Anyone who knows me well knows I have a thing for dogs. While I only raise a certain breed, I love them all. Dogs are some of my best friends. I often tell people I like dogs more than many people; they are more loyal, honest and sincere than much of the human race.
Dogs have a lot to give. If you are important to them, they love you no matter what. They don't care if you brushed your teeth this morning, haven't taken a shower in a week or if you got up on time to open the office. They could care less if you have disgusting habits or even immoral ones. They are the most forgiving creatures in the world; but they also have long memories, particularly about certain things. If you yell at them in the morning they won't remember it that afternoon, but they will remember where you put their favorite ball a week ago because they were tearing up the house chasing after it.
Some people fear dogs, and for good reason. While I am sure some are scared of dogs because of a phobia, most fear them because of a bad close encounter. But in most cases, unless a dog is sick or scared, the reason they do bad things are because of their most common human contacts. Dogs can be trained to be mean and vicious; just like people. And training them to be so is a matter of the example their masters display.
Dogs can also look scary, even when they aren't mean. Many of the dogs I raise have light blue eyes that seem to look right through you. I've had some people tell me they look like wolves. I tell them my dogs have no more genetic connection to wolves than a Yorkie. Besides wolves have yellow eyes.
And have you ever looked into the eyes of a house cat or birds that are raised in cages? They have just as scary eyes, in fact they are more alien than a dog's peepers.
Dogs are animals; and while they have been domesticated for thousands of years, they are not people. Some humans get confused about that and count their dogs as their children. There is nothing wrong with that, but keeping perspective about dogs, and what they are, is important. And that is the point of this column.
There are those that would put an end to dogs doing what they love to do. These people would have all dogs treated the same; over indulged, over fed and over protected. Different breeds love different kinds of activities. Many small dogs are lap dogs and love the warmth of the house and their soft bed. Sporting dogs and working dogs are not generally the kinds of dogs you want to keep cooped up in an apartment; yet some people think these kinds of dogs should be kept in the same kind of circumstances as a Chihuahua. It's like telling a person who loves the outdoors that they must stay in a shopping mall day in and day out.
I hate, yes hate, people who mistreat dogs. Mistreatment to me is a dog that never gets any human contact, that doesn't get fed regularly and is often without water to drink. Beating dogs is also mistreatment. But disciplining them is not. I have learned over the years that if you use positive reinforcement with a dog for their good behaviors, and try to ignore their bad ones, you can get a lot of mileage. But with active dogs that isn't always the only answer. At times, even the best of dogs need a stern master.
A recent study in Great Britain showed that 60 percent of dogs in that country are overweight. Surely, if it is true in the British Isles, than it is also true in the United States too. To me, that too, is a kind of mistreatment; fat on a dogs body is just as critical to their health as it is to humans.
Personally, I never think of the dogs that live at my place as being owned by me. Sure I may have paid for the privilege of having them in my life, and I have provided their food and their health care. I am responsible for them, but in many ways I need them more than they need me. But dogs are themselves and they are what they are. They are part of my family, without being my kids. They give love and they get love. And when one passes on, it is a big deal at our house. A pall of darkness hangs over the kennel and our home for days after. That is when you evaluate your lifestyle and question whether you want to go through the act of death again, because inevitably, you will.
But the love of dogs makes it all worth it. You just can't get away from that dog love.