Some things simply go together (peanut butter and jelly, popcorn and a movie, firecrackers and the 4th of July.) Some things don’t. This is definitely the case when it comes to certain combinations of temperament. All of us know what it’s like to clash with another person’s temperament that doesn’t go well with our own. It’s not fun! On the other hand, when two temperaments happen to blend together really well with each person feeling accepted and nourished by the other, that’s what’s called a “good fit.”
Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess spent fifty years analyzing and categorizing the temperaments of one hundred and forty-four children from infancy to adulthood. Though their study was an investigation of temperament, it coincidentally gave Thomas and Chess an opportunity to observe what takes place in a good (or a not so good) parent-child relationship. What they discovered (somewhat logically) was that if a parent’s values and expectations were in alignment with a child’s natural abilities and temperament, then a good fit occurred. That’s why, if a parent valued athleticism and a competitive spirit and a child just so happened to be naturally athletic and competitive, then everything would be fine. But, if the child had a difficult or slow-to-warm-up temperament (rendering it more difficult for the child to interact successfully with others) or if the child didn’t like or excel at sports, then a good fit wasn’t as likely to occur. That’s because, in situations where temperaments clash, one person (in this case, the parent) has a tendency to feel frustrated and disappointed while the other person (the child) is left feeling inadequate and unloved.
Trying to reconcile the gap between reality and our frequently unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others is always a challenge. When it comes to our relationships with ourself and others, the reason reality so very rarely matches our expectations revolves around the fact that we primarily base our relationships on appearance. Not surprisingly, there are important genetic reasons as to why we center our relationships around appearance (most of them having to do with overall health, virility and the ultimate quest to have our offspring survive to adulthood.) Yet, when a relationship is primarily based on appearance, there’s a tendency to disregard or overlook issues that are ultimately vital to the success of the relationship (such as temperament compatibility.) Basing a relationship on appearance not only results in problems for us when it comes to dealing with other people but it also creates problems with the dogs we choose when our choice is based on appearance.
As a veterinarian, I constantly see mismatched relationships based on appearance as people mostly pick a dog based on how that dog looks. For whatever reason, each of us tends to love a certain type of dog: some people love Pugs, some love Pit Bulls, others love Collies, Chihuahuas, etc. Still, despite the fact that an owner may love his dog with all his heart, it doesn’t prevent problems and difficulties from occurring as a result of a particular dog’s personality and temperament.
There are so many crazy stories that I could tell that involve people who have picked the wrong dog for themselves. One such story involves an elderly couple (in their seventies!) who came into my clinic one day, each of them holding an eight-week old Vizsla puppy. The couple excitedly relayed that they’d just gotten the puppies the day before and that they were bringing them in so that I reassure the owners that the puppies were healthy.
To say that I was shocked would be the understatement of the century: I don’t think I could have been more shocked if the couple had told me they were going to jump from an airplane without a parachute! I stood there dumbfounded waiting for them to tell me that the puppies were really for their grandchildren or someone along that line. Instead, they giddily went on and on about how they were going to raise them all on their own. Oy veh!
As I stood there in disbelief, the couple explained how they’d always wanted a Vizsla and how they thought they were the most beautiful dogs in the world. The couple detailed how they’d spent almost an entire year researching all the best breeders and how they’d eventually traveled ten hours to pick out their puppy and had impulsively decided to get two puppies instead of one (their reasoning being that, in the long run, it’d be easier since the puppies would have each other to play with.) The only thing that I could think was that these two puppies were going to totally flip this couple’s world upside down!
It was abundantly clear that I wasn’t going to be able to burst the couple’s delusional bubble (though I did say that I thought that they’d bitten off more than they were going to be able to chew!) I also asked the couple if they had any idea as to how wild and crazy Vizslas can be (especially once they got older and bigger?) The couple merely giggled, pooh-poohing my concerns, as they reassured me that they were completely prepared for the challenge. I had no choice but to resign myself to the fact that there was nothing to be done: the couple was simply beyond the reach of reason as far as those puppies were concerned.
Each time the pups came in for a check-up, I watched as reality hit home for the couple like a herd of stampeding buffalo (which would have only been slightly more destructive than those pups!) The couple’s bright and shiny optimism slowly but surely degraded to a bleak and weary exhaustion. The pups’ reign of terror escalated as, bite by bite, they shredded the couple’s carpet, couch and love seat into what looked like confetti. The pitter-patter of puppy feet progressed to a wild back and forth rampaging throughout the house that was so absolutely frantic that one might have thought exploding firecrackers had been attached to the puppies’ tails! Due to the puppies ever-increasing size and their perpetual jumping and leaping, the couple had started to look as if they’d gone ten rounds with Muhammad Ali due to all the scratches and black and blue marks all over the couple. The truth was the couple had never stood a chance!
At the pups’ last monthly check-up, the couple secretly confided in me that they were seriously concerned that they might actually be going crazy because of the pups! The couple lowered their voices and, leaning forward, whispered that the pups seemed to have it in for them: that they’d started playing a wicked little game with the couple almost every night that had the couple terrified to fall asleep!
I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow as the couple told me that, originally, they hadn’t thought the pups could have the presence of mind to be doing what they were doing on purpose! In truth, the pup’s current bad behavior had further thrown the couple for a loop because the pups had been sleeping through the night in the laundry room just fine for a few weeks prior. The couple had actually been patting themselves on the back for being able to finally see the light at the end of what had been a very dark tunnel.
The night everything changed was no different from any other: the couple had put the pups to bed and had then gone to get ready for bed themselves. The pups were perfectly quiet in the laundry room and, after reading for awhile in bed, the couple turned the lights out and settled in for a good night’s rest. The couple still couldn’t understand what made things change that night: possibly things were too quiet for the pups or maybe they were stimulated by the snores coming from the couple’s bedroom but, whatever it was, something definitely flipped a switch on those pups. Just as the couple was entering their deepest phase of sleep, the pups apparently looked at one another and with a count of one, two, three, they started screaming and yelping at the tops of their lungs!
The couple was instantly jolted from bed and, completely wild-eyed and disoriented, they raced to the laundry room to see whatever could be the matter. But, all they found upon flinging open the laundry room door was two Vizsla puppies who were wildly bouncing and jumping all over one another as if high-fiving each other on a job well done! The couple was so completely dumbfounded that it took several repeat episodes before they were able to admit that the pups were doing this to them on purpose!
Thankfully, before the couple’s health (and sanity) could deteriorate much further, the couple’s oldest son came to the rescue, volunteering to raise the pups at his home so the couple could maintain their grandparental rights without having to endure the stress of being the pups’ primary caretakers. Nicely enough, it only took two months for the couple to fully regain their prior good health and peace of mind.
And, this my friends, is how it goes with relationships that aren’t a good fit. A difficult relationship always entails a clash of temperament that unavoidably leads to upset and aggravation. No one’s ever happy in a difficult relationship. And, due to the fact that no one is ever able to change who they are to any significant degree, it’s best to not waste a lot of precious time and energy by futilely hoping and praying that the individual that we’re in a difficult relationship with (dog or human) is going to one day magically change into the individual that we want them to be.
There simply isn’t going to be a happily-ever-after ending when it comes to an overly difficult relationship. If we don’t happen to mesh well with someone, it’s unlikely that we’re ever going to mesh well with that person. It’s hard to accept that not everyone is going to like us and that there’s a certain number of people with whom we going to clash with on some fundamental level. We simply can’t be a good a fit with everyone and, unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about it.
There are only three courses of action that are possible when we find ourselves trapped in a difficult relationship:
1. Leave the relationship as it is (and continue to suffer)
2. Create space emotionally and/or physically
3. End the relationship
Getting one or both individuals to change in a difficult relationship isn’t something that’s likely to happen though it’s the very thing we ask and demand of one another! People (and dogs) can’t change who they are to any appreciable degree. It’s a hard truth that we definitely don’t like to accept but all of us are who we are as a result of our DNA. With lots of effort and determination, we might be able to modify ourselves a teeny, tiny bit but we’re not going to be able to change our fundamental selves to any major degree.
Regrettably, many of our most difficult relationships take place within our families. Even though we may clash with a certain family member constantly, it’s rare for us to end a familial relationship. The glue that binds families together is extremely sticky and, as a result, it can be almost impossible to completely break free. That’s why learning how to create emotional and/or physical space (i.e.-boundaries) is typically going to be our best option whenever we’re dealing with a difficult relationship involving a family member.
Dogs frequently feel like family to many of us. One of the most challenging aspects of being a veterinarian is when I’m forced to voice my concern as a professional that a certain dog might not be a good fit for a particular person or family (this is especially imperative if I have a sense that the dog might be dangerous.)
No one has a crystal ball that can reliably predict if a dog is going to be dangerous or not. Over the years, though, I have learned to trust my gut and I’ve learned that it’s best to err on the side of caution if there’s any concern that a dog might eventually be dangerous. In the blink of an eye, a dog can inflict horrific injuries and even kill someone. This is especially of concern with children.
Trying to determine whether a dog might be a good fit or not for a particular individual or family is a big part of my job as a veterinarian. Every new dog should undergo a lot of scrutiny from not only the owner but from me as the veterinarian. We’re all invested in trying to figure out just what kind of dog a new dog is going to be. I feel strongly that I have a moral obligation as a trained professional to express any reservations I might have about a particular dog (even if an owner may not like to hear what I have to say.) As one might expect, there have been times when an owner has become upset or defensive over what I’ve said about a certain dog.
One such instance of this occurred many years ago when a woman (accompanied by her three small children) brought a ten-week-old Sharpei puppy to me for vaccinations. As the woman and I chatted about all things puppy, I noticed that the puppy was growling and snapping at the woman’s children but not in the playful way that puppies will sometimes growl and snap. This puppy simply seemed to be extremely irritable and touchy. My concern turned to alarm when I picked the puppy up to put it on the exam table and it actually growled and bared its teeth at me! This was by no means normal puppy behavior!
Bummer. At that point, I knew that I was going to have to broach the subject of the pup’s grouchy temperament. It’s not a discussion I relish! I tried easing into it by pointing out that Sharpeis are known for being intensely opinionated and standoffish: to the point that they often become crabby and grouchy. I went on to explain to the owner that, in all my years of being a veterinarian, I’d hardly ever seen a puppy growl and bare its teeth as her pup had done. I finally recommended that it’d be best for her to return the puppy now (before the kids got too attached) and see, if instead, she couldn’t find a puppy that was a lot more agreeable and sweet.
Well, the owner wasn’t pleased. She huffed that it was disgraceful for me to condemn any puppy at such a young age. Didn’t I know that a dog’s behavior is determined by how it’s raised? She stated that, considering that I was a veterinarian, that I (more than anyone else) should know that to be true.
I tried to explain that I was quite aware of that popularly held belief but that I didn’t happen to agree with it. Though it’s certainly true that a dog’s environment influences a dog’s behavior, it can’t undo the impact of the dog’s genetics. I went on to explain how I’d watched hundreds of dog owners do everything that they could possibly do to modify a particular dog’s behavior (through love, training and medication) but, due to the power of the dog’s genetics, they weren’t ever able to get the dog to change that much. Most importantly, with grouchy dogs, there’s simply no way to ever guarantee that they aren’t going to bite someone at some point in time. The majority of scared or aggressive puppies (the ones who grow up to bite) are going to grow up to be scared or aggressive adults despite the fact that they might have been raised in loving and disciplined home.
The woman simply wasn’t buying it. And, though we managed to make it through the appointment in spite of our different points of view, I never saw the Sharpei pup again. In fact, it was four years later before I learned what had become of the pup.
At the time (four years later), there happened to be a puppy in my clinic that was being treated for Parvo (Parvo’s a sometimes fatal, gastrointestinal disease that occurs primarily in puppies.) This particular pup had been at the clinic for three to four days as it received IV fluids and medication to help control its vomiting and diarrhea. One day, when the puppy’s owner had come to visit the pup, she turned to me and said, “You don’t remember who I am, do you?” When I said that I didn’t, the woman told me that she’d been the owner of the Sharpei pup that I’d recommended she return four years previously.
The woman said that things hadn’t gone well at all after I’d seen the pup. Despite the fact that she’d done everything that she could think of to help the pup (including hiring three different trainers), nothing seemed to make a difference: the puppy continued being irritable and grumpy to the point that it routinely growled and snapped (occasionally biting her kids and other family members.) The breaking point finally came, though, when the dog bit one of the little neighborhood girls in the face. Unfortunately, surgery was needed and the little girl’s parents eventually sued the owner. Though the case was settled through the owner’s homeowner’s insurance, it was a complete and total nightmare with the dog having to be put to sleep.
This is such a heartbreaking story on so many levels. It’s important to understand that I’m not trying to build a case against Sharpeis or claim that all Sharpeis bite (though anyone familiar with the breed knows that they’re extremely strong-willed and opinionated!) The point I’m trying to make (and that desperately needs to be made) is that disaster can and will strike if people insist on keeping a potentially dangerous dog in their home.
Dangerous dogs are the ultimate in a bad fit relationship. Since relationships are good or bad depending on the combination of temperaments involved, a dog or person might have a good relationship with one individual but experience a bad relationship with someone different. In the case of the Sharpei, the dog definitely needed a home that didn’t include children and it also needed a home where the owner knew how to handle an intense and potentially aggressive dog. If those criteria had been met, the Sharpei wouldn’t have had to be put to sleep.
Unfortunately, the problem we’re facing with these days concerns the fact that there are way too many dogs in need of a home. If any of these dogs happen to be a large, intense breed such as a Pit Bull, Rottweiler or Mastiff, the odds of being able to find these dogs a safe and proper home becomes even more difficult. The truth is that it takes a very special person, someone who’s skilled and knowledgeable, to safely handle a large intense dog. This is especially the case if the dog is aggressive or scared (again the two types of dog that tend to bite the most.) There are certain dogs out there that simply can’t or shouldn’t be trusted. If a large dog decides to bite or to attack someone, the consequences are definitely going to be much more severe than if a dog is small. So, though it’s certainly true that certain small breeds of dogs bite a lot (primarily because they’re scared), it’s not often that someone is killed or seriously injured by them.
The question that forever plagues me is why anyone would ever keep a potentially dangerous dog in their home where it might possibly injure or kill someone that they love? It makes absolutely no sense to me. In my humble opinion, life is way too precious and fragile to ever risk living it with a potentially dangerous dog.
Though people can sometimes end up with a dog that’s not a good fit, the challenge of finding a dog that’s
a good fit is nothing compared to trying to find a fellow human who’s a good fit! We humans are depressingly complex and, at any given moment, we’re juggling an overwhelming number of physical, emotional and spiritual issues. And, since we’re all so perpetually stressed out, it’s not uncommon for us to feel that we’re hanging on to our sanity by a thread. We’re constantly trapped inside our own heads and, as a consequence, we only seem to be able to think in terms of how life and the world impacts us. With the stress of the world forever weighing on our shoulders, it can feel like we’re walking through a minefield as we try to find someone who’s a good fit for us. Because we’re frequently stressed and a bit desperate, our judgment can be faulty and, as a consequence, we only find out farther down the road that what we initially thought was a good relationship wasn’t.
Casualties are the norm in human relationships as compared to the relationships we have with our dogs which often feel like a breath of fresh air in comparison. Other than those dogs that are dangerous, most of the problems we have with our dogs pale in comparison to the problems we have with ourselves and other humans. I have no doubt that’s why people love dogs so much: dogs give us the opportunity to experience a pure and effortless love that’s simply not possible between two human beings.
It’s helpful to understand that when we flounder in our quest to have a good relationship with either a dog or a person, it’s predominately because of two reasons:
1. We’re making our choices based on appearance
2. We’re clinging to the belief that temperament (and behavior) can be changed.
Throughout my many years as a veterinarian, I’ve watched as people repeatedly minimize the importance that genetics has on their dog’s temperament and behavior. Humans seem to have a never-ending, desperate need to believe that temperament and behavior can be changed if only we use the right amount of love, discipline or training: that a Pit Bull can be raised or trained to be as placid and safe as a Golden Retriever.
Like the woman with the Sharpei puppy, a majority of people are convinced that a dog’s behavior is a direct consequence of how it’s raised as a puppy. People assume that if a dog is shy, defensive or aggressive, it’s because the dog was previously mistreated, abused or neglected in some way. There are even people who will go so far as to state that dogs only bite if they’re mistreated or provoked: the implication being that it’s people who make dogs bite. The truth is the only way dogs can really express themselves is through their mouths: biting is how dogs play, defend themselves, take down prey and establish a pecking order in a pack.
Humans long for control because it’s the only way for us to get what we want in life. Control is King. That’s why we stubbornly cling to the belief that, if we only try hard enough, transformation is possible. Our quest for control is why we resist the concept that temperament (and the behavior generated from temperament) is a matter of genetics. We feel that we’re in some way giving up if we acknowledge how much DNA impacts our lives and the lives of our dogs. The truth is DNA is a fact of life, a fact of life whose wide-sweeping importance is only in the early stages of being fully realized.
If we continue to cling to the belief that we’re able to transform a dog’s temperament through love, discipline, training or medication, it can actually be dangerous as it puts people at risk. All of us are aware of the many renowned dog trainers and behaviorists who claim that they have the ability to transform a dog’s behavior. They only time I have a problem with any of those claims is when it concerns a potentially dangerous animal.
I consider certain talented individuals (such as Caesar Milan) to be the equivalent of a lion tamer. We’re all impressed with what a lion tamer can do: they climb into a cage with potentially lethal animals and actually make them do tricks. But I don’t think there’s any reputable lion tamer who would ever be so foolhardy as to claim that he could give a lay person a few easy lessons on how to tame a lion and expect to leave the lay person alone with a lion! The skill that a lion tamer possesses is similar to the skill that many dog trainers and behaviorists possess: it’s the result of certain amount of natural ability and countless hours practicing and honing their craft. The skill of a lion tamer’s isn’t something that can be passed off or learned by someone in a few weeks of instruction.
Certain dogs are the equivalent of a lion when it comes to being dangerous. A potentially dangerous dog should never be disregarded or minimized. Nightmares happen in the blink of an eye and, once something horrific has happened, there’s no going back. It’s absolutely vital that we always err on the side of safety. No one ever has the right to jeopardize another person’s wellbeing in order to prove a point or to validate a certain philosophy. It’s totally irresponsible to give dog owners a false sense of security by handing them a few well-intentioned techniques on how to handle a potentially dangerous dog. In the same way that an ordinary person can’t be expected to handle a lion after a few lessons, it can’t be expected or assumed that an ordinary dog owner is going to be able to acquire the skills needed to safely manage a potentially dangerous dog.
As it’s mainly children who are killed and maimed by dangerous dogs each year, we must constantly remind ourselves that temperament is genetic. And, due to the fact that temperament is genetic, it’s not something that’s going to change much (if at all) even with extensive training. It’s dangerous and reckless to allow ourselves to be deluded into believing that we have the power to love, train and discipline a potentially dangerous dog into the kind of dog that’s completely trustworthy. If a dog ever expresses itself in an overly aggressive or scared manner, RESPECT THAT!
Despite the fact that I’m stressing the power that genetics has over our lives and the lives of our dogs, it doesn’t mean that environmental influences aren’t important. Of course they are! It’s simply my belief that DNA isn’t given enough credit for the impact it has on our lives.
One reason it’s so hard for us to embrace the impact that DNA has on our lives (and the lives of our dogs) has to do with the fact that it’s microscopic. It’s an invisible non-entity for most of us. We can’t see, hear, touch, taste or smell DNA. Plus, it doesn’t leave us with all the memories, impressions and scars that we get from the environmental aspect of our lives. It’s not surprising then that environmental influences always loom large in our minds: we’ve lived them for heaven’s sake and they’ve definitely left their mark on our psyches. There’s simply no way for us to ever relate to our DNA in the same way that we relate to all the environmental aspects of our lives: but that doesn’t alter the fact that DNA is our Michelangelo, the invisible sculptor of our lives.
Not being able to fully comprehend this fact is one of the reasons why 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year in the United States: 880,000 of which are bitten so severely that medical attention is required. And, partially because of the ever-growing popularity of Pit Bulls, the number of human fatalities by dogs in the United States has steadily grown from an average of seventeen fatalities per year during the 1980’s and 1990’s to more than thirty deaths per year over the past several years (the majority of these deaths being caused by Pit Bulls or Pit Bull mixes.)
So, if we want a relationship with a dog that’s a good fit, we must closely scrutinize the breed of that dog that we’re selecting, taking into consideration the kind of temperament and behavior that can be expected from a particular breed of dog. We must be able to accept a dog for the dog it is genetically and to not delude ourselves into believing that we can love, train or discipline a dog into being the kind of dog that we want it to be. If we could each do this one thing, untold amounts of pain and suffering could be avoided. If we could somehow pound it into our heads that no one (neither dogs nor people) can ever be changed that much, we might finally realize that what we see is what we’re going to get!
Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess stressed in their book (“Goodness of Fit: Clinical Applications, From Infancy Through Adult Life”) that the outcome of any relationship (whether good or bad) is always something that is shared by both of the participants in the relationship. In other words, it takes two to tango. Though we might want to blame another person for the problems in a relationship, it’s always the unique dynamic between any two individuals that ultimately determines the outcome of the relationship.
Unseen and frequently unknowable forces seem to cause us to be attracted to or repelled by someone else. Most of these mysterious forces likely emanate from our genetic need to survive and reproduce. That’s why it makes complete sense that a female would be attracted to a male that’s able to provide for her and her offspring. That’s why women instinctively are attracted to macho men and why males will do everything they can to impress a female that they’re the toughest one in the group. At heart, we’re like every other creature on the planet: we’re constantly focused on survival so we’ll be able to reproduce and, in turn, see our offspring survive and reproduce.
These incredibly powerful genetic forces (of survival and reproduction) are what govern the relationship choices we make outside of our nuclear family (obviously, we don’t have the luxury of choosing our families.) These genetic forces are so insistent and compelling that we frequently don’t feel as if we’re in control of our relationship choices. It’s as if something in our DNA is forcing us to be attracted to a certain person. This can be especially unfortunate when the relationship turns out to not be a good fit. Many of us feel trapped by our attraction even when the relationship feels like a square peg being pounded into a round hole. Part of what makes it hard for us to let go has to do with our inability to accept that the person that we’re in a relationship with isn’t going to change no matter how much we or they may want to. To be able to finally move forward, we must release the fantasy that someone is going to change. In all reality, it’s not going to happen. The one bit of good news to be had in all of this is that, even though we might have had a horrible relationship with one person, it doesn’t mean we won’t be able to have a good relationship with someone else. It’s simply a matter of finding the right combination of temperaments.
Yet, even with the best of all possible matches, it’s important to remember that a good fit is rarely (if ever) a perfect fit: there’s always going to be something about someone else’s temperament that drives us crazy! All relationships experience some degree of discord. A certain amount of conflict, friction and frustration is simply to be expected whenever two temperaments interact. Even when we try to be as realistic as possible in our expectations for someone else (be it a dog or another person), it’s unavoidable that we’re going to get annoyed with them at some point in time.
My dog, Priscilla, is a good example of the discord that’s to be expected even in the best of relationships. Priscilla is a Silke terrier that I adore with all my heart. She’s been my very special little buddy ever since she was eight weeks old. She accompanied me on several airplane trips (two trips to Costa Rica and three to California) and she’s sat on my lap as I drove across the U.S. (singing and playing my guitar in various cafes and coffee shops along the way.) I don’t sleep well if she’s not snuggled up to me in bed. She’s comical and goofy and, just by being by my side, she fills an empty space inside of me. Yet, with all of that being said, Priscilla can drive me absolutely nuts at times!
To start with, due to the fact that Priscilla’s a terrier, she barks at anything and everything! Like nails on a chalkboard, her ear piercing bark never fails to make me cringe. It’s especially unnerving when she does it in the middle of the night when one of my grandsons is sleeping. I don’t think there’s been a day when I haven’t had to tell her to hush up. You’d think after eight long years that I would have finally made my peace with her compulsive barking but I haven’t: her barking always gets under my skin!
Another annoying thing about Priscilla is her inability (or refusal?) to be potty-trained. It’s not bad enough that my bedroom is literally carpeted with potty pads! Despite that fact, she always manages to find the one spot that’s not covered by a potty pad and that’s precisely where she’ll pee or poop! Argh!
To really top things off, there was a time when I’d fostered a little Chihuahua named Hercules and Priscilla wasn’t happy. She decided to show her displeasure to me by peeing on my bed (mostly after I’ve just changed the sheets!) At least once or twice a week, I’d plop down into my bed at the end of a long day, thrilled to finally stretch out and relax but, what do I feel: a big, cold, wet spot where she’d unashamedly peed the bed! Of course, I’d scream, “Priscilla, how could you?” as she slinked away looking back at me as if she had no idea what my problem was as I ripped the sheets off, hoping that I’d be able to find some clean sheets somewhere.
To be fair, Priscilla has her beefs with me. Despite our eight years together, she’s never adjusted to the fact that I have to work every day. She absolutely hates it when I leave the house. And, as terriers like to express themselves vocally, I have to listen to her bloodcurdling screams every morning as I walk out the door. It seriously sounds as if someone is killing her! The first few times it happened, I ran back into the house like a crazy person thinking that I was going to find her lying in a pool of blood or dragging around a broken leg!
Priscilla’s also convinced that I’m the stingiest person alive considering how she glares at me each time I parcel out her food: it’s starvation rations as far as she’s concerned! Hoping that one day I’ll get the hint, she constantly checks her food bowl, making sure that she hasn’t missed a morsel, as her internal clock impatiently ticks away in anticipation of her next meal.
Still, despite the fact that we drive each other crazy sometimes, Priscilla and I are a really good fit. I think we’d both agree that any frustration we experience is a very small price to pay for the immense joy and comfort we get from one another the rest of the time.
Sadly, there’s always going to be one major heartache in any good fit relationship: the eventual loss of our loved one. Because dogs have such a short life span compared to us, we’re usually the ones who must find a way to cope with the loss of more than one dog during our lifetimes. As a veterinarian, I’ve had to watch (sometimes more than once a week) the absolute devastation experienced when someone is forced to lose a beloved dog. Even the toughest of men will sob without shame when their best buddy dies. There’s such a special love that exists between a human and dog.
If only it could be that way with our human relationships! One of my greatest hopes for this book is that, through learning how to think of one another as dogs, we might be able to tap into some of the kindness, compassion and forgiveness that we so easily give to dogs and, in turn, find a way to bestow those sentiments on one another in the same way we do dogs. This might be a little like reaching for the moon but there’s no doubt in my mind that every one of us would benefit if we could simply treat each other just half as nicely as we treat dogs!
In the next chapter, we’re going to take a look at what can be done when we find that we’re trapped in a difficult relationship. Woof!