After hastily but passionately chronicling the adventures of nine deserving dogs, I have paused over the past week to consider my motivations. Why do I write about our four-legged companions? Why not other people? Why not myself? Simple: I admire the behaviors and traits of dogs more than men–they [dogs] seem more in tune with their being and project a sense of non-discriminatory acceptance for others.
Maybe Mark Twain said it best when he suggested, “Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” In light of this statement, I am forced to evaluate the relationship that I have with my dogs. In momentary fits of anger and misguided frustration, I have scolded Bo and Simba for simple things. Failing to come when called, becoming overly rambunctious when I am utterly exhausted, or wandering endlessly at 1 1 p.m. in search of the perfect defecation destination–these are but a few examples of innocent canine behavior that have, at times, tested my patience and revealed a side of me that I am not proud to display. And how have my dogs reacted? They have dropped their tails between their legs in fear of my loud voice and disapproval, yet they continually seek love despite my irrational, selfish, and perplexing behavior. Now, if you find yourself astonished by these revelations, stop and ask yourself, “Have I ever lost my cool? Have I ever yelled at my dog? My kid? My friend? My spouse?” If your answer is no, tell me your secrets, Jedi master.
Despite my growing pains as a dog owner, I can say definitively that I have matured tremendously since a moment of epiphany presented itself a few years ago: Those under my supervision and care will behave in accordance to my ways, and our relationship will thus be defined and developed. They, whether canine or child, will take their cues from me, and they will seek my guidance in moments of clarity and those more obscure. These truths have been especially true regarding my relationship with my older Labrador, Bo. He and I have had epic battles wherein we both displayed our stubborn nature. These standoffs included driveway stare downs, front yard protests, and late night meandering among the yard when all I wanted was to go to sleep. Now, we still have our standoffs from time to time, but they are less frequent, and I am able to handle them differently because I am intentional in assessing the situation and reacting in ways that promote the strengthening of our relationship. In short, I am less quick to judge and more open to understanding.
When I took time to discover that Bo’s protests were almost exclusively a product of his desire for more attention, I felt somewhat guilty. It had been easy for me to devote more face time to Simba because as a puppy, he [Simba] was always walking by my side, dropping tennis balls at my feet, and extending his paws toward me for what we have decided must be dog hugs. So, much like an older child that might be feeling the pangs of the attention that their younger sibling might be receiving for whatever reason, dogs too can feel overlooked and undervalued.
The messages that we send to our dogs are clear and direct, and they often tend to pick up on the vibes we emit before we know we have delivered them. These revelations and apparent truths have allowed me to see a bigger picture: The conclusions I have arrived at regarding the nature of the relationships that I share with my dogs have impacted my outlook in other areas of my life. For the struggles that I have endured in building trust and respect among the four-legged constituents residing within my home, I am a better man. For the challenges faced under duress, I am a more patient and caring person. For the times that presented unknown scenarios requiring my humility and grace, I am a better teacher, and for the moments requiring my love and loyalty above all else, I am a better husband.
If my experiences have taught me anything, it is that I am to be eternally open to and welcoming of the uncertainties of life that subconsciously define our attitudes and approaches to our small but extraordinarily important day-to-day interactions. And the more that I read about and study the nature of love, I am forced to reflect on its presence in my life and the desire that I have to consistently humble myself to its multitude of manifestations–for the love that we enjoy and know as beautiful will also challenge us to our core, and for that very reason we must hold as firm to its presence when days are dark as when the sun seems to know no bound.
As Sigmund Freud poetically noted, “Love and work…work and love, that’s all there is.” Assuming we can detach ourselves from the myriad of distractions that sometimes impede our vision of what arguably matters most to our existence, Freud may have a point that has led me to a strong and inevitable conclusion: Love requires our work, and if the two are to harmoniously co-exist, our work must be done with love and relentless passion.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.