The little computer screen had finally projected sunny after a solid straight run of rain—a happy sight just weeks after our move. The kids blasted out of bed, eager to head down to the lake as my husband collected his papers and promised to help when he came back.
As I pushed my three canines out the back door to enjoy their new enclosed backyard, I was happy to appease my inner dictator who was demanding another day of unpacking, weather regardless! Almost all of us were where we wanted to be on one of the most cloudless, outdoor-inviting days of the summer.
Deep into the second box my concentration was rocked by the Chewbacca-like moaning of my 10-year-old lab: a sign of emotional distress. When I opened the door, however there was not one head, but three rushing past and heading to the basement.
And then a sight that seized me like no other. Three headless dogs, tails high and nose deep and into the box #2, clearly eager to be a part of whatever it was I was doing. This was their choice: to keep me company, no matter where I chose to be. There were no doors or gates that barricaded tied them to my side: each found a location to center themselves, and each explored whatever packing material I chose to displace. Though the backyard held far more possibilities, it was here, next to me that they chose to be.
Mind you, no other human could resist the sway of the summer sun. My family was helpless to influence me to disengage from my tasks and though I rued this activity, my dogs did not: for hours we poked and prodded through box and bag, tromping up the stairs and down, arranging and rearranging our new home together.
My realization this week – yet another lesson learned from life with dogs – is that companionship for this species is priority number one. The finest dog pen, tether or fencing that money can buy, the latest and greatest toy selection, can not hold a candle to the camaraderie gleaned from a shared adventure.
Dogs are, after all, pack animals who, by instinct, would follow the dictate of a leader figure over the draw of personal contentment. Though the ideal of “fresh air” and “outdoor exercise” is spoken, even a human would conclude that solitary confinement does not hold a candle to time treasured and loved shared.
With just this thought in mind, I considered my clients and their routine laundry list of human frustrations: hyperactivity, jumping, mouthing, chewing, digging, patrolling and barking. In keeping with my philosophy I encourage everyone to think of these infractions less in terms of a “bad dog,” and search instead for a different interpretation.
With dogs there seem to be less people who’ve learned to “listen” to their dog, by watching and interpreting their behavior, but if you try—or you get the right person to help you, it is surprising how easily wonderful it is to modify the behaviors that frustrate you into behavior that you can enjoy. As you process what’s being communicated, don’t be too afraid to anthropomorphize just a little …
Yes a dog who jumps is happy to reunite, but he’s also displacing the anxiety of your forced separation. A digger may appear to be enjoying himself, but could there also be a tinge of angst at being shut out of the den or an attempt to regulate his heat with the cool of the earth?
A dog/puppy generally does not chew molding or door frames when their needs are satisfied. Chronically patrolling the perimeter of a home or yard conveys an independent drive to protect the den—a solitary focus that some simple training can redirect.
Dogs with issues are remarkably similar to children with the same. Although some individual situations warrant deeper inspection, for the most part, behavior communicates what words cannot. Money cannot buy a solution unless it is money spent on trying to learn and live closer to your dog’s emotional level. Like children, dogs need to be educated as well as included, given leeway as well as limits, and loved as well as led.