On my morning walk the dog behaved beautifully. When told to sit he sat. When told not to go near other dogs and sniff their backsides he obliged. No barking or yelping. No unbecoming anti social behaviour trying to tear strips off a dog who was clearly just being friendly. Needless to say the dog didn’t belong to us. His owner was the quintessential alpha male with the quintessentially controlled companion. The epitome of socially acceptable behaviour. The bastion of that highly prized CONTROL that is a part of our urban culture.
I’ve always had medium to large dogs. The sort that by their sheer size are relegated to the mat and wag their tail and roll over as you walk past. These dogs always treated me like a queen, hopeful that perhaps as I walked past I would stoop to scratch their stomach with my toes, if I so chose to. They varied in their obedience but generally were very compliant, chilled out and happy to lie around all day with the occasional bit of interaction. They would be grateful, like in the days of St Peter walking to the temple, if even my shadow would fall on them as I walked by.
As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Acts 5:15
Then, we have this dog. She’s a bit challenged in the anxiety department, and tends to think for herself far too much. I was walking her this morning on the long extendable lead for dogs who have no filter for distractions. I tried persistently for months to train her to walk on a short lead and just on one side of my body to prevent the frequent circles she would make around us as we tried not to trip over the lead. Massive fail. In the end she just decided walking wasn’t worth it and would boycott by sitting down on the footpath and refusing to go any further. So, we’re back to the long extendable lead now.
I also tried to train her to sit. My son seems to have more success than I do. She generally prefers the position as pictured: If she was tall enough she’d eyeball me every opportunity she could get, followed by a very annoying tendency to scratch my arm like she’s digging when she wants my attention, or licking me in the mouth when I’m in close enough proximity. No queen treatment for me now. No control. I suspect she thinks she’s the queen actually, as she can even get cranky if she gets picked up when she doesn’t feel like it. Who ever knew dogs could be like that?
And so all my previous perceptions of being a great dog owner have flown out the window with this one.
It’s a bit like parenting. Before I had kids I thought I had some idea of parenting. I was the oldest girl in a family of 5, and did my lions share of babysitting younger siblings. I have always loved babies, thanks to a Mum who has a positively overwhelming urge to mother anything withing arms length of her, particularly babies. I thought I had a fairly basic understanding of limits and boundaries and how to change a nappy. What else did I need to prepare me really? I acknowledge that this was probably more than what some receive, and I am grateful for this, but it’s like biting off one small corner of cake only to discover there’s an entire mountain of cake I hadn’t even realised was there. Especially when it comes to the temperament of children.
Sometimes we get God in a good mood when He hands out the temperaments of our children. Sometimes he’s in a… well… let’s say different mood. When this happens, the child is like some sort of unknowable creature from another planet. This is the sort of planet where they don’t even speak the same language. A bit like having someone in your house who is born speaking Japanese when we all speak English. It takes years and years to nut out the language and then when you think you’ve finally nailed it they suddenly change to speaking Ukranian or, God forbid, Hungarian or Finnish (which I heard somewhere is so unlike any other language it’s almost impossible to decipher).
Also in the area of obedience, children differ hugely in their compliance. You get the kids who only need to be verbally asked once and they obey. On the other hand there are the ones who, when told there’s a line and not to cross it or they’ll miss out on the ice cream, step over the line while eyeballing you and say, “I didn’t want ice cream anyway”. Now that’s a whole other level of challenge. And as they get older that defiance can morph into a very sneaky sort of behaviour that is harder to pinpoint but actually a lot more concerning. They get their own way while simultaneously giving the impression that you’re the one to blame/they are in the right/they didn’t do anything wrong.
If you want control, get a dog. You can pick the temperament of your dog. You can pick the perfect alpha male companion and pay good money for it.
You can’t do this with kids. They will come with a completely random set of qualities that will challenge and change you. But here’s the rub: it’s for the better. I cringe to think of how beige my life would be without kids. It’s a mad, unpredictable ride with lots to learn along the way, but I actually feel sorry for the perfect alpha male and alpha dog. It’s less convenient and total madness to have children, to love them to bits when they’re driving you insane, but what a fantastic reflection of how God loves us.
God actually made us with the quirks and qualities that we have, and our children have, and our pets have, and all His creatures have. He loves us and cares for us all with such breathtaking goodness it’s beyond comprehension. Life is good. So, next time you’re out walking, if you see a poor soul with a dog doing circles around them and barking at everything in sight, or a parent with a child having a complete meltdown, share the love and offer up a prayer of thanks for the crazy, beautiful life we have been given even here on this earth.