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The Dog Lady Blog

Thursday, August 25, 2011 :


"...what a dog wants, what a dog needs..."

The Canine Tenets (part one)

1. Our life together is likely to last 15 years. In theory, we’ll be together for a long time. In reality, I have phases in my life just like you--from puppyhood to elder care, I run the gamut as well. My health care is in your hands. Veterinarians are the other "family doctor" and I should be spayed or neutered once I’m six months old. I should also be micro-chipped while under sedation--better safe than lost. After that, I should see my doctor at least once a year. Check my ears weekly for dirt, infection or mites along with lifting my floppy lips to look at my gums and teeth because by the age of three years, I’ll begin to need an annual dental cleaning. Some dogs develop symptoms earlier, a few not at all, but my dental care is as important as yours. Our gums are an express train to illness and potential death if we don’t get regular check-ups. You are my “forever parent” (since I never really "grow up") and my overall well-being is guaranteed by your attention and care.

2. Let me be a part of your family. It is crucial for my well-being and enhances yours. I will watch over you, play with you, be your best friend. You are my Sun: I orbit around you, basking in your glow. Really. Don't chain or tether me outside and consider one meal a day delivered quickly without a scent of interaction as adequate (Leave your leftovers out of my colon, though because human food totally messes with my gut, no matter how much I may seem to enjoy it!). Some dogs love to ride and interact; these dogs should go to soccer games, picnics, the park. Other dogs prefer quieter interaction but no less of your love. Your ancestors lived with mine so historically speaking we are longtime pack members, most likely for a million years, give or take. We belong together. Enough said.

3. Don't be angry with me for being a Dog. If you don't have time to care for me, please find someone who does; we all deserve that much consideration. Don't think of it as "abandoning" me: if you love someone, set them free. It's nobody's fault if things don't work out for us. Someone else might find me enchanting! What is wrong is when everyone knows change is needed and but no one does anything. I depend on you to do the right thing. If my behavior and activity requirements seem like too much (or too little) for you, make the necessary changes--and remember that we're on the same side.  We both want to be happy.

4. Give me time to understand what you want of me. I can learn quickly: I have the intellectual capacity of a three year old ( If I do something wrong, don't hit or impose yourself physically to make a point--that is terribly scary and confusing for me, for anyone. Striking me is the same as abusing a dependent child or elder--it's mean and heartbreaking, no matter your species. I LIVE to please you but I won’t know how if you don’t take measures to protect both of us. Even if I don't understand your words right away, I do understand your voice, tone and eye contact. Be gentle. I have the ability to learn up to 100 words (at least). Choose specific words for specific actions like, "walkie", "potty", "bye-bye", "hungry". Infantilize us as much as you want but I will understand your cues more quickly if you are consistent. In fact, the success of our relationship is determined by your consistency. Put your wonderfully odoriferous shoes away so I won't chew them while you're out; keep the food on your counters out of my reach since I can not only stand on my hind legs like a human but I can walk on water if there's something yummy within my "grasp"; allow for mistakes on both our part and be tolerant. We'll figure it out together and we'll make one another proud. When I do something correctly, your positive, repetitive, simple, patient light and happy praise is my reward. Teach me with that knowledge, and remember: I think you’re the smartest, most fluently scented, curious creature I'll ever know.

5. If it's not broken, don't change it. Dogs aren't obsessed with their looks. We don't want our ears cut into triangles with razors, our tails chopped off with scissors or our claws amputated with a scalpel. In fact, veterinary schools no longer teach these procedures as they're considered "mutilation". Let my ears flop in the wind, my tail wag at will and on behalf of my feline cousins: get your cat a scratching post--but please take our reproductive organs! The "miracle" of birth isn't really a miracle, it's biology and quite frankly, it's been done to death--the death of millions of unwanted animals simply because someone dropped the balls.

6. "Breaking" versus "training".  It's not just semantics, it's a philosophy. "To break" infers force, oppression and trauma. Do humans toiletbreak their children? No, they train them and just like you, if I'm scared of my caregiver, I'm not learning anything except how to be scared. Trust and realistic communication are essential. Our "mistakes" are the result of you not being tuned in to us and it's not because we're complicated...we're dogs! The simplest way to housetrain young or old dogs is to set an example, just like with children. Take a quick tinkle outside while your new dog watches (just make sure your neighbors, if you have them, can see, too!). Let your dog get the scent. This may sound crazy but it really sets an example that dogs understand. You only need to do it once or twice and ta-da! Your dog now knows to potty outside!

7. Take my lead and slow down. One of the real pleasures of walking with you is noting all the other dogs/people/squirrels that passed by before us. Every dog is a scent hound even if it's just for awhile. You call it, "stopping to smell the roses". I call it The Way of Life. If I linger at a curb, a tree or another dog, please allow me. If I want to “follow a trail”, indulge me for a moment. And no matter what--unless I'm in danger--please don’t jerk or pull me with the leash. In fact, collars, especially when too tight or yanked, can cause irreparable damage to my trachea. Ask my vet; it’s true. If you really love me, have me fitted for a harness (at your local animal supply store) and attach your leash to that, not a collar. My trachea thanks you.

8. Before you scold me for being lazy, destructive or uncooperative, consider the possibility that I am ill. No matter how many "conversations" I have with you, I am essentially non-verbal. I use my body to communicate. What seems like crankiness might actually be an ear infection (or mites). Perhaps I'm not responding to you because I have a fever (a dog's normal temperature is 101 °F but may range from 99 °F to 102.5). Maybe the reason I'm not eating might be because my gums are infected, or I have an abscess.  If I potty in the house, I might have a kidney infection or an upset stomach. Often humans misinterpret our mishaps as behavioral when it's actually symptomatic. If I don't seem "normal" for more than 24 hours, get me checked out by my doctor. Medical issues accelerate much more quickly in animals. Never assume; it could cost me my life!

9. Please make provisions for me as we grow old. If I outlive you, you can rest assured that I will not leave your side until someone physically removes me. If you haven't made a codicil in your will regarding who would take me if you pass away before I, please designate someone you know will honor my relationship with you by caring for me and in turn, allowing me to show them my gratitude. Dogs really understand everything in its purist form, especially companionship.

10. When my time to die nears, let me go with a generous spirit. NEVER say, "I can't put Buffy to sleep--I LOVE HER TOO MUCH TO DO THAT!!" That’s not the real reason you’re delaying the inevitable. You're making it all about your feelings and while no one cares more about your feelings than me, when you love, you sometimes suffer. You love me, now set me free. Don't wait so long that my illness (or other issues) precludes me from enjoying a last meal of foods I was never allowed before (fried chicken, chocolate cake, a beer, chili, whatever you know I love but would ordinarily be denied). NEVER say you can't bear to be in the room during any part of the procedure, only to make me face my passing alone. Everything is easier for me when you are there, because you are part of me and loving me through to the end is your sacred responsibility. Don't worry; we'll be together again...

Sweet dreams to all.


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