I love dogs and have always had dogs around me through my life. One in particular, a black Labrador, was like the child I never had. We had an extra ordinary connection, and she was exceptional in everyway. She sadly left us when she was 14 ½ years old, having put up a strong and valiant fight to stay with us longer. If I could have given her new legs, she would probably still be with us, well, no not really, she would have been coming up 18 years old! One of the amazing things I noticed about her, was she rarely looked me in the eye; it was always at my third eye point, (between my eyebrows on the forehead). She would gaze adoringly at me, and seemed to connect with something that captivated her, and made her bond deeply with me. We shared daily adventures together, some of the best walks I’ve ever had, and some of the specialist downtime together, just her and me; absolutely loved her to bits and still do several years on.
We have had Staffordshire bull terriers, and never had a problem with them at all. I had a yellow Labrador, and with me she was fantastic, but with others, she would sooner bite them than say hello, I was always aware of her character, and as I knew her from the day she was born, knew she hadn’t been mistreated, it was just her character. We never had any incident that caused concern, although the local garage, in the days they filled your car with fuel for you, had nerves of steel, as she would tell him under no uncertain terms he was not welcome near the car! She was extremely protective over me and what was hers. Had I not understood her, I am sure we would have had a problem. I am a true believer that there are infinitely more bad dog owners than there are bad dogs. How we treat our dogs, and how we do or don’t understand the breed and the individual dog is the problem and why sadly there are some incidents.
When my black lab left us we were left with a beautiful older staff, who had never been an only dog. We had his mum and sister but they had left us over the previous two years, so he was not a happy dog when Meg left. We decided to get him a friend and we decided we wanted to offer many of the unwanted dogs a home from a local Animal Rescue Centre. We saw the perfect little puppy, 14 weeks old, she had had 11 homes in 13 weeks, I still can’t understand how that can have been, but she was not wanted and just passed around. Her only vice is that she jumped up and still does when excited. We think she was kept in a box so to see out her only option was to stand on her back legs and look over the sides. She will be 4 years old in November. We think she is pure Staffie, black and white and she is the softest, strong willed, adorable dog who just wants to please you and be smothered in affection. She slotted in perfectly.
As our older staffie began to struggle with her growing enthusiasm for playing, we decided to bring in another puppy, who would then hopefully and fingers crossed, grow old with her. So along came another rescue puppy. We think he is a Staffie cross Jack Russell Terrier, the Rescue Centre couldn’t give us details because there was a court case pending about the abuse of the dogs they had. He is a brown brindle, white chested little fella, who follows you everywhere; he is so inquisitive and just wants to be near you. He reads your body language all the time, he was the runt of the litter and abused before we got him, which is unbelievable, because though he was 14 weeks old, you would think he was about 6 weeks, he was absolutely tiny, so quiet, but had a fear set in him. If you came towards him reaching down he’d run away. It took time and patience for him to realise he wasn’t going to be hurt by us, and we had to give him some slack in his training, so as not to re-ignite his fear and relate it to us, it is still his default setting. Now he can be hesitant if he’s a little unsure of your body language, but he just wants to be your second shadow, in fact he tries to trump your first shadow! Wherever you go, there he is, tiptoeing behind you, looking to see what you’re doing, you have to keep your wits about you or you could easily fall over him, he is simply lovely. Wherever the older Staffie lays, this little fella has to squeeze in next to her, or on top of her, even when there is absolutely no gap to fill, he wriggles his way in, and she is so laid back she lets him!
Thankfully, whilst we had the three Staffies for a little while, all of them got on brilliantly from day one. We didn’t have a growl or any sign of aggression, no fight for dominancy, we have been extremely lucky I think. Our older Staffie had a very short illness and has too sadly left us. No matter how you think it’ll be easier next time you lose a dog, it never is, it is always heart breaking, and you question why we let ourselves get so attached that when they leave us, it really hurts. But I feel more whole when I have a dog around me. The two youngsters, at nearly 4 and 3½ years old, keeping us busy and active, not slowing down with maturity at all yet. They are the best of buddies; together all the time, and they still haven’t had a cross growl between them even after the big old wiser boy left the pack.
I’ve read articles recently that lay out the rules to know whether your dog is happy and loves you, they are as follows, and I quote:
- Bedtime Snuggles. Dogs are pack animals and sleep together for warmth. If your dog tries to snuggle up with you at bedtime, it’s an expression of trust and generosity. He wants to keep you warm.
- Low Anxiety. Don’t feel put out if your dog doesn’t seem bothered when you leave the house. It shows that she is not worried that you won’t return and a sign they are not suffering from separation anxiety.
- After Dinner Snuggles. If your dog wants to join you on the sofa after their mealtime it’s not because they are particularly interested in the tv you’re watching, but because dogs have evolved to snuggle up together after eating. He thinks of you as one of the pack.
- Playtime Presents. When your dog comes to you looking hopeful with a ball or toy in her mouth, it’s not just because she’s hoping for a nice game. It’s also the equivalent of humans giving one another gifts, so try to be a gracious recipient and spend a few minutes playing to reciprocate the love.
- Getting Under Your Feet. Sitting on your feet is an expression of loyalty, rather than an attempt to trip you up. Dogs are possessive animals and getting as close as they can get is their way of displaying your ownership.
Of course the wagging tail, having said that it can also be wagged when anxious and nervous, it depends on the height and way it’s wagging; the relaxed stance particularly in their shoulders, their gaze and breathing are all indicators too. But remember that they are a pack animal and do often, in isolation, suffer. So if you do have an only dog, be mindful of their pack mentality needs, do a bit of research so that you and your family and the dog in your fold are all recognised and respected. So many dogs are left without understanding; they are left too long on their own. And how many people who have dogs, never think of their home layout from a dogs perspective. Many homes only have high windows and solid doors, so the only outdoors a dog can generally see is the sky from its vantage point on the floor. So often when left, they do climb on furniture to try to look outside. They are very curious by nature, but also their pack mentality means for some, isolation is a very stressful time. Anxiety from which can make them mess in the house, chew things, destroy things, there are lots of programmes on pet behaviour when left alone, and some are very upsetting. But unless it had been filmed the owners would never have known, what their dogs are going through when left at home alone. Our dogs spend hours looking out the windows and glazed doors. They are stimulated by the birds, the weather, tree movement, butterflies and bumble bees. They can chose to then retire to whichever bed, or whichever room their fancy takes them. They are an integral part of our family, and we treat them as such.
Dog ownership is a lifetime responsibility, 24/7. They rely on you for their nutrition their water, their bedding, their toys, their walks, their health, their socialising, their physical and mental welfare. If you can’t provide any of those then you should think twice before having a dog of your own. No breed is exempt from retorting back to their core instinctive survival modes when their needs are not met. We need to treat all dogs with respect, they are not toys, nor are they cuddly fluffy toys for any child or adult to just cuddle and squeeze. Dogs do display excellent warnings and indicators of how they are feeling. Showing their teeth is not a dog smiling as some young children in a survey thought. A low growl is not an imminent sign of an attack, it’s a subtle warning they need their own space, so calmly give them that space, soften the voice and soften your stance, they are anxious, possibly unwell, and generally do not want a confrontation. Just as the human mind fascinates me ,so does a dogs, they are so intelligent, and if only people spent a little more time, one on one, getting to know and connect with their dogs, all involved would be a lot happier. It’s heart breaking to see dogs that just trudge through life, in such a set routine, no stimulus, they are put on the end of a lead once or twice a day, head down, plodding along the same walk, they loose their spirit, and simply seem to exist rather than live. It is soul destroying for them, and for me when I see that situation in passing.
I am still blown away with the trust a different species of animal can display to us. For our dogs to want to come and cuddle into you when they want to sleep, bestowing us with the role of their protectors whilst they take 40 winks, I think is mind blowing. That they chose to sleep next to you, they let you carry them, they trust you implicitly – but only because respect and trust has been earned, with kindness and understanding, and setting of boundaries and discipline where needed. One not fuelled by fear and dominance. They instinctively respond to a pack leader, it’s a wonderful co-existence that I truly cherish. To interact with another species with a wanting to play, almost talk, enriches my life, that nothing else could achieve, it is a unique one on one experience with each dog, that leads to a level of harmony, calm, relaxation within yourself, another facet of yourself if you will, that expands who you are.
My motto ~ Love and respect your dog, always.
I saw this sign on a dog kennel in South Africa many years ago
“To Them All”
O God, my Master, should I gain the grace;
To see Thee face to face when life is ended;
Grant that the dogs who once pretended
That I was God, may see me face to face.