A few months ago I received an email from a dog magazine with a poll asking “Do you refer to yourself as a Dog Mom or Dad?” I once again found myself standing in contrast to the majority as one of the 8% of respondents that answered “no.” I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit, and I thought I’d share why I add this to the list of societal norms that I don’t adhere to.
First, I have never been into kids or wanted any of my own. I don’t have the “baby-oogling” gene/empty womb thing that most women have – never understood it. I know that I’m young and it’s not like I made a decision to feel that way, just haven’t had the urge up to this point. I’ve heard “Oh, you’ll change your mind” and “I used to feel that way” enough times, so I ask you not to go there. My dog is not a placeholder or replacement for human children. He’s my dog.
Second, I’ve learned that not anthropomorphizing animals (giving them human characteristics), while going against our tendencies, allows us to learn more from them about being human and allows them to live as they are, not being put into a “box” where they don’t belong. While it’s “normal” to understand others through our own experience or existence, that denies our dogs their “dogness” by not understanding and fulfilling their needs as a dog (e.g. exercise, discipline, affection).
While there are a lot of parallels between the parent-child and human-dog relationship, they are inherently different because, to state the obvious, a dog is a different species with a different psychology. Applying human psychology to a dog confines the dog to something that he doesn’t understand and cuts off the opportunity for us learn from them. We humans tend to be chauvinistic, thinking that we (and our way of thinking) are superior to others (human or animal), and that gets us into so much trouble across the board.
It’s amazing what happens when you meet and understand an animal starting with their “animalness,” then species, followed by breed, and finally name. Since we do have these awesome frontal lobes and powerful intellect, it should be us that change our thinking to understand others and meet them where they are rather than trying to conform them to our logic or make them into something that fills our needs. A dog is not there to GIVE YOU love, comfort, etc without being given into to. It’s like those one-sided human relationships in which one person only gives and the other only takes (not really a relationship in my book). It’s absolutely unfair to ask someone (or somedog) to give anything to you emotionally when you don’t also fulfill their needs. As with most of life, you get what you give.
I think that, while it’s easy (and now culturally popular) to ascribe human traits and relationships to our dogs, it’s in the best interest of everyone to see your dog as herself, a dog, and fulfill her needs as a dog. To me, Galen doesn’t quite fit any of one word we have for a human relationship; he’s a friend, teacher, confidant, right-hand man, bro, and roommate; but none of those things really express the human-dog bond. He’s my dog, and I don’t see the need to limit him to what I understand or have words for. I consider myself a student of dogs, and the second I think I know better is the very second I cut myself off from learning all the things I don’t know I don’t know. As Shunryu Suzuki put it, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”