Dog Days

Every day I pass a house that has a German Shepherd dog tied out beneath a pine tree. The dog has shade and I see what appears to be a water bowl.  The owners take the dog in at night.  In other words, its most basic needs are met.  When I think about the limitations placed on that dog’s life, however, how his muscles and mind are atrophying from the stationary existence he is forced to live out under a tree, I want to cry–and to steal the dog.  Yet, this dog’s life is better than lives lived by many other animals and, for that matter, many people.  I believe our society’s unthinking indifference towards animals feeds our mistreatment of the weak and the powerless of all species including our own.  Small things accumulate into large problems; most things fall apart slowly, one board or brick at a time.

The German Shepherd is visible, but many dogs languish in suburban boredom, at least Monday through Friday.  A few ideas to break up the boredom without derailing your busy schedule include frozen Kongs, you can even use them for feeding main meals; wet food can be stuffed in and then frozen, while kibble can be added and then capped with peanut butter before freezing.  “Grass” feeders;  working for the food gives your dog a mental challenge.  Puzzles for dogs also challenge the dog to think as they attempt to locate treats.  Canine fitness games can give you and your dog a fun, indoor training outlet when the weather is too cold for long walks.

What are you doing to enrich the lives of the living being in your care each day?

First Things First

One night several years ago my dog lost her trail at a busy intersection.  The scent she was following had washed down the banks of the road into the ditches on either side.  As cars passed, remnants of the scent trail floated away making it extremely difficult for my dog to follow it further.  I became frustrated because I thought my dog had just stopped working.  Because I focused on the perceived misbehavior, I couldn’t see the actual problem–or what my dog had done right!  All I saw was that she had started eating grass and jumping up on bystanders instead of working.  Later, to my chagrin, I realized that these behaviors were signs of her stress, presumably stress she felt over her failure to please me.

Fortunately for both of us, a more experienced tracker instructed me to back up and re-cast her over a part of the trail where she had worked scent before, and, sure enough, she went back to work–right up to the road, where, once again, she stopped.  This time the handler suggested that I put her on lead and take her across the road.  I did and again she went back to work, quickly finding her hidden helper, much to her delight. It had been an exceptionally hard trail!

Like my dog, we all are searching for something or other.  And, like her, we work hard at it.  We tend to focus on failure and fail to see strengths, however.  We refuse to modify our plan, show flexibility, or simply laugh when things fall apart–most things in life are not life or death.  Often we fail to formulate a true goal.  Unsurprisingly, we get frustrated.  It’s hard to make it to the end of the trail if you’ve lost all scent of it and are beating yourself up, or, worse, don’t know what you’re looking for in the first place!

That night, I learned that I must stay neutral when my dog loses her way.  Provide a little help and encouragement, instead of simply criticizing failed efforts.  I don’t mean we should accept failure, just don’t punish it.  Most importantly, learn from it, and look out for small successes to reward.  One step at a time, we can all get where we wish to go.