I am about to make some popcorn – one of my favorite snacks – as John is out walking with the dogs. I pause to think of what to put on the popcorn. Not so much because I am undecided about what I want, but because I normally share the bag of popcorn with Deuce and Rio. And John has never thought of popcorn as a great snaky-snack.
I settle for some olive oil, turmeric, and garlic powder, all delicious, and stuff the dogs can eat with no concerns. It got me thinking: What does it mean to share something with our dogs? Is sharing just doing stuff together? Or is there more to this?
When we take them for a walk, how are we really sharing with them? Are we actually sharing? How about when in a training class – regardless of why we are participating? Or just hanging out at home?
As I ponder these questions, I try to define for myself what sharing with my dogs really looks like. The short answer is that sharing is being aware of their needs in the specific activity and being present with them. Forgetting for a minute the email we need to send (yes, people please put the freakin’ phone down!) and I will guarantee that your time with your pups will be more peaceful and more harmonious.
Being present also means paying attention to the pace our dogs need or want when on a walk or doing any activity such as playing Frisbee, tug, etc. It is also about slowing the heck down so that we can learn a bit about their likes and dislikes. For example, if you move a toy around with the intention of having your pup turn in a semi-circle after the toy, does she prefer to go clockwise or counter-clockwise? Is there a part of her body that appears less flexible? Now you know something else about your dog and this builds relationships.
What about the food we serve them? Is it the same old boring kibble day in and day out? Think about it, how would you like to eat the same thing day after day after day – regardless of how delicious it is. Yep, variety is the spice of life and this is true for the dogs as well. In this department, I also try and drop in their bowls what I call “little-surprises” such as some leftover baked eggplant, which they LOVE, or cooked broccoli, a smallish piece of cheese, or an old-time favorite, etc. I rotate their protein as well.
For me, sharing my life with my dogs implies inventing new games to play and using the same toys in different ways. Not only does this keep our learning and cognitive skills challenged, but it requires that I am fully there with them. Being in the moment has the much-added bonus of calming the Sympathetic nervous system; thank you dogs for providing me ample opportunities for doing just this.
A friend of mine asked me the other day: ‘If you needed to share one message about dogs what would that be?’ I said my message would be; ‘That we exercise more empathy for them. Empathy is understanding how they truly learn, what they need and desire, and that we commit to revisiting this as many times as needed, to recognize when an interaction or an activity is not desired or when they are not able to cope. To recognize their need for more mental or physical stimulation or perhaps less. To be aware of and not exposing them to cold temperatures without a coat or shelter or leaving them behind in a dangerously hot car. To me, empathy means the ongoing conversation we have with them just like we do with a trusted dear friend.’
Sharing with our dogs is at the heart of the message that I will continue to divulge in hopes that others will take it to heart. After all, what is the point then of having these amazing creatures in our lives if we do not commit to sharing by being present and empathetically with them?