For the Love of Dog

The Joy of Dogs is that They Aren’t Humans — To a Dog, You Can Do No Wrong

Todd Brewer / 7.21.20

Everyone is getting a dog nowadays. Adoption shelters are virtually empty and those wanting their dog from a breeder are met with long wait-lists or exorbitant prices. If you were on the fence about “man’s best friend” heading into quarantine, then the agony of the last few months pushed you over the edge. The kids need something to do. And you could use some exercise after weeks of fattening the curve. What better time to have a puppy? Right?

Wrong. This is probably the worst time to get a dog, but not because of COVID.

I got my own fur-ball children 13 years ago, so in the eyes of all my neighbors I am something like a professional. My two dogs are too elderly to misbehave, and their good manners make me look better than I am. For weeks, we’ve fielded questions about everything from how to train a dog to sit, to picking out the right dog, to keeping them from ruining rugs. But the thing I’ve noticed about each of these conversations is the overwhelming anxiety on the part of my friends. The fear is palpable — and justified.

I long ago watched Marley and Me on the big screen, a tale of a lovable dog who destroys everything he touches, and I thought that having a dog would be a fun, chaotic adventure. Today, the goal of dog ownership is to do everything in your power to not have a Marley who terrorize your life and possessions. Articles abound on the best ways to raise your pup, complete with advice on acting more like a European and protecting your dog from your children. Taking your dog to obedience school is pretty much obligatory (even in quarantine). Their emotional well-being is your responsibility, after all. If your Marley is misbehaving, the solution lies in proper technique and know-how.

Much like children, the art of having a dog is something that can and must be perfected. And just like real children, our dogs have become proxies for our own sense of enoughness.

It’s not enough to simply have a dog; they are our performers and we their puppeteers. How they behave in public is a source of shame or pride. If dogs didn’t have to go outside all the time this wouldn’t be such a problem. I was recently walking my pair of Marleys in a park when a woman nearby complained aloud that my dog had defecated 20 feet from her picnic blanket. It didn’t seem to matter that I used a bag (biodegradable and lavender-scented). I didn’t have enough control over my dog’s bowel movements. I did not apologize, nor should I have.

To be a dog owner is to constantly apologize to strangers and to feel embarrassments dogs are incapable of understanding. For this, blame Cesar Milan. Better known as “the dog whisperer,” Milan’s popular TV show featured renegade pooches loved by irresponsible owners. He could magically turn any Marley into a delightful Snoopy in 23 minutes or less. Milan offered hope to all weary dog owners, but this hope also implied a terrible judgment: there are no bad dogs, only bad people. Dogs are your problem to solve, and it’s your fault if you end up with a Marley. A dog’s “errors” are your own just as its obedience is a reflection of your skill.

Cesar Milan isn’t totally wrong, of course, but that only intensifies the feelings of failure and shame.

At the same time, though, we ask far too much of our dogs. The perfect dog doesn’t jump, doesn’t slobber on clothes, doesn’t bite, doesn’t bark/growl/whine, doesn’t hump, doesn’t pee when they get excited, and doesn’t stick its nose where it shouldn’t be. They are friendly, but courteous of people’s boundaries, receive attention when we want to give it, and eat/pee/poop/exercise at the appropriately scheduled times.

We’ve come to expect dogs to act more like people than canines, when really it should be the other way around.

The joy of dogs is that they aren’t humans. While adjusting to life with a dog can be a bit of a challenge, they are worth so much more than their inconveniences. A dog is a friend to anyone with a free hand for pets. It isn’t vindictive, and it doesn’t hold a grudge. A dog is always excited to see you. To a dog, you can literally do no wrong. You are your dog’s favorite person in the world, and nothing can ever change that.

The love of dogs is more than enough to withstand the scrutiny and anxiety of being a dog owner. Dogs are enough even when you feel like a failure. They console you when you’re lonely and get you out of the house when you can’t get out of bed. If the smug indifference of cats is a constant judgment, the devotion of dogs is a picture of grace — and who doesn’t need more of that?


2 responses to “For the Love of Dog”

  1. Anne says:

    TRUTH! And long live dogs, especially the untrained ones!

  2. Sue Waldro;p says:

    I no longer make any excuse about the state of my furniture or my kibble strewn house. I keep the human seating arrangements covered and clean. Otherwise everyone is on their own. It has become a test of my guests, not of me. If anyone is appalled at scratch marks, we probably wouldn’t have bonded anyway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.