Of Dogs and Men: Raising a dog can train you to be a better man
Dogs have been helping men in the pursuit of manly living since time immemorial. No other animal has worked as faithfully for so long in a myriad of capacities across uncounted landscapes like the dog. Our dogs earned the title “man’s best friend” because of their straightforward work ethic, their inherent ability to play, relax, and enjoy life in the moment, and due, of course, to their legendarily fierce loyalty and devotion to home and hearth. Did you know that no other creature in the world interprets human eye contact, facial expressions, and emotions better than the domestic dog? It’s true. For better or worse, dog and man are inextricably linked.
“But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend, the first to welcome, foremost to defend,” Epitaph to a Dog (Lord Byron’s eulogy in honor of his Newfoundland)
What is more manly than protecting the ones we love from danger? What is more manly than providing the ones we care for with food? What is manlier than a laid-down life of action for others? True manhood is discovered in a life of service and sacrifice. It is expressed in faithfulness. Dogs help us excel in these vital areas of life and manhood. In fact some dogs exemplify these noble traits more naturally than a number of men do. As people we have to struggle to learn and to earn what may come naturally to dogs.
“Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.” 1 Corinthians 4:2
Abraham Lincoln named his dog, Fido. This old-school pet dog name, “Fido” is short for the Latin word fidelis. As many of you know, fidelis in English means, “I am faithful.” The Biblical requirement for a good steward (someone that responsibly cares for the Master’s estate) is that the man be found faithful. Whether you believe the Bible or not there is something magical that occurs when we, as men, are found to be faithful. The farmer that consistently wakes before dawn and puts in a good day’s work will soon reap an abundant harvest. Harvest time reveals whether he was faithful or not. The person that is found faithful at work often gets the promotion. The man found faithful in his marriage increases both his wife’s and his own affection and happiness. Any dog that is raised properly can and will help a man fulfill his role as steward if that man is up for the challenge. A good dog can aid you in meeting your manly requirements.
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” Josh Billings
In our quest for manly excellence and in our daily pursuit to become better men for our families and for the communities that we live in, we should consider adding a bit of dog know-how and canine communication to our skill set.
“To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Imagine the impact on our neighbors if our dogs weren’t behaving like lunatics. Imagine spending quality time together with your children, or spouse, or even with a close friend, to improve your dog’s behavior. You have the power to lessen the burden of stress on your home life! A terribly behaved dog or pup can be quite troublesome. Future harmony in the home awaits the man who takes action to prevent or to conquer existing dog behavioral issues. Instead of having your dog drag your wife down the street and explode in a tornado of furred frenzy after any other dogs that it happens to see, why not take action and change the situation? Men are called to action and to be stewards of all that God has bestowed to us and that means being a good example in our homes and neighborhoods. Great dog training is always about proper action and leadership.
Did you know that dog aggression, fear, and anxiety are on the rise? They are. And what are we going to do about it as men? Act. We are going to act. In the very least we can make sure our dog is a great representative for our family. Dogs tend to reflect us to the world. But where do we begin?
“Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.” Margaret Atwood
Manliness is founded in action. Touching is an action. This is great news for us. Touch is incredibly important. All canines begin their life blind and deaf. They stay that way for the first two weeks of their life. Vision and hearing are the dogs’ secondary senses. A dog’s primary senses of touch, smell, and taste are a more direct and meaningful way to communicate and connect with them. We should never put what is primary in a secondary position. A wise teacher desires the clearest form of communication so that the pupils comprehend and respond. If touch is a pup’s first sense we should begin there.
If you want real and lasting results with any dog then examine how and when touch is being applied. How is your dog touching your body?How is the dog touching your wife, kids, visitors, neighbors, and other dogs? How is your dog receiving touch on his/her body? How a dog or puppy gives and receives touch reveals a tremendous amount about the relationship. Touch always tells the truth. How a dog is acting while in and around your body and personal space, and what they are displaying within their own body language at the time determines the direction the “conversation” is headed. These canine conversations tell us whether poor behavioral problems or good behavioral habits are being set.
If you have a dog or pup make sure your family and friends can touch him/her all over. That should be the goal of every dog owner if they desire a calm, wonderfully behaved companion. If you can accomplish that goal your entire family, as well as your dog, will thank you. Touch is like talking. Is the conversation between you and your dog clear? Is the conversation a polite one with mutual respect and trust? Or is your dog often controlling the conversation? Is your dog able to receive your instruction or is he or she hastily blowing you off and ignoring you? Are they dismissing you and manipulating the environment around them by licking, mouthing, pawing, or jumping up on you? The wise man, much like the well-behaved dog, has learned to receive instruction. Only a fool attempts to ignore or constantly work against instruction.
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” Plato
Puppies attempt to out-touch or over-touch their owners and, in this way, test the boundaries. This is fairly normal behavior during the few months. Like a child, every pup can be foolish. However, we must not leave this foolish behavior unaltered. Dogs grow quite quickly and learn to manipulate us through touching. Some dogs will not let us touch them, or, when they do let us touch them, they tell us exactly where to touch them. Others seize control by over-touching and constantly getting the first or last touch/word in the conversation. Like a skilled martial artist, the rude dog will slip out of your grasp and keep you at a distance, or they may get inside your personal space and then proceed to over-touch you. Whether it’s licking, nosing, mouthing, biting, scratching, jumping up, or persistently demanding that we pat them, many dogs will push the envelope. They become spoiled brats if we don’t guide them like their parents would.
“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” Oran Pamuk
If you desire improved behavior in any age or breed of dog please recognize these touches for the rude behaviors that they are! Beware of the many behavioral dog myths that exist in the mainstream pet industry. (Excessive licking from your dog is NOT the human equivalent of kissing) Then take the steps to make your dog or pup’s “conversation” polite. Act like a man as you try and think like a dog. Define a few simple house-rules concerning touch. Lead them as intelligently as any good father would lead his children. Even better, lead them like a father dog would. Surprisingly, there is little need to reward with excessive food treats and there is little need to use harsh handling if one taps into our dogs’ language through touch! This goes far beyond training. Touch reveals much. That’s a tidy little rhyme. Take it to heart.
To prevent, reverse, and eliminate behavior problems in a dog we must focus on touch and space more than on the addition of training and obedience! Obedience is fine but the truth is that the addition of tricks and commands (mainstream dog obedience training) does NOT necessarily subtract bad behaviors in our dogs! Thinking that adding tricks will subtract poor behavior is one of the biggest myths in the industry! Instead of training as usual, we must socialize and align the relationship by balancing respect and trust through clear canine communication (utilizing our dog’s amazing senses). If you truly desire a relaxed, socially adept, and faithful dog that doesn’t need to be micromanaged or constantly reinforced with treats or with corrections, studying the how, when, and why of dog movement, energy, and touch will lead you there. Remember men; healthy relationship is a two-way street. Let’s be honest and humble enough to learn from our dogs as they learn from us.
Dog Myths by Garrett Stevens
For more on the fascinating details of dog language and their senses and to enhance your relationship and training skills with your dog please look for my book, Dog Myths: What you Believe about Dogs can come back to BITE You!