When I began training as a dog trainer years ago, one of the first things our class were told was that our dogs didn’t love us! You should have heard the boo’s and oh’s coming from a normally sedate group. “It’s true,” the lecturer continued, “your dog stays with you and is loyal and affectionate because as a pack leader you clearly demonstrate you are in control and your provide food, shelter and safety. That’s it!”
So, according to this line of thinking… dogs are pack animals (which we all know is true) and they stay with us because we take good care of them. But surely there is more than this?
I am torn between the two lines of thinking to be quiet frank. When my border collie (Rocky) looks at me with his tawny brown eyes I can read something deep inside that touches my heart. He has many different looks which range from ‘go on… give us a bit of toast’ to ‘Now!! I said pick up that stick now and throw it now!!’. All of which are stem from his huge personality.
Did I help shape and grow Rocky’s personality? Sure, I guess I did. He’s been ‘in training’ since he was 10 weeks old and now he’s four years old. I made most of my mistakes on him (soon to be released in the Sue Day’s Guide on How NOT to Train Your Dog!!). I spend every day with him and have done for nearly all his life. I have seen him look directly in my eyes then glance over to where the dog treats are kept and then back at me… telling me he’s decided it’s time for a treat. I used to run a shop and sometimes when I was working out back, he would come in and nudged his nose into the back of my leg to warn me that there was someone in the front of the shop. He is a highly intelligent dog that has learnt how to learn and through continuous training has learnt how to subtly communicate with me.
Now, Sumo on the other hand is a different tale altogether. Sumo is 13 years old. He has always been affectionately referred to as the old brown dog – no one is exactly sure what breed he is and he hasn’t had much training but he has been our family dog for 12 1/2 years.
Recently, during a very cold winter, my friend took him and let him stay at his home during the week while I was at work. Sumo got fed more and was able to sleep by the fire for most of the day should he choose to. He was taken for walks and everyone in the house made a fuss of him and loved him.
Sumo comes home (to my family) on weekends but it is obvious he doesn’t really like it. He wonders around after my friend and won’t leave his side. He frets when he leaves him behind even if it only for a minutes. So want happened to our loyal brown dog? Where has his loyalty gone? Is what our lecturer said true?
When I sold puppies from my shop, people would remark how sad they felt for the last puppy. But I knew different. I took my puppies home every night. They became part of the family. They had their own pen and kennel, but for the times before and after the shop was opened they had the run of our yard and sometimes the house itself. I wanted them to have as normal a life as possible and it was hard work for me, but I never relented. When one of the puppies was sold, the others already had a routine – wake up, feed, run around and play, travel in the van, stay at the shop, travel home in the van, play, run around, chase the cat, eat dinner and then bed. So, I never felt sorry for the last puppy of each litter because I knew that he or she already had a home to go to and would quickly readjust to his life without his brothers or sisters. Truth is, the last puppy was always more spoilt because it would sleep with my dogs and got lots more attention.
So, I have experienced how dogs will adapt favourably to new surroundings in these two instances. And both are very positive and they support what our lecturer told us to a degree. But deep down inside I know there’s more to it because the owners of my puppies would often comment how they couldn’t bring their dogs into town because the dog (grown up from a puppy by now) would insist on coming to my shop. They actually knew the way and would run ahead if given a chance. These dogs had never forgotten how they were loved and treated and I never forgot them either.
So, do our dogs really love us. Is there such a thing as a loyal dog?
I believe so….