We are, arguably, in the golden era of dog adoration on the internet. You can’t scroll through any feed, or page, likely without a mention of the internet slang created around the culture of dogs- be it “doggo”, “pupper”, or many of the other commonplace terms- even entire legitimate news sources have jumped on- dedicating resources to explain the phenomenon.
I love this whole scene, in theory. I unabashedly think that dogs are a miracle of evolution. Not just that, but in a culture increasingly infatuated with dogs, I’m selfishly guaranteed job security. Boarding them at our farm, training them, getting to spend time with as many as I possibly can is nothing short of a dream. But still, I worry we aren’t doing our best to actually love dogs. They are funny, adorable, boundlessly affectionate, and full of personality. But they are also living, breathing creatures with needs and requirements to lead a complete life.
That sounds straight forward enough, but unfortunately, I think the practice of loving dogs has a long way to go. I work with a lot of families who adopt a pup without realizing that their lives are going to have to drastically adjust. And I’m not just talking about potty training.
Loving a dog means that when it’s pouring raining, you put those rain boots on and still go for a nice long walk (or pay a walker to do it for you!).
Loving a dog means that even though it would be easier to ignore the bold behavior like barking at a window, you take the time to move them away and work on retraining.
Loving a dog means that even though you hate it, you poop scoop the yard regularly, replace trashed bedding for the 800th time, call out from work for vet appointments etc.
It’s really not just about routine care where I think the greatest breakdown lies, but the routine care is as good a place to start as any. Exercise is a critical part of routine care and usually the first thing to be cast aside. Even dogs who receive excellent routine care, often are neglected when it comes to our most precious resources- time and focused attention. We come home tired, we have a million obligations, finances- etc. And here is a cold wet nose, a wiggling tail, and a critter that has been just waiting for your return. We can’t just repay that devotion with a quick pat and kibble in a bowl. We have agreed that we are going to give this animal more- a rewarding life experience with the richness that give us just by existing. Recently, Jon Katz tackled the emotional neglect of pet dogs in a beautiful piece that really resonated with me.
It used to be simpler, our relationship (I'm not talking about veterinary care or even training methodoolgy) with canines. We had them for specific tasks, and they were bred with those ideal traits in mind. Culture in the states has moved very far away from a partnership with animals- notably dogs, and having an agricultural business has emphasized this in a lot of ways for me. It feels like dogs have moved from a co-worker and partner to a helpless infant and funny accessory. This sells them short of their full potential, and more than that- it turns a relationship that benefited us both into something that now needs modern reforming. Of course, many folks still use their dogs as tools for a variety of jobs (myself included) but it has become more of an exception than the norm.
I worry that our love of dogs smacks of superficiality. We don’t make time to put in the work it takes to thoughtfully train a dog, and we also don’t acknowledge that there are limitations on each dog’s skill set. Not every dog is going to wear goggles and clear birds off a runway, and I’ve found that sometimes that translates to folks not taking the time to train them at all-- even on basics like leash manners or simple commands. So the relationship becomes this circle of resentment about dog’s behavior, and an over emphasis on the parts of the dog that seem to jive best- like letting the dog sleep in one’s bed. Now, I’m not saying it’s always wrong for a dog to sleep in your bed, but if you can’t stand your dog except when it involves cuddling, that’s kind of an unbalanced relationship to have, don’t ya think?
I would love to see the celebration of dogs go beyond internet admiration, but not further into the anthropomorphizing of canines. I want to see more spaces where families bring their dogs with them. And when those families bring pups, they need to focus on helping them reach their potential and fulfillment through constructive training and clear rules. I want more patios with dogs hanging out with their owners and stores that are dog friendly. I understand and respect that there are folks who are fearful of dogs, or have some kind of allergies. But I still think there is a lot of space in current life to make more room for those of us who have dogs to be able to do a bit more with them. Of course those ‘public space’ dogs also have to know how to ‘do public’. Even I can’t stand a ceaseless barking, jumping, or lunging pup. It’s a skill or a set of skills to be able to bring your dog with you.
Some dogs won’t have the skills right away to jump into public- but there is so much you can do at home to bring those dogs further from ‘accessory’ status into full fledged family member. Funny tricks, fetch, games, all of these things are worth your time. Run with your dog, even if it’s messy and both you get tired after 15 minutes. Go for an evening walk even if you don’t get very far because leash manners are a work in progress. Get that pupper a new tug toy and go nuts. Spend time with that cuddle monster building a relationship. Make “doggo” a term of endearment for a buddy who gets to be more than the ultimate source of mess and chaos.
You can still love the memes and silly videos--click that thumbs up for all it’s worth- but then turn, look at your pup, and ask yourself- How Can I Love You Better, Doggo? I promise it’s worth it, and more than that- it’s upholding the commitment made when that dog came home. We owe them that, if for nothing else, than for the hours of joy they provide to the internet.