don’t want dug, chewed or peed on. They should love our children, family, friends and other pets, but not love strangers…and to always know the difference. The list goes on and on.

It seems only fair that we spend some time acknowledging their need for doggy-ness and allow them full opportunity to not only experience it, but to join in ourselves. Whether it’s getting on the floor for a good roll, howling alongside their wails, running through the sprinkler with them or taking them on walks where the only objective is to allow them to snort, sniff or wet whatever object they fancy, spending time on the canine side of life opens up bonding opportunities that you just can’t get any other way.

Edward had it dead-on. Owning a dog isn’t just about the skill in getting them to be accessible to us. It’s about unlocking that part of us that is open and joyful, where our emotions are right there on our face for the world to see and fun lurks around every corner. It’s embracing all that is silly, sappy and guileless, and playing until our sides are heaving and we collapse into a happy, panting pile on the floor. Add a pup to the mix and we just may find the key to world peace.

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