Updated: Jul 29
So often when we are looking to welcome a new canine addition into our families, we have a picture in our minds of how life will be. The things we are going to do, the places we are going to go. Long strolls in beautiful places, passing the time of day with others out walking their dogs. Trips to dog friendly places, having a leisurely drink or meal, with our very good boy or girl settled quietly under the table, or the centre of attention for the admiring humans around, happily accepting fuss and attention from anyone and everyone in the vicinity. Maybe picturing sweeping the board in the local fun dog show with your beautiful (and beautifully behaved) dog on their best behaviour.
And then reality hits, and nothing is as you pictured it. I can understand this very well, I have been there. I had so many plans when bringing my dog home as a puppy. And none of them have come into being. And you start to wonder just what you have done wrong, why nothing is as you thought it would be.
I think many of us do this, regardless of whether we are bringing home a puppy or an older dog from a rescue centre. There is a hardy breed of dog people who specialise in taking on the dogs who find it much harder to land in the right home, but I am fairly sure that they have started out at some point in the past like the rest of us, with these lovely daydreams that dissipate in the cold light of day.
The thing is that we have to remember we are dealing with living, breathing beings. Sentient creatures with minds and experiences all of their own. Some of the factors that go into making that individual dog who they are we can have an influence on, others are completely out of our control before a puppy is even born.
No dog is ever a blank slate – they are made up of the genetics inherited from their parents at the moment of conception, so there is never the possibility of a blank slate.
Their experiences from birth onwards have a massive part to play in the dog they become, but they are not the whole story of the dog in front of us.
The environment around the dog has a massive effect on them. The environments they have found themselves in back in the past have lasting effects on their behaviour, as those past experiences have contributed to their learning and development into the being they are now.
Health and pain can have a huge effect on dogs – there is a very good reason why excellent canine professionals ask about vet visits and health checks very early on in the consultation process.
An important part of sharing our lives with dogs is realising how vital it is to embrace acceptance. To allow our dogs to be their authentic selves, to express themselves and to learn how to listen to what exactly they are telling us when they are expressing themselves. The more we can learn to do that, the better our relationships with our dogs will be, and the more later dogs will also come to benefit from what we learn.
That’s not to say that we can’t be sad for the loss of that dog we pictured and the lifestyle we imagined we’d be living together. That can be a hard thing to let go, and there is no shame in grieving for that. But with acceptance comes something wonderful as we can begin to appreciate the dogs we have in our lives, in all of their individual, characterful glory.
The dog that comes into our lives is a wonderful unique being, and it is up to us to accept that, and love the dog in front of us. Love them for who they are, not who we wanted them to be. When we can do that, we open ourselves to a whole new avenue of learning from these amazing creatures who share our homes.
When we can accept them as they are, we can grow as dog guardians. And that is a beautiful thing all by itself.