I am going through my morning routine. The dogs have been fed and now I am hustling a bit to get ready myself. John is with us and he is going back and forth from his home office and the kitchen. The dogs, meanwhile, do what they do most mornings once they have had their breakfast: wait as patiently as they can for us to engage them in either a game with the orange ball or going for an off-leash hike.
In between lying down, they keep checking in with whoever is at home to ascertain who will be doing the AM routine.
Sometimes I find this annoying, but I soon realize that they are just looking out for #1. This morning I chuckle as they both rush to the bathroom when they hear the “suush” noise my pants make as I am putting them on. No, I tell them, you are barking up the wrong tree this morning, I am off to work. They both look at me as I dash out of the bathroom door.
Once they realized that I am not in charge of the fun this morning they basically move on to pestering. They move to John with their following around and endless sighs. John and I both chuckle whenever Deuce sighs as in letting us know that he thinks we are slow, unreliable, and kind of stupid for not having any interest in tennis balls.
So here it is, an example of dogs really not so interested in wanting to please us, as so many people believe, but in essence, just looking out after their own interests.
People in general have a real hard time listening to the bit that dogs do what works for them and really care little about pleasing us. This, of course, is different from them not being bonded or feeling safe and happy around us. Both being non-competing motivators from the perspective of the dog.
So you might be asking: why am I so sure that dogs really don’t care to please us and instead do things out of self-interest? And the answer is that it gets down to evolution, adaptation, and survival. Looking out for one’s interests is hardwired in all living species, it’s that simple. In addition, dogs do not follow a moral compass peppered with “shoulds”. Such luck for them! They are not conflicted about having to please us (in the event that we feel crushed if they don’t) or to manipulate us by making us think that they are pleasing us. I love this about dogs! What you see is well, who they are.
Now, why is it then that it is so hard for people to see dogs for who they are? Here I am just hanging out on a limb. The limb of having worked with hundreds of people and their dogs besides my own experience when I feel a little crushed if my dogs “prefer” the one that is taking them for walks or has been out of town for a few days!
My insight then tells me that we feel sad, offended, or (whatever other adjective we want to add here) when we contemplate the fact that dogs act out of self-interest because we are narcissists wanting their universe to gravitate with us at its center. Perhaps some of us also feel a sense of entitlement: I feed you, buy you toys, take you to the vet, (even when you prefer not to go), dog park, vacation, etc., etc. so… you should love me back! Ark! How human of us! Yet dogs will continue to act as dogs even if we don’t see them as such.
Okay, okay you might say, so who cares if we see them as dogs or we don’t? And I will reply over and over again that I do!
Seeing them for who they are is so central to their well-being. It is also central to our role as stewards of their well-being and our advocating for them. Nobody likes being morphed by force, someone else’s imagination, or worse; out of self-interest into who we are not.
Dogs, of course, cannot tell us to stop thinking of them as furry-children, or for us to imply that they, just like us, engage in oh so-human a predilection for manipulation and self-importance. But if we are truly honest with ourselves, we can begin to appreciate that the more we understand dog ethology the better off they are. Seeing them with all their dogness and still choosing to share our lives with them is at the core of deep appreciation for their incredible nature: chewing anything that is lying around making it a potential a chew-toy, marking every bush during the walks and your carpet too if you don’t take them out… sniffing and licking gross stuff such as other dog’s behinds and without missing a beat, expecting to cuddle with you while licking your face.
And here is the rub: if we do not partake in much of their nature, why do we expect (and sometimes even demand) they partake in ours? On the other hand, we come together in unison because we both experience happiness and joy, we feel vulnerable and afraid, we rather have a friend than be alone, etc.
So my strong suggestion to you is that the next time you feel (the very human urge) to think of your dog like a human, you stop in your tracks; and instead smile in contemplation of their amazing nature- this I think, in conjunction with honoring their needs is a gift. One that speaks of a close bond between our dogs and us.