Meet our new puppy!
Actually, the picture on top of this post was our new puppy, Fen, 4 months ago when we first got her. It’s one of my favorite pictures so I had to throw it up there. This is Fen at 6 months, still determined to fit on her puppy sized bed, despite the full size dog bed immediately next to her that she continues to choose not to use:
We chose this puppy with the intention of starting with the healthiest (physically and emotionally) dog possible. (We’ve had several adult rescue dogs who came to us with clear trauma, evident in their bodies and behaviors for the entirety of their lives regardless of our best efforts at helping them feel safe. We are loving Fen’s healthy and grounded foundation.) I’ve dreamed for years of having a therapy dog–a canine companion well trained and balanced enough to bring to schools, hospice houses, and other places full of humans who could benefit from the presence and joy a happy dog embodies. As I moved into therapy as a career, I also started dreaming about the option of animal assisted therapy (aside from the many wild creatures we encounter pretty regularly, of course).
So, this little pup could be holding a lot of years of expectation and hope on her often wiggly little back. As Fen grows, I have to be so careful, for her sake and mine, to make sure neither of us are carrying the weight of my hopes. I don’t want them to get in the way of who Fen actually is and what she wants. I want our relationship (and any relationship she may have with humans outside of our home) to be a source of joy, support, and connection for her–not obligation or work.
Relationship outweighs expectations
As an ecotherapist and a human who cares deeply about the earth, I believe in reciprocity. I don’t play outdoors or take clients out simply to make myself or my therapy clients feel better. Of course, that happens or I wouldn’t do it. But I also pay attention, constantly, to how those beautiful places can benefit from my work and play. I’m working hard to bring this kind of attention to raising Fen, as well. I’m trying to keep in mind the following questions:
- Does she enjoy being around new people and in new places? Is she having fun with training?
- How do I tell when she is having fun vs. when she is performing because she’s a super sweet dog who is bred to respond to the humans around her?
- Is she appearing cautious, fearful, or hesitant when I ask her to learn new skills or enter new situations? If so, do I need to support her differently? Or do I need to stop asking her to do particular things?
- How am I getting feedback from others, including experts in canine behavior, to help me make sure I’m seeing Fen’s needs and interests clearly (rather than only seeing what I want to see)?
Who is this dog, anyway?
How do I make sure I am honoring who she is and not who I want her to be? It’s a tricky line. Humans breed dogs for specific physical and temperamental qualities. Plus, in order for our two species to live harmoniously together, we train dogs out of many instinctual canine behaviors and into ones more acceptable to our human expectations. With the scales already so heavily weighted towards human desire through breeding and training, what does it even mean to honor the individual canine creature in front of me? I’m don’t think I have the answer to that one yet. Dogs hold such a unique place in the world. Mary Oliver sums it up beautifully (as she does with pretty much everything!)
“Some things are unchangeably wild, others are stolidly tame. The tiger is wild, and the coyote, and the owl. I am tame, you are tame. There are wild things that have been altered, but only into a semblance of tameness, it is no real change. But the dog lives in both worlds.”
Anyone who has ever worked with me will not be surprised by my satisfaction in this dialectical ‘conclusion’ of sorts. There are no black and white answers to the complicated question of who Fen is and how to honor her way of being. And definitely no either/or answers. Fen is both wild and tamed. (And how amazing and special is that, to get to be so connected to a creature who bridges two worlds?!?) It is my responsibility to hold the complexity. Both the general complexity of any dog in a human world, and the specific complexities of Fen’s personality and the environments I’m asking her to be part of.
This is a heavy responsibility. But unlike the potentially burdensome weight of my hopes and expectations around Fen, I am glad to carry the weight connected to responsibly caring for her. It’s easy (for my brain, anyway) to get a little lost in all I don’t know about canine behavior or the ethics of what we ask from domesticated creatures. I don’t imagine I’ll ever stop pondering the bigger questions and wanting to learn more about these issues.
But what about the treats?
Of course, treats. While her very existence represents a complicated lineage and way of being, Fen reminds me constantly that it’s pretty simple. There’s this leaf blowing in the wind. And this amazing smell on this patch of ground. Don’t forget treats! TREATS! There are cuddles to be had and tug games to play and tricks to learn. So many new human and canine creatures to meet. A nap in front of the wood stove. There is what is right in front of us. Right now. And so, so much of that is delightful when seen through a dog’s eyes.
It is a privilege to have Fen’s unique, joyful, wild and tamed self in my life. I hope she feels my attempts at providing care, fun, adventure, safety, and love for her. I hope you live with or know another wild and tamed creature who embodies the complexity and simplicity of living in this world. Such a relationship is truly a gift. I hope Fen feels the same–or at least the equivalent for an animal who has feet firmly in both worlds of wild and tamed. Stay tuned–our adventures together are only just beginning!