let’s hear it for the dogs


We got our first family dog when I was nine years old.  When he died ten years later I was totally devastated.  Grieving when other humans die is normal, but it’s a bit weird to admit that I had difficult year as a direct result of my dog’s death.  I remember laughing when one of my school friends was upset that her cat had died several years before that.  It’s just a cat!  We don’t like to admit how attached we get to animals because they’re just animals, and we’re special, we’re humans.

The interesting thing is, that however much I loved my first dog, I’m beginning to realise how much I didn’t understand him.  Our family generally thought dogs should be obedient – shout and slap were apparently the best means of achieving this.  He had a huge garden to run in and he got taken for daily walks, but if he got the opportunity he would run out the door for adventure.  That was bad behaviour.  If I remember correctly, we would give him a good old slap on the bum for such disobedience.  Yikes and cringe.

I have a dog now.  She’s from the streets.  We found her starving and mange-ridden outside our house.  We offered her food, which she generally rejected, and invited her into our property.  She came and went at will for a couple of days until she seemed comfortable, and we got a vet to see her for her various problems.  For the first few months she was incredibly anxious if she couldn’t get outside, so we let her out whenever she wanted and she always came back.  The arrangement has always been on her terms.  I know this isn’t possible in most countries, and I understand why, but it’s been interesting to note some things about her behaviour.

She follows me everywhere I go, into the centre of town, waits for outside the shops, outside the bank.  I don’t have to take lead.  I expect we’re out hunting together in her eyes.  She never gets into fights with other dogs.  It’s fascinating watching the social stand-offs and crossing the road out of a potentially territorial dog’s area.  She occasionally refuses to go down a certain street and I have to take another route – but it’s not the sheer disobedience I may have previously assumed, she has a good reason (usually an aggressive dog) for her behaviour.  She occasionally digs in the garden.  It’s annoying, it’s inconvenient, but she’s a dog and it’s natural behaviour if she’s burying a bone, if she’s anxious about something or if her bed is just too hot and full of ants.

Yes, I’m back to obedience again.  I now hate that I ever expected a dog to be ‘obedient’.  I should have given my old dog every reason to trust me.  Sure, I would have still tried to shape his behaviour to suit my life, but by rewarding good behaviour, not illogically and confusingly scolding inconvenience after the fact.

I now feel sorry for every housebound dog expected to follow human rules with their outdoor doggy instincts.  The insane barkers and the violent social doggy misfits that get chained up in a garden their whole lives, or the crazy pullers out for a walk that want to run free.  I think dog’s are amazing but I’m beginning to realise that how we try to squeeze them into our modern lives really doesn’t do them justice.