Some things simply go together (peanut butter and jelly, popcorn and a movie, firecrackers and the 4th of July) while other 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 mesh well with our own. It’s simply not fun! On the other hand, when two temperaments are a “good fit,” both people walk away feeling energized and accepted by one another.
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 involved an investigation of temperament, it offered Thomas and Chess an opportunity secondarily to observe what takes place in a “good” parent-child relationship and a “not so good” parent-child relationship. What Thomas and Chess discovered (somewhat predictably) was that, if a parent’s values and expectations were in alignment with a child’s natural abilities and temperament, a good fit occurred. So, if a parent values athleticism and a competitive spirit and that parent’s child is athletic and competitive, the relationship between the parent and child the will tend to be a good one. But, if a child has a difficult or slow-to-warm-up temperament (which makes it much more difficult for the child to successfully interact with others) or if a child doesn’t enjoy or excel at sports, a parent is more likely to become frustrated with the child. In situations where temperaments clash, invariably one person (in this case, the parent) feels frustrated and disappointed while the other person (the child) feels inadequate and unloved.
Trying to reconcile the gap between reality and an unrealistic expectation is always going to be challenging. One of the main reasons that expectations for a relationships rarely match up with reality concerns the fact that most relationships are based on appearance. There are important genetic reasons why we as humans base our relationships on appearance and many of these subconscious reasons have to do with an appearance of overall health and virility which bodes well for our future offspring. Humans are driven by certain genetic drives and one of those drives is reproduction. All of us are concerned about having healthy offspring that will be able to reach maturity so that they, in turn, can reproduce and continue our genetic line.
The difficulty with basing a relationship primarily on appearance, though, has to do with our tendency to disregard or overlook other important issues that impact the successful outcome of a relationship (such as temperament compatibility.) If a relationship is based primarily on appearance to the exclusion of other critical traits and issues concerning our mate’s behavior and temperament, those ignored or overlooked traits and issues will sooner or later come to light. This is true with the relationships we have with other people and the relationships we have with the dogs.
As a veterinarian, I have observed countless mismatched relationships between owners and their dogs because of the fact that most people chose a dog almost exclusively on how that dog looks. For whatever reason, each of us tends to have a weakness for one or two particular breeds of dog. Still, even though we may completely adore our dog, that definitely doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to have problems (some potentially quite severe) with our dog.
There are so many unbelievable situations that I’ve witnessed over the years concerning individuals who completely picked the wrong dog for themselves. One story, in particular, stands out in my mind. The story centers on an elderly couple (in their seventies) who happened to walk into my clinic one day, each holding a Vizsla puppy in their arms. The couple was so excited as they explained that they’d just picked up the puppies that day and they wanted me to reassure them that the puppies were healthy.
i couldn’t have been more shocked if the elderly couple had told me they were going skydiving without a parachute! I kept thinking that the couple was going to tell me that they’d really gotten the puppies for a family member, someone younger who could handle two Vizsla puppies. But, while my mouth hung open, the couple chatted giddily about how they’d gone to get one puppy then ended up purchasing two and how excited they were now that the puppies would have one another to play with! All I could think was “Oh, my goodness.”
As I stood there dumbfounded, the couple shared how they’d always talked about getting a Vizsla puppy and how they’d always considered them to be one of the most beautiful breeds of dog in the world. The couple elaborated on how they’d spent a year researching the best breeders until they finally selected the breeder they thought was the best. They’d anxiously waited for one of the breeders dogs to get pregnant and then they waited some more until the puppies were born. Then, when they went to select their puppy, they impulsively decided to get two pups instead of one. Once again, all I could think was, “Oh yeah, double the trouble!”
It was clear that there was no way that I was ever going to be able to burst this couple’s delusional bubble since they were completely lost in La-La Land as far as these puppies were concerned. I tried telling them right off the bat that I was quite concerned that they might have bitten more than they could chew but my comments failed to sink in. I continued to try and broach my concern by asking the couple if they’d ever had a chance to witness just how wild and crazy Vizsla puppies can be but the couple merely giggled and pooh-poohed my concern. I finally had to resign myself to the fact that the couple had been blinded by the light when it came to these puppies.
When I saw the puppies a month after that first visit, I could tell that reality was hitting home like a herd of stampeding buffalo (which would have been only slightly more destructive than those pups!) The couple’s bright and cheery optimism had degraded to a dazed and confused exhaustion. The pups’ reign of terror escalated as, bite by bite, they shredded the couple’s carpet, couch and love seat into pieces of multi-colored confetti. The pitter-patter of little puppy feet evolved into wild and destructive rampages through the house as the puppies got bigger and stronger each day. The couple described the pups’ forays through the house as frantic and hysterical as if they had a string of popping firecrackers tied to their tails! With the pups’ perpetual leaping and jumping, the couple started to look as if they’d gone ten rounds with Muhammad Ali as a result of all the scratches and bruises on their arms and legs. The truth was the couple had never stood a chance!
At the pups’ last monthly check-up, the man and wife spoke to me in lowered voices, whispering as if they were afraid the pups might hear. The couple told me that the pups had started playing this wicked little game that the couple believed was the last in a series of concerted efforts to push the couple over the edge! I raised an eyebrow as the couple told me that they hadn’t initially believed the pups could have the presence of mind to be doing what they were doing on purpose since they were just puppies for heaven’s sake! Just prior to the pups’ latest shenanigans, the pups had actually been sleeping through the night in the laundry room for several weeks in a row. The couple had felt quite proud of themselves for having finally reached that all important milestone.
Then, all of a sudden, everything changed. One night, on a night just like any other, the couple put the pups to bed and then began their typical routine for readying themselves for bed. The pups stayed quiet in the laundry room as the couple washed their faces and brushed their teeth. After reading for awhile in bed, the couple gave each other a good night kiss and turned off the lights, settling in for a good night’s rest. An indeterminate amount of time went by but, just as the couple were approaching their deepest stage of sleep, an unbelievable cacophony of screaming and yelping erupted from the laundry room!
Instantly jolted from sleep though wild-eyed and disoriented, the couple stumbled in a frenzy towards the laundry room dreading what possible horror or horrors might have befallen their precious puppies. Yet, when the laundry room door was finally opened in a panic, all that there was to be seen were two happy puppies bouncing and jumping all over one another as if nothing at all were the matter! Looking back, the couple had come to the conclusion that it the puppies were merely “high-fiving” one another! That first night, the couple was so completely dumbfounded and confused that they didn’t know what to think. It was only after the same scenario was repeated night after night after night that the couple finally came to the conclusion agree that the pups were doing this behavior on purpose!
Before the couple’s health and sanity were able to deteriorate much further, the couple’s oldest son came to their rescue and volunteered to raise the pups at his home. That way the couple could still maintain grandparent’ rights without the stress of having to be the puppies primary caretakers. It took a few months time but the couple was finally able to regain their prior good health and peace of mind.
Unfortunately, my friends, this is how it goes with relationships that are not a good fit! Difficult relationships by definition involve a clash of temperament that invariably leads to frustration and aggravation. No one’s happy when they’re in the midst of a difficult relationship and, since none of us can ever really change who we are to any significant extent, it’s best to not waste a lot of time and energy futilely hoping that the individual we’re embroiled with in a difficult relationship (be it dog or human) is ever going to magically transform into the individual that we want them to be.
There simply isn’t going to be a happy-ever-after ending when it comes to difficult relationships. If we don’t 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 or that we can clash with someone simply because of temperamental differences. yet, it’s best to make peace with the fact that not everyone is going to be good fit for us and simply move on from that as opposed to continually going head to head with someone when the relationship never improves.
There are only three possible courses of action when we find ourselves trapped in a relationship that is not a good fit:
1. Allow the relationship to remain as it is and simply continue to suffer frustration and aggravation
2. Create space emotionally and/or physically so that we relieve some of the tension in the relationship
3. End the relationship
Though none of us can change who we are to any significant extent as a result of our genetics, that’s exactly what we’re wanting from the other person in our difficult relationships! We’re continually asking the other person to change, change, change! Unfortunately, some of our most difficult relationships occur within our families. Yet, because we’re family, we’re typically not going to want to end those relationships. The glue that binds families together is normally quite strong and, consequently, it can be almost impossible for any of us to ever completely break free. That’s why learning how to create boundaries through emotional and physical space is often going to be our best bet when a difficult relationship involves a family member.
Dogs frequently feel like family to many of us. One of the most challenging aspects of being a veterinarian is feeling an obligation to voice my concerns when I detect that a particular dog isn’t a good fit for a certain individual or family (this is especially challenging when I have suspicions that a particular dog might be dangerous.)
No one has a crystal ball that can reliably predict whether a dog is going to eventually hurt someone or not. Over the years, though, I’ve learned to trust my experience and instincts and I now believe that it’s best to err on the side of caution when there’s a concern that a dog might potentially be dangerous. Horrific things can happen in the blink of an eye. For unknown reasons, a dog can have one bad moment and, before anyone can intervene, a dog can inflict horrific injuries to the point of killing someone. This is especially the case when it comes to children.
Trying to predict whether a dog will 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 needs to undergo a lot of scrutiny not only from the owner but from me as the veterinarian. All of us need to be invested in trying to figure out just what kind of dog a new dog is going to be. I feel 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 doesn’t like what I have to say.) As one might expect, there are times when an owner has gotten upset or defensive because of what I’ve said about their dog.
There was one owner that got upset with me as a result of what I told her about her dog that will forever stand out in my mind. It occurred many years ago when a woman I’d never met before came in with her three small children brought and a ten-week-old Sharpei puppy that she’d just recently purchased. 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 sometimes growl and snap: this puppy was sincerely irritated and quite aggressive in its response. My concern turned to alarm when I went to pick up the puppy so as 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!
Oh, brother. 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 that I relish in the least. I tried to ease into the subject by asking the owner if she knew that Sharpeis are often intensely opinionated and standoffish, sometime to the point that they can have a tendency to bite. I then felt compelled to point out that, in all my years as a veterinarian, I’d hardly ever seen a puppy that young growl and bare its teeth at me. I told her that, considering she had three small children, it’d probably be best to return the puppy before the kids got too attached and try to find a puppy that’s more agreeable and sweet.
Well, the owner wasn’t at all pleased. She commented that she thought it extremely unfair of me to condemn a puppy at so young of an age and didn’t I know that a dog’s behavior is actually determined by how it’s raised? She said that I, being a veterinarian, should know that to be true more than anyone!
I tried to explain that I was quite aware of that popularly held belief but that I didn’t agree with it. I said that, though it’s certainly true that a dog’s environment has an impact on its behavior, it can’t outweigh the influence of the dog’s genetics. I told her that I’d watched hundreds of dog owners try everything from discipline, love and medication to alter a dog’s bad behavior but, due to the incredible influence of the dog’s genetics, they dog was never really able to change that much. I told her that, with grouchy dogs, there’s an increased likelihood that they’re going to bite because their tolerance and ability to handle their environment is so low. I explained that scared or aggressive puppies (the ones most likely to bite) tend to grow up to be scared or aggressive adults even when they’ve been raised in loving and disciplined home.
The woman just 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 that Sharpei puppy again. It actually took four years for me to find out what happened to that pup.
Four years later, I was treating a puppy at my clinic for Parvo, an extremely contagious gastrointestinal virus that causes serious illness and sometimes death in puppies. This particular puppy had been at the clinic for three or four days while it received IV fluids and various other medications to help control its dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea. One day, when the puppy’s owner was visiting her pup, the owner suddenly looked me in the eye and said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” I said that I didn’t remember having met her before she brought the Parvo puppy to me and that’s when she blurted out: “I’m the one who had the Sharpei puppy, the one you warned me might grow up to be a biter.” Oh yes, now I remembered her.
The owner told me that things hadn’t gone well at all with the puppy after I’d seen it. Even though she tried everything that she could possibly think of to try and help the puppy (including hiring three different trainers), the puppy was so persistently touchy that it routinely growled and snapped at the kids and other family members. The breaking point came when the dog seriously bit a little neighborhood girl in the face. The little girl had to have surgery and her parents ended up suing the owner. The case was settled through the owner’s homeowners’ insurance but the whole ordeal was a complete nightmare. Backed into a corner by her insurance company, the owner decided that she had to put the dog to sleep. Despite the fact that the dog had constantly growled and snapped at them, the owner’s kids were absolutely devastated by the loss of the dog.
This is such a heartbreaking story on so many levels. It’s naturally sad for the people involved but it’s also sad for the poor dog! It wasn’t the dog’s fault that it had been born with that particular temperament. I’m not out to build a case against Sharpeis as a breed but they might not be the best dog for everyone. The truth is that anyone who’s at all familiar with the Sharpei breed knows that the breed can be 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.
Whether a relationship is a good or bad fit is always a function of the temperaments involved. That’s why a dog (or a person) might get along great with one person or another dog but not get along with a different person or dog. In the case of the Sharpei, that particular dog needed some special circumstances. First off, it needed a home that didn’t include children. It also needed a home in which the owner was experienced enough with dogs to be able to manage such an intense and aggressive dog. The Sharpei should have never been permitted to be within biting distance of anyone that didn’t know how to handle the dog. If all of those criteria had been met, the Sharpei would not have had to be put to sleep.
Unfortunately, the problem that we’re up against these days is that there are just way too many dogs that are 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 finding these dogs a safe and proper home becomes even more difficult. The truth is 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 (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 dog decides to bite or to attack someone, the consequences are definitely going to be much more severe if the dog weighs 100 pounds as opposed to 20 pounds. So, though it’s certainly true that many small breeds of dogs bite on occasion (mostly because they’re scared), it’s almost never the case that someone is killed or seriously injured by a small breed of dog.
The question that forever plagues me is why anyone would ever want to keep a potentially dangerous dog in their home where it could possibly injure or even kill someone 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.
The challenge of finding a dog that’s a good fit is nothing compared to the challenge of 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, due to the fact that we’re all perpetually stressed out, most of us feel as if we’re hanging on to our sanity by a thread. Forever trapped inside our own heads, we unavoidably see the world in terms of how life impacts us. With the stress of the world constantly weighing on our shoulders, searching for someone who’s a good fit can feel a bit like walking through a minefield because someone can seem so promising at first but then, when we least expect it, the relationship will suddenly blow up in our faces.
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 the occasional dog that’s dangerous, most of the problems we have with our dogs pale in comparison to the problems we have with ourselves and other humans. Dogs are so much more than just a pet to most of us because they allow us to experience a love that’s pure and effortless: something that’s simply not possible between two human beings.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that whenever we’re floundering in our efforts to have a good relationship, it’s primarily 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 have a desperate need to believe that temperament and behavior are completely changeable and all it takes is the right amount of love, discipline and training. In other words, a Pit Bull can be loved, disciplined and trained to the point it becomes as placid and safe as a Golden Retriever.
Like the owner of the Sharpei puppy, many people believe that a dog’s temperament and behavior are a direct reflection of how the dog was raised as a puppy. People presume that if a dog is shy, defensive or aggressive, it’s due to the dog being previously mistreated, abused or neglected in some way. Some people will even go so far as to say that a dog will only ever bite if it’s first mistreated or provoked, that it’s people who make dogs bite. Saying something like that only demonstrates just how little the person understands dog behavior. In truth, biting is one of the major ways a dog communicates and expresses itself in the pack. Biting is an integral part of how dogs play, defend themselves, take down prey and establish a pecking order in the pack.
We humans need to feel that we can change ourselves and others because that means that we have control over ourselves and our lives. Control is king: otherwise, we’re at the mercy of the world. That’s why we continue to cling so desperately to the belief that transformation and change is possible if we simply work hard enough at it! if we fail at our attempts to change or transform ourselves, it’s because we somehow didn’t try hard enough. This longing for control in our lives is the reason why we so strongly resist the idea that temperament (and the behavior generated by our temperament) is a matter of genetics. We feel such a loss of control if we allow ourselves to acknowledge the extent to which DNA impacts our lives (and the lives of our dogs.)
Clinging to the belief that we can change a dog’s temperament through love, discipline and training puts people at risk. Most of us are aware that there are many renowned dog trainers and behaviorists that claim that they possess the talent and knowledge to alter a dog’s behavior. When I take issue with these kinds of trainers and behaviorists is when they claim (quite arrogantly and ignorantly) that they have the ability to turn a potentially dangerous animal into an animal that’s safe for children to be around.
I consider many of these trainers and behaviorists (such as Caesar Milan) to be the equivalent of a lion trainer. We’re all impressed with what a lion trainer can do: how they climb into a cage with dangerous animals and actually make them do tricks. But I don’t think there’s any reputable lion trainer who would ever be so arrogant or foolish as to claim that he could give a lay person a few easy lessons on how to train a lion and then leave that lay person alone with a lion! The skill that a lion trainer possesses is similar to the skill that many dog trainers and behaviorists possess: it’s the result of a lot of natural ability and countless hours practicing and honing their craft. The skill that a lion trainer possesses isn’t something that can be passed on to someone in just a few weeks time. The same is true of a skilled dog trainer or behaviorist.
Certain dogs are the equivalent of a lion when it comes to being unpredictable and 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 way to ever go back and undo it. It’s absolutely crucial that we always err on the side of safety. No trainer, no behaviorist, no veterinarian ever has the right to jeopardize a person’s wellbeing just to prove a point or validate a philosophy. It’s dangerously irresponsible to give dog owners a false sense of security by showing them some 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 skill needed to safely manage a potentially dangerous dog.
As there are many children who are maimed and killed by dogs each year, we must keep the fact that DNA is what dictates temperament in the very forefront of our minds. Temperament is not something that can be changed in a dog or a person. It’s irresponsible and reckless for owners to hold on to the hope that an unpredictable and potentially dangerous dog can be loved, trained and disciplined into a dog that’s safe to be around. It can’t be done! So, if a dog ever reacts or responds in an aggressive or scared manner, WE NEED TO TAKE THAT AS A WARNING!
Most people don’t take potentially dangerous dogs seriously and that’s the reason why 4.7 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. Every year 34,000 people must undergo reconstructive surgery as a result of a dog attack. Sadly, the number of people killed each year by dogs has been steadily increasing in the U.S. from an average of seventeen deaths a year in the 1980’s and 1990’s to more than thirty deaths a year in recent years. Unfortunately, this increase in deaths correlates to the increase in popularity of Pit Bulls who are responsible for the majority of the deaths of people by dogs.
How can any of us be sure that we’ve chosen a dog that’s a good fit for ourselves and our families? Unfortunately, there’s no way to ever be one hundred percent certain that a dog won’t bite someone some day. But, if we want a relationship with a dog to be a good fit, we must very closely scrutinize the breed of dog that we’re selecting, taking into account the temperament and behavior that can be expected from that particular breed of dog. Then, we need to watch our dogs very closely for signs of fear or aggression as dogs who are afraid or aggressive are the dogs that cause the most injuries from biting. We must always remember that a dog’s temperament is genetic so that we don’t 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 each of us could simply accept that a dog’s temperament is genetic and that it’s not something that can be changed, untold amounts of pain and suffering could be avoided because we’d understand that what we see is what we’re got when it comes to our dog’s temperament and behavior!
Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess stressed in their book (“Goodness of Fit: Clinical Applications, From Infancy Through Adult Life”) that the responsibility and outcome of any relationship is always shared by both participants in the relationship. In other words, it takes two to tango. We all naturally want to blame the other person in a relationship for being the cause of all the problems in the relationship but, in truth, it’s the interaction of both temperaments that determines the context and the outcome of the relationship.
Unseen and often unknowable forces and instincts compel us to be mysteriously attracted to or repelled by every individual we meet. The majority of these instincts originate in our genetic need to survive and reproduce. That’s why it makes sense that a female would be attracted to a male who has the capacity to protect and provide for her and their offspring. Women love “macho” men because they appear to be strong, capable and virile. Humans are just like all the other living creature on this planet that want to live long enough to reproduce and pass on our genetic material. As parents, our focus shifts to making sure our offspring survive so that they, in turn, can reproduce and continue the genetic line..
The instincts surrounding survival and reproduction are so powerful that they impact every one of our relationship choices. Our survival and reproductive drives are engineered and executed under the direction of our DNA which, on a cellular level, orchestrates all our various hormones and bodily functions that are involved with survival and reproduction. Our instincts surrounding survival and reproduction are so compelling and form such a driving force in our lives that it often feels as if we have no conscious control over our feelings and our relationship choices. We might as well be puppets in the hands of our DNA.
Unfortunately, our survival and reproductive drives aren’t necessarily concerned with whether someone is a good fit or not: we’re simply attracted to who we’re attracted to and that is that. Consequently, many of us get caught up in the attraction we feel for someone, making it almost impossible to walk away even when it’s become quite clear that the relationship isn’t either happy or healthy. The dilemma that keeps us holding on to these unhealthy relationships is the confusion we have over what attributes might be changeable in the other person and what attributes are unlikely to ever change.
Before we understood just how much DNA dictates our temperament and behavior and that these aren’t going to change much (if at all) over our lifetimes, most of us stayed in unhealthy relationships because we believed that the other person might one day change: that through a maturation process or through counseling or possibly some kind of epiphany, the other person would magically evolve into the person we wanted them to be. Now that we know that temperament and much of our behavior is genetic and, as such, doesn’t change, it’s critical that we let go of our fantasies that some day someone is going to change. People simply don’t change.
The one bit of good news in all of this is that, even though we might have had a horrible relationship with one person, it doesn’t mean that we can’t have a good relationship with someone else since a good fit is 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 not necessarily a perfect fit! In other words, there’s always going to be something about the another person’s temperament that’s going to drive us a bit crazy! All relationships experience discord. A certain amount of conflict and frustration is simply to be expected anytime two temperaments interact. Even when we do our best to be realistic in our expectations (be it for a dog or another person), there will always be something that bugs us at some point or another!
A perfect example of this is my dog, Priscilla. Priscilla is a Silke terrier that I absolutely adore with all my heart. She’s been my special little companion ever since I got her when she was eight weeks old. She’s slept by my side almost every night since I’ve had her, even accompanying me on several trips to Costa Rica and California. She traveled with me across the U.S. when I tried out my singer/songwriter skills in various cafes and coffee shops along the way. Just having her by my side has helped to fill some of the emptiness inside of me. Yet, even with all of that being true, there are times when she makes me want to scream!
To start with, Priscilla’s a terrier and, being 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 starts her deranged barking in the middle of the night when one of my grandsons is trying to sleep. I don’t think there’s ever been one day when I haven’t had to tell her to “please hush up!” You’d think that after ten years I’d have made peace with her compulsive barking but, as of yet, her barking still drives me nuts!
Another thing that annoys me to no end when it comes to Priscilla is her inability (or refusal?) to be potty-trained. Even though my bedroom is carpeted with potty pads, she still 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! Even worse, she’s a habitual poop eater! Yes, it’s true. If I don’t pick it up her poop fast enough, the crazy dog will eat her own poop: transforming her cute little turds into a pile of poop crumbles. It’s just so gross!
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 leave to go to work each day. She absolutely hates it when I leave the house. And, as terriers insist on expressing themselves vocally, I have to listen to her bloodcurdling screams each morning as I walk out the door. It honestly sounds as if someone is stabbing her! The first few times it happened, I rushed back into the house 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 must be 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 finally get the hint, she repeatedly checks her food bow just to be sure that she hasn’t missed a morsel. Her internal clock is so precise that she knows to the minute when her next meal is due. As the minutes tick down, she becomes increasingly agitated, watching every move I make as she anticipates me filling up her bowl.
Still, even though we drive each other crazy at times, Priscilla and I are truly a 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 that we get from one another.
Sadly, one of the most difficult aspects of being blessed with a relationship that’s a truly good fit is having to one day lose the one we love. Since dogs have such a short life span as compared to humans, we’re usually the ones who are left trying to cope when we lose one of our beloved dogs. Many of us will lose several dogs during our lifetime. As a veterinarian, I’ve had to witness (sometimes several times in one week) the absolute devastation someone experiences when a beloved dog dies or has to be put to sleep. Even the toughest of men will sob uncontrollably when their best buddy dies.
There’s just such a special kind of love that exists between a human and dog. If only it could be that way with our human relationships! One of the greatest hopes that I have for this book is that, through learning to think of one another as dogs, we might actually be able to tap into some of the kindness, compassion and forgiveness that we so naturally feel towards dogs and, in turn, be able to feel those same kind of sentiments towards one another. This might be a bit like reaching for the moon but there’s no doubt that the world would be a much better place if we could simply treat each other as nicely as we treat our dogs!
In the next chapter, we’re going to look at how to manage the difficult relationships in our lives. Woof!