Love and connection, being one of the most important human needs, is easy to get from dogs. They love us easily, they love us completely, and even when we let them down they are still there for us. It makes sense that those of us who struggle in the human world find our refuge in the natural world with dogs.
From my position, I get to see something else that’s even more interesting – what happens when dogs shouldn’t be so easy to love. I get to see people who take abuse from their dogs and yet always forgive them. Dogs can bite their owners, bite their children, keep them from sleeping at night, ruin their expensive furniture or family heirlooms, and yet the owners continue to love them. Even more interestingly, owners will excuse every behavior or take the blame themselves.
“I’m not providing the leadership they need.”
“They had a difficult upbringing.”
“I think they might have been abused.”
No matter what the problem, owners will find a way to understand that the dog doesn’t mean to be “bad” and that the dog is just doing what it’s learned to do.
The people I work with are almost Saintly with their love of their dogs. No matter what the dog does to hurt the owner, the owner will continue to love them and try to understand them.
Looking back at my own life and looking at people around me, I sometimes wish that people extended the same courtesy to people that they did to the dogs they loved. Heck, I wish I could.
How many people have been “bitten” by a best friend, a significant other, or acquaintance and written them out of their lives completely as a result? I know I’ve lost many important people over perceived wrong doings and looking back I can’t even remember what it was. I never stopped to think about whether they were never taught the proper social skills, or if they had been abused, or what I might have done in the situation to cause "the bite." They wronged me and any self-respecting person has to respect his boundaries - after all we are taught not need people.
But every time I get bit by a dog (usually a dog I barely know) I go back and try to figure out what I did wrong to get bit. How could I have understood the dog better? How could I have not put the dog in a stressful state? How did I mess this up?
This way of looking at love and connection is one of the greatest gifts I’ve received from dogs. After years of working with dogs, I’m way better at human relationships than I would have been back when I was 18 (I still have a lot to learn, though!). To a large extent, I have dogs to thank for that.
I encourage all you dog lovers out there to learn two things from dogs:
First – love big.
Second – We all need forgiveness and understanding sometimes. Connection is rare enough that it is worth saving.