Imagine a world dominated by elephants. Elephants are larger than people, stronger, and in this world, far more intelligent. They control access to everything we need and love including our food, clean water and shelter. They keep us as pets, teach us things, feed, dress us, and even bathe us with their long trunks. But, because of our short noses and tiny heads, we can’t speak their complicated languages. Over time, we may learn to understand some of their words, especially if we’re lucky enough to have an elephant to teach us. But if nothing else, we know to pay close attention to an elephant’s body language as it’s our primary indication of how they are feeling. Our survival and wellbeing often correlates with their emotions and it’s important for us to know if they are happy with or angry at us; even when it’s difficult for us to understand why. So we watch their movements, facial expressions and we pay close attention to their tone of trunk.
What a strange world indeed! Yet, this is almost exactly what the life of dog is like. Think about it. Unlike almost any other species on this planet, a dog’s survival is nearly entirely dependent on the will of another species, humans. We feed them, give them warm homes and comfortable beds. We keep them healthy, protect them and cherish them. Even in countries where it’s commonplace to abuse, neglect or even eat dogs, they still rely on human actions for survival.
It’s because of this unique relationship that dogs seem to love us unconditionally. They are always happy when we come home. They clearly enjoy our company and they are often eager to please us. And why shouldn’t they be? We provide them with everything they need and want with very little effort on their end. Which is why it’s so important for our dogs’ mental wellbeing to teach them our words and to train them. Dogs who know what exactly what we mean when we say “come,” “stay,” or “leave it,” are more likely to be confident and well-mannered and less likely to be fearful or aggressive. They look to us for leadership, protection and survival. But if we don’t take the time to teach them our words, they are more likely to resort to their own instinctual means of survival (which often involves teeth) when they feel threatened or confused.
So I leave you with this thought: Be the kind of dog parent you’d want your elephant to be. Nurture your dog, feed her high quality food, protect her from harm and educate her through training so she can understand what some of your words mean. If you see a dog in need, do what you can to help him, even if that means taking him to the shelter. And above all, don’t abuse your power over your dog. She will show you affection no matter what because she relies on you; it’s up to you to be deserving of that love.