Why we set the bar too high for ourselves and our dogs
Dogs have the most beautiful souls: They love unconditionally and with every ounce of their being. They live in the moment. Not knowing the meaning of a grudge, they forgive. They know just when our emotional wounds need licking. The simple act of petting a dog releases Oxytocin, which can reduce stress and anxiety. I could go on…and on, but if you’ve shared a connection with a dog, you know this.
I’ve heard the phrase, “humans don’t deserve dogs,” floating around over the years. Some humans truly don’t deserve dogs, but as an eternal optimist, I like to think most of us do because we reciprocate the love we receive and love them as wholeheartedly as they love us.
Still, as much as we love our dogs and live a life that revolves around them, we have our human moments. As dog parents, we relish talking about our love for them and the cushy life we provide them with.
But what we don’t talk about are the moments of frustration — the moments that remind us we’re human.
The times we tug the leash too hard during a brisk walk when we need to get home. The annoyance we feel when they almost knock us over as they dart toward that bunny. The days we yell at them to stop jumping on a houseguest. The disappointment of coming home to torn down shades and a chewed-up doorframe during their mischievous puppy stage. The times we are exhausted from being a caretaker and a fleeting thought about how nice it will be to have our life back when they pass goes by.
We can be both amazing dog parents and human beings with emotions. These moments don’t make us any less of a dog parent; they make us real. Have we ever said something we regret to a partner? Fantasized about a different life? Lost our cool with one of our kids?
Love isn’t all or nothing. It’s a journey of growth together, and it’s no different with our canine relationships. It’s saying, “I’m sorry.” It’s coming back to the moment and remembering that dogs have a natural prey drive, how exciting it is for them when a new person comes over, and the joy in discovering the animals who’ve peed on that blade of grass before them and striving to be more patient next time. Recognizing our humanity and forgiving ourselves is essential to our mental health, especially for those of us (like me) who beat ourselves up for every momentary indiscretion in the midst of a lifetime of love.
I’ll never forget the time I yelled at my dog while in a sleeping pill-induced stupor when I didn’t realize he was sick. I immediately caught myself, but the words had already fallen out of my mouth. He died a few days later, and I never forgave myself for my lapse in judgment.
I carried so much shame in thinking I was the only loving dog parent who had ever yelled at their dog. This is why we need to talk about all of it; not just the perfect moments.
While I realize it’s human nature to idealize dogs, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge there’s also a danger of absolutist thinking around dogs. We forget that dogs are entitled to their moods too. Not every dog is that easygoing, face-licking Hallmark dog, and the sensationalism does more harm than good by setting our expectations of them too high. I would have accepted my temperamental dog much sooner if images of perfect dogs didn’t surround me.
We must remember to give dogs the space to have their moments. My dog wears a bright yellow leash sleeve that reads, “I need space,” because the average person doesn't realize that dogs can be imperfect beings too.
This is what real relationships are made of.
Written by Elizabeth Weiner