“Two essential things?” I hear you ask, in an incredulous way. “Two things? Well food, water and walks alone equal three things right there”. Indeed, but if you know and understand the two essential things, the list of necessary things like these will fall into place.
So, as you will have noticed, it’s cold and wet and winter. And in winter, as well as moaning, we tend to plan – we get the seed catalogues out and we think about where we’re at and what we’ll do when the spring comes, when everything will be do-able again. So I thought a good subject for winter fire-side contemplation might be choosing a dog and the sort of things to consider (because as we know, this is a very important thing to get right and not something you do on the spur of the moment). Winter is a good space for carefully and thoughtfully planning a new family member.
As it happens, I went into the Otaki HUHA kitchen yesterday and there was the Shelter Manager. She was only doing four things so I felt that, being as quiet as that, it was a good chance to interrogate and mine for her experienced thoughts on the matter. This was a risky thing to do because you tend to end up holding a dog while ear drops go in or being handed something unspeakable and unrecognisable for the washing machine. But I risked this for you.
So I told her about my topic and asked her what would be good to include and what she then said made me write this blog instead. Because what she said is important for all of us who have dogs in our lives, in whatever capacity right now.
And she said this. There are two essential things to know, whether you own a dog, are choosing a dog, are walking a friend’s dog or volunteering in an animal sanctuary. And the two things are these:
The first essential thing
A dog matters; a dog’s life matters: it matters like your life matters or your child’s life or your lover’s life matters. Their happiness, their grief, their worries, their frustrations or boredom – these things are important. They’re not important because if your dog is bored, he’ll destroy the couch; they’re important because if your dog is bored, he isn’t happy, things aren’t right for him. He shouldn’t be bored.
A dog is not a robot: we all have an idea of what a good dog should be like – they should do what you say, they should not destroy anything, they should behave when they’re out and not bark at things or lunge, they should go wherever you want, not pee inside, not chase the cat, not eat your carefully crafted sandwich on the bench when you turn away; they should look like a cool dog when your friends are about. But that would be a drawing of a dog.
Dogs are like us – they have their own personalities, their own likes and dislikes, their own comfort zones and behaviours. Some behaviours are dictated by their breed, some by past experiences (good and bad) and some (like us) are just who they are – and who they are is just fine.
If you have a beautiful baby girl (a human one), maybe you dream of going shopping with her, teaching her the viola, going to restaurants. Then when she gets to be 12, say, you find she wants to be a formula one racing driver, she isn’t interested in clothes and she’s shy and hates eating out. Behold, you have a beautiful daughter who is her own person. She’s perfect and you love her and you’ll have to take someone else’s daughter out to restaurants. You don’t trade her in, or try to force her to be your idea of a fun daughter (well, maybe a bit with the viola thing – but it won’t work). It’s like this with dogs. They are not all the same. Some love to do things that others don’t. Some react to certain things that don’t bother others. They have quirks. Most of these quirks are adorable.
Some quirks are a result of their past and they need you to help them. But be careful with that – discernment is needed here. Am I changing something that will help my dog or help me? Am I kindly, gently, slowly and intractably introducing my dog to the joys of getting into the car for treats and cuddles and a snooze with me because he or she will get to go to the beach and the hills and have the time of his or her life? Or am I training my dog to stay in the lounge all day ‘til I get home without wrecking the joint, because I have to work all day and don’t want a bombsite when I get back. That would be for me and not for the dog. If I understood Essential Thing No 2, I would not expect every dog I owned to cope with this and if I understood Essential Thing No 1, I would want to ensure that my dog had a fun time during the day – a run on the beach before I left, some toys and brainteaser treats, someone to come and take him or her out for a walk, an afternoon at doggy day care. Because, just like my day, my dog’s day matters.
So for the next few weeks, while I’m sitting by my fire with my dogs, avoiding bad TV, I’m going to meditate on the two essential things. Who is my dog, what does he need? What worries her? Do I matter to them or have I become irrelevant. What is the part of their gorgeous bodies that they love me to scratch the most? What’s their favourite treat and where is their favourite walk? How can I make their day better? And when they start snoring as they lie next to me on the couch, head on my stomach, dreaming their own plans for the spring time, I will gradually realise that what matters to them in fact also matters to me and the fact that I have three dogs means that I need to make three plans because as they’re not robots, the homemade agility course I’m planning will only delight one of them (but oh my gosh, she’s going to love it).
Two essential things and then, my fellow dog lovers, a whole lot of stuff will fall into place for both of you. Enjoy.
[The beautiful HUHA dogs on this blog are all fabulous and adoptable except for the lovely Narla, who has now found her forever home. The top two scamps are Eddie and Bon, the priceless sleepy boy in the sun is Marley, the one getting deaf dog training is China (er, she’s about a gazillion times bigger now – yeah, almost exactly a gazillion) and the bottom two are Eddie again and Narla. Check out their profiles – Eddie, Bon, Marley and China.]