Square Pegs, Round Holes, and Pet Parenting

Have you ever encountered one of those parents that insists their child grow up to be a doctor, lawyer, or run the family business while...
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Have you ever encountered one of those parents that insists their child grow up to be a doctor, lawyer, or run the family business while ignoring their child’s innate talents, drives, and desires, often to the point of intentionally overlooking or downplaying skill and accomplishment in other arenas? Have you ever met the child who is a musical prodigy and yet whose parents are disappointed in her because she’s not a math whiz?

These kind of situations always make me sad. Whether you believe God, genetics, drive, or passion creates success in a given field or specialty, the fact is that we are all blessed with very important, individual gifts. Gifts that we are meant to share with the world, gifts that, when left unwrapped, prevent us from reaching our full potential.

Believe it or not, the phenomena of trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes is as common in pet parenting as it is in parenting a human child.

People get a puppy and say…

“This puppy is going to be a service dog when she grows up.”

“This puppy is going to be on the U.S. National agility team when he matures.”

“This puppy is going to be a therapy animal.”

“This adopted dog is going to love all kids and allow them to climb all over, pinch and poke at, and harass her, all while chewing happily on her bone.”

“My new Jack Russell puppy is going to be a flyball champ.”

The problem is, nobody consults the dogs when making these plans. Not every dog has the temperament to be a service dog. In fact, I’d venture that fewer than 5% of dogs can thrive in and actually ENJOY employment as service animals. You may have purchased a Lab because you want to participate in dock diving, only to find that your Lab really doesn’t like swimming very much and would prefer to put her sniffer to work in a Nose Games class.

I wish people would pay more attention to what their dogs like, want, and need. Mokie has reliable enough behavior where I could probably put her in a therapy environment and I’m sure her beautiful fluffiness would bring much joy to the people she visited.

I could cue her to hold a stationary position while people petted her, fawned over her, and gave her kisses. However, she would hate it. The entire time she would look at me with these pathetic eyes as if to say, “I’m only doing this for you, can’t wait until it’s over, and wish you would get me out of here.” She would tolerate this activity, but no part of her would enjoy it. I would feel like I let her down. If I do therapy work with a pet someday, I want it to be fun for both of us. If it’s fun for me and miserable for my dog, I need to rethink my priorities.

There are many, many things I love about my mother. She is beautiful, strong, funny, intelligent, witty, devoted, and a total inspiration to me. She is an amazing woman. One of the things I love best about my mom is that no matter what I did, as long as I did my best at it, she was proud of me.

She was proud of me when I played sports, performed in concerts, plays, and musicals, celebrated academic accomplishments with me, and supported me when I went to college. She also supported me through some of my less glamorous endeavors, like my admittedly lucrative and successful but by no means respectable former career as a bartender in a number of dive bars. She supports me now, as a wife, author, dog trainer, and entrepreneur. No matter what I do, if I do my best and I do it with passion, I can count on her full support. Maybe she did want me to be a doctor, who knows? The impression I always got was just that she wanted me to succeed and, whenever possible, enjoy what I do and do what I enjoy.

I don’t have human children, but I am blessed to share my home with four wonderful animals and one beautiful spirit Saint who watches over me from heaven each day. I want to be, to them, the kind of guardian and advocate my mom always was for me. I want to pay attention to what kind of activities they enjoy, to find ways to provide them with access to those opportunities, and to encourage their best efforts in their chosen interests.

I love Chows and also would like to do therapy work with one of my dogs someday. I have never thought to myself, “I’ll just make Mokie do it!” knowing that she would hate it. I have, however, discovered that Mokie very much likes hiking, swimming, backpacking, and agility.

I also now have Cuba, who does seem to have delightful enthusiasm and potential for future therapy work and perhaps I will pursue that goal with him. Cuba likes swimming, but not as much as Mokie, and I don’t see myself forcing him to become a dock diving star when he already seems to have an affinity for agility equipment. I’d like to do carting and weight pulling with him when he grows up, but only if he is an enthusiastic and willing partner in these types of activities. If he doesn’t like it, we’ll find something he does like.

If I was the kind of gal who hoped to have human children someday, I hope I would be the kind of parent that would be happy with her child, whether he grew up to be a garbage man or the President of the United States. The kind of parent that would provide him with the support and encouragement needed to do whatever it is that would make him happy and fulfilled according to HIS, not my own, definition of personal success.

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