Several years ago, I was interviewed by Main Line Today magazine for an article they are doing on relationships for their Valentine’s Day issue. The writer wanted to know my opinions about our relationships with pets. Well she came to the right person! She gave me a wonderful opportunity to express my observations on the similarities of how we conduct ourselves in our pet relationships and in our human relationships. I truly believe that we can learn so much about ourselves if we do a little self-analysis.
The biggest issue I encounter is when people give their pets what they want the pet to have, not what the pet really needs. Let me explain by using an example. Consider a dog who would really like to go for a walk every day, sniffing and exchanging messages via the bushes and trees with the other neighborhood dogs. Instead, his owner never walks him because the owner thinks he’s a couch potato, or the dog has a yard to play in, or maybe the dog is small and the owner carries him around everywhere. The owner is well-meaning but sadly not well-informed of the dog’s true needs. Another example I frequently encounter are people who enroll their dogs in activities such as agility, competitive obedience or other sports. If the dog is not performing well, some people get upset with the dog and may fail to understand that the dog does not really want to be doing this activity. More than likely, it’s the dog’s owner who really wants to do it. This can lead to frustration in the relationship.
Our relationships with people can be very similar. We have a tendency to give the other person what we think they want, often imposing our interests or our beliefs of what the person should like onto them. It’s usually quite innocent. I like to use the example of the wife who wants more attention from her husband. He brings her flowers occasionally because he thinks that’s what makes women happy, but can’t understand why she is still unhappy. What the wife may really want is for him to turn off the TV and talk to her, or offer to clean the house once in a while.
Communication goes both ways. It’s up to each person/dog in the relationship to say what they want. Because dogs can’t express themselves verbally, they still can tell us what makes them happy in other ways. Our dog friends are no different than we humans – we all have varying preferences. Dogs are motivated by many different things: food, affection, praise, being able to go outside in the yard, walks, and play. Play can encompass things such as retrieving, herding, hunting, searching and digging – all inbred characteristics of various breeds. It’s up to us as partners in the relationship to understand what makes our dogs happy. And you can bet that your dog will return that happiness ten times over.
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