By Chris Robinson
Reprinted from The Canine Chronicle
Bob: Thanks, Doc, for working me into your busy schedule.
Dr. Spot: Well, Bob, that is not an unusual situation. Most dogs have difficulty understanding their humans. Why don’t you tell me some of the things your human has been doing and perhaps I can give you some help.
Bob: Well, first there’s the matter of the couch and the bed. I always try to be polite and wait for my human to get settled before I jump up and find a comfortable spot. For some reason, this politeness seems to be offensive because I’m immediately told, “Bobby, get down” in a harsh tone of voice. Not wanting to create a tense situation in what is otherwise a fairly peaceful household, I almost always do what I’m asked to do although sometimes, when I’m cold, tired, or my arthritis from all that swimming in cold water acts up, I’m a tad slow to comply. Then my human resorts to physical force and pushes me off the couch or the bed. I mean, we could talk about it and I’d be happy to explain why my response isn’t exactly lightning fast. I always wait until my human is totally asleep before carefully easing myself back on to the bed or the couch. All I want to do is provide a comforting assurance that should any dangerous situation arise during the night like the sump pump starting or the trees cracking outside from the cold or heaven forbid, an approaching thunderstorm, I’ll be there to raise the alarm. I just want to make sure my person’s sleep is not troubled by worries about these demons attacking. What thanks do I get? The very second my human wakes up and discovers I’m on the bed, I get yelled at. And there’s another thing. I am a grizzled old and highly decorated veteran of many brutal conflicts with vicious ducks, geese, pheasants and even a few quail. I think I’ve more than earned the right to being addressed as “Bob” and not the puppy version of that name.
Dr. Spot: Now, now, it’s okay. There’s no need in getting yourself all upset over someone else’s behavior. Let me see if I can’t help you understand what’s causing your person to act this way.
Your human fits the typical abusive, controlling individual’s profile. Pushing you off the bed, immediately resorting to physical force if you don’t instantly comply with orders is classic. I would be willing to bet that your human also takes things away from you.
Bob: Yes, all the time. I just get a shoe or a sock or a water bottle properly positioned and right away I’m ordered to sit and whatever I’m carrying is promptly taken away from me. Lots of times not very gently and sometimes my human even strikes me with the object I’ve been holding for them. I’m only trying to help by picking up after them. They leave stuff sitting around or lying on the floor all the time and it makes for unhealthy surroundings.
Dr. Spot: Hmmm. Yes, yes… Again classic. You have to remember that these people are very possessive. They think they own you and they can do whatever they want with you. They insist on having their own way in all interactions with you. They want to set the agenda and decide what it is you will do and when you will do it. They have a driving need to run the show and call the shots. Lurking within these conversations with you is the clear threat that if you do not accede to their demands, they will be very unhappy and they will take their unhappiness out on you.
As for your human calling you “Bobby,” you must remember that all humans hate the thought that they might be getting older so if they can somehow keep their dogs as puppies, it makes it easier to deny that they are also aging. I believe this is something that human pop psychologists call “Peter Pan Syndrome.” Although this is not a medically accepted syndrome, it is marked by people who refuse to grow up and thus grow older or refuse to take responsibility as an adult. This is why your human insists on calling you “Bobby.” By the way, I see you are wearing a collar and I presume your human also uses a leash?
Bob: Yes, but I don’t really mind that other than the fact that the collar itches. It makes my human feel much more secure when they have something to hold on to and it makes it much easier for me when I need to lead them where either I or they need to go. Besides, that’s a small price to pay to maintain a calm environment and it makes humans feel so much better that I just couldn’t bring myself to deprive them of that pleasure.
Dr. Spot: Very wise and compassionate of you. However, you need to be aware that a collar and leash is just one more way these control freaks use to establish their hegemony and justify doing whatever they want with anything they deem as theirs. What other behaviors by your human do you find difficult?
Bob: The obsession about tracking in mud on the carpets. If I so much as accidentally bring in a speck of mud on any of my four paws, you would think I committed a capital crime. A little clean mud never hurt anyone or anything but a single pawprint and my human has a hissy fit to end all hissy fits. I do make an effort to clean my feet before I come in the house but since the dog yard frequently looks like a hog wallow after it has rained, I’m not always completely successful. It is not easy to make sure there isn’t any mud on your paws when you have four of them. I should think my person could make a few allowances since it is the human’s job to put down the wood chips in the dog yard so that the two ladies who live with me and I don’t have to deal with dirty feet.
Dr. Spot: It is important to remember that people who feel a need to always be in control also tend to blame others for their own shortcomings. One compulsion that people often have is a fear of contamination so they develop elaborate cleaning rituals and they get extremely upset if anything is dirty. The people who have this compusion live under tremendous stress and spend a significant time, sometimes several hours a day, trying to maintain neatness, precise order, and faultless arrangement of their immediate environment. They don’t seem to understand that since mud doesn’t pose a threat, they’re better off waiting for it to dry and then just simply running the vacuum over the mud spots. They also don’t understand that the obsession some humans have with cleanliness may actually be making them sick. A few dog kisses now and then and some mud on the carpet would actually make them healthier. They are not giving one of their immune systems enough dirt and germs to flex its muscles and get strong. This allows their other immune system, the one that gets allergies and asthma to take over. Too bad more humans don’t know that. Now, is that everything that is troubling you about your person?
Bob: No, there is one more thing. It’s the bathroom. When I signed on to this job, I understood that part of it was to provide constant companionship, to follow a human to the ends of the earth and certainly when they headed off to the bathroom. But, all I get for my devotion is the door slammed in my face.
Dr. Spot: One of the classic signs of clinical depression is shutting things out. The best thing you can do is just be there for your human. A little barking or whining at the bathroom door reminds them that they are not alone. Keep bumping the door until finally they open it and let you in. Then you are in a position to reassure them that all will eventually be well by putting your head in their lap while they are sitting, leaning against them, wagging your tail and generally showing them how happy you are to be with them. Even if they won’t open the door, they eventually have to come out so always be sure to show them that you love them and want to be with them when they do finally emerge.
Bob: Well, that about covers all the problems I’m having with my human. Now, what do I do about them?
Dr. Spot: Nothing is simple or straightforward when dealing with humans. They focus only on the moment and they have short attention spans so you have to watch out for their welfare as well as your own. You also have to keep in mind that people are frequently slow learners and they can be very stubborn, strong-willed and independent. But, most people want to please so that is something that can help you. However, the way you react to your loved one’s problems has a big impact. Negative responses by you such as ignoring them or feigning deafness only makes things worse while a calm, supportive environment will improve the outcome. There is no point scolding a human because they never seem to recognize their own faults. Don’t try to change them because you will only get into a power struggle, cause them to be defensive, invite criticism and otherwise make things worse. You just have to be very patient and treat them with kindness. Remember, humans are terribly insecure.