Creating a safe home for dogs and children

In some ways, this is a continuation of my hypothetical dread post about Pyrrha’s phobia of children. Many thanks to everyone for your kind comments, advice, and anecdotes. You are the best.

A toddler and a floofy-looking terrier mix

I feel that there are three types of dogs, when it comes to interacting with children: (1) dogs who inherently adore children, (2) dogs who tolerate children, and (3) dogs who are afraid of (dislike) children.

The most important caveat of these types, however, is that ALL dogs, regardless of type, can be provoked to bite or to otherwise harm a child. It can be hard for many people to believe this about their beloved family dogs, but it’s a vital fact to remember for those who keep children and dogs under the same roof.

Bo, who acted as my surrogate dog before we got Pyrrha, was the definition of Type 1. He worshiped children! On the pedestrian mall, he wanted to greet every child he saw, especially the small ones, probably because they were the ones most likely covered with food remnants. He is also a golden retriever, a breed famous for its adoration of all humans, regardless of degree of knowledge. I feel that most stable dogs are Type 2, which is nice. Many dogs can coexist peacefully in a home with children, even if they aren’t naturally magnetized toward them. Eden, from my best observations, is Type 2. She’s interested in children and wants to greet them. Eden doesn’t show any fear of children but neither is she naturally attracted to them (any more than she is to other strangers). Pyrrha, sadly, is Type 3, as are many dogs whose fears span a wide range of beings/things.

Boy with a Boston terrier.Despite these categories, I feel that many parents (especially those of young children) treat ALL dogs as if they were Type 1 (i.e., naturally in love with children). And even if the dogs are Type 1, I see many parents abusing the tolerance of their dogs by letting their children manhandle the dog, hurt them, stress them out, threaten them, etc.

I am often appalled by the photos that circulate on social media of “cute” baby/dog photos, often with the dogs showing extreme calming signals and distress with totally unaware infants draped over them. Such photo ops are downright dangerous. They are NOT adorable, under any circumstances. Even in these vintage photos in this post, only the first dog (that scruffy, cute terrier-looking pup) seems happy to be with a child; his mouth is open and relaxed. The Boston terrier with the boy has a hard mouth and does not look pleased, and the mix on his hind legs with the girl (below) would clearly rather be doing something else. Dogs and Babies has a great post of appropriate child/dog photos; you’ll notice that they are very different from the most popular ones circulating on Pinterest, which tend to treat dogs as props.

Two very charming faces

If and when we have children, here are some basic guidelines we plan on observing.

  1. Supervise, supervise, supervise! I’d never leave a small child unattended with any dog. Ever. Dog bites can happen in the blink of an eye, and that is not a risk I’m ever willing to take.
  2. Watch for stress signals/calming signals in the dog and take action to remedy the situation. Does the dog dislike the fact that the baby is crawling in its direction? Remove the dog to a place where it feels calm, or vice versa, redirect the baby.
  3. Create havens for dogs to retreat to. For us, these are the dogs’ crates. Our dogs like their crates and we treat them as sacred space. Kids won’t be allowed to tease or poke at dogs while in crates, and the dogs will always have free access to their crates when they need a break.
  4. Be alert for resource guarding scenarios, in which the dog may feel compelled to guard its food or toys from a curious child. Never let a child approach or touch a dog while the dog is eating.
  5. Never put the dog in a compromising situation. Even if my dog tolerates a baby pulling its ears or climbing on its back,
  6. Look for ways to create positive interactions. Pair baby interactions with positive associations for your dog. A wonderfully simple way to do this is food. Babies are messy eaters, and dogs generally love this about them. As an another example, my friend Catherine has an adorable video of her toddler playing fetch with their lab/shepherd mix, Ava. Her daughter, who recently learned to walk, was playing a rudimentary game of fetch with Ava; she’d pick up a ball and throw it, and Ava would politely pick it up and drop it at the child’s feet. Ava was clearly not stressed about the interaction, and it was a great example of a dog and very young child interacting in a way that was safe and fun for both parties.

These are just some ideas. And perhaps another reason I’m not jumping at the gun to procreate is that all of this sounds exhausting. I’m not surprised that parents of young kids who also have dogs just don’t have the time or energy to do these things. It takes a lot of work. And dogs naturally become neglected when a baby enters the household. It’s a sad reality, but there it is.

Importantly, I am not a parent yet, but my husband and I have plans to have children at some point in the future. I am thankful to be aware of these resources now, before we have kids. Furthermore, this research informs the way that I help kids interact with my dogs and help my dogs interact with kids. Supervision is so key, and there seems to be so little of it in dog/child relations. The dogs will always be an important part of our family, and I think it’s only fair to them to treat them with dignity and respect — and in so doing, you are protecting the safety of children. It’s a win-win!

Do you have kids in your home? How do your dogs interact with children? What are some of your success stories?

Resources for Parents Raising Kids and Dogs

Thanksgiving recap: First trip to in-laws

Pyrrha had a wonderful first Thanksgiving with us and a very successful first visit to her other set of “grandparents,” my husband’s parents. I was very proud of her.

She thinks she owns the place

General recap:

Pyrrha handled the revolving door of new people with grace and aplomb. We had tons of relatives and new people in and out of the house all week, and Pyrrha was marvelous with everyone. She still hung back in the beginning, when people showed up, but she did not seem disturbed at all by the constant flow of strangers in this new house. I felt like that was a big victory. Everyone also kept marveling at how calm she was. I think this is because a) she is fundamentally lazy, and b) flopping down in a corner is less scary than having to go up and engage with new humans. However, she wanted to be wherever people were, and she was always planting herself down in the middle of the kitchen or living room, keeping an eye on the action.

She also met children without (too) much fear. Guion’s young cousins, aged 12 and 7, attended the Thanksgiving meal and they were both very interested in Pyrrha. (Their family had recently acquired a young, energetic German short-haired pointer.) I always monitor her interactions with young children VERY closely, because I can tell that she is still pretty unsure of children. Guion’s cousins, however, were really great with her. They are calm, quiet children and they seemed to make her feel a little less anxious about their presence.

After the photo below was taken, I took Pyrrha out in the backyard on her leash and the kids followed. In the yard, she sniffed and circled the kids and even kissed their faces and hands. It helped a lot that both kids had been eating sausage biscuits right before! Now if I can just get all young children to cover themselves in sausage before interacting with Pyrrha, I think we could have her fear of children mostly solved…

Rollie IV meets Pyrrha

We took lots of long, brisk walks around the neighborhood. They have a lovely, mostly flat neighborhood that’s great for walking and Pyrrha got at least two miles of walks in every day we were there. (This also surely contributed to her general behavior of calmness and placidity in the house.)

Following birds

Pyrrha also showed interest in retrieving for the first time! My in-laws have a great, spacious, fenced-in backyard and Pyrrha just loved it. Their yard is chock-full of squirrels and there’s lot to explore. Plus, the yard backs up to a golf course, so she spent many hours quietly observing the golfers.

But retrieving! That was great. She’s never really retrieved before, except for chasing the thrown item, picking it up for a moment, and then getting distracted by something else. But this long weekend, she was retrieving actively — running after balls and actually bringing them back to us multiple times. She seemed to really enjoy this a lot.

Fetch with Guion

I was delighted, of course. Retrieving is the best way to exhaust a dog without having to expend any of your own energy. I hope she’ll keep up an interest in this game.

Retrieving at last!

And a semi-dog-related event we attended: The Blessing of the Hunt. My in-laws live in a big equestrian town, and every Thanksgiving morning, there is a “fox” hunt and a blessing of the horses, hounds, and riders by their Episcopal priest. Hundreds of people turn out for this event and I was delighted to attend — particularly as there was no actual fox being chased. They drag around a fox scent before the dogs are released.

We heard, however, that the hounds aren’t fooled by this faux fox scent. They don’t really seem to follow it, according to the riders, and really just like to run around in a pack with the horses. I find this kind of adorable.

Release the hounds!

Hounds setting off

Riding off after the "fox"

Hope you all had nice weekends! Whew! I am looking forward to a few weeks of respite before the holiday traveling circuit starts up again…

Teaching kids and dogs how to behave with one another

Click for source.

NOTE: This is a piece I wrote a while ago, and since I don’t have any good photos of Pyrrha or any good updates lately, I thought I’d post it to start a conversation. Pyrrha is pretty scared of children, especially infants and toddlers, and this is an area I really want to work on with her. I welcome your thoughts, comments, and advice! — Abby

Despite what this adorable picture suggests, in general, kids are pretty terrible with dogs.

Kids like to tease dogs. Even if they’re just babies and unaware of what they’re doing, kids like to mess with dogs. They like to stick their hands in the dog’s eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. They like pulling the dog’s tail. They like riding on the dog’s back. They like squeezing dogs around the neck to express affection, even though the dog interprets this as invasive and frightening. This doesn’t mean that kids themselves are terrible. They’re often unaware of what they’re doing and how to read a dog’s body language.

Kids have a tendency to freak dogs out, for all the reasons listed above. Kids are really noisy. Their body language can be erratic and unpredictable to a dog. They like to get right up in dog’s faces, in their food, in their beds, on their backs. It’s no wonder that many dogs are afraid of children and that many, unfortunately, lash out in fear-based aggression.

But dogs, undoubtedly, bring (most) children an immense amount of glee. Even babies will light up at the sight of a dog. It always warms my heart when I see this. And there are many dogs who seem to love nothing more than children. (Bo is one of them: He drags me after strollers and runs up to every kid we see, beside himself with excitement, or with the prospect of food crumbs on grubby faces.)

There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that dogs and kids were “made for each other,” but that’s not always the case, and the majority of dogs AND kids need to be taught how to behave around one another. So how do we train them to behave well with each other? It’s not something that exactly comes naturally to either species.

TRAINING KIDS

As someone who doesn’t have kids, I often worry about those parents who don’t train their kids well with regard to dogs. I have responsibility for training my future dog how to act around kids; I expect that parents have the responsibility to train their children how to act around dogs. When we’re out walking, I can’t tell you how many times parents have let their little children run up to Bo to pet, squeeze, or hug him, without so much as a glance at me or a question if my dog is even friendly toward children. Thankfully, Bo is wonderful with kids, as I mentioned before. But what if he wasn’t?

I always walk Pyrrha very carefully around playgrounds and around people with young children. Thankfully, we haven’t had any parents let their tots run up to us (and I think this has a lot to do with breed; Pyrrha looks “scarier” than Bo, the golden retriever, does) and if a kid wants to pet her, they usually ask first. But this certainly wasn’t always the case with Bo. Parents would let their little children run right up to him without asking me.

But: Have you ever had to intervene in a situation between children and your dog? What would you tell the parents, perhaps by way of educating their kids?

Karen London posted a great short list of things she tells children about dogs, covered by the funny but true heading: “Don’t lick the dog,” from Wendy Wahman’s picture book for kids. That book sounds like a great resource for any parent of young children. I feel like I should buy a bunch of copies to hand out to parents on the downtown pedestrian mall here…

The Lab babysitter. Click for source.

TRAINING DOGS

One of Pyrrha’s last remaining big fear thresholds is little children. We seem to have ameliorated her previous big fear, which was greeting other dogs, and she hasn’t snarled or raised her hackles at a dog in two months. I consider this a huge victory! But the kid thing is another issue entirely.

Pyrrha is OK with kids who are calm and move slowly. This, unfortunately, is not many children. She’s submitted to attention from older children, perhaps 5-7 years of age, and she doesn’t seem bothered by pre-teens or teenagers.

It’s the babies and toddlers who really make her anxious. This is, obviously, a really difficult thing to work on. I wouldn’t let my infant around a German shepherd who was scared of babies, and I always keep Pyrrha removed and completely controlled when she’s in the presence of small children. So what do we do? How do I work on exposing her and acclimating her to this fear? It’s not like you can ask an infant to work with you, to make all of its movements calm and controlled, to stop squealing erratically.

She once growled at a toddler who tried to come near her. I removed Pyrrha from the situation and put her inside. It was a scary and disheartening moment. I want a dog who’s OK with little children. But how do we get there?

For those of you who adopted an adult dog, how did you expose your dog to kids? How can we help Pyrrha overcome her fear of small children, without endangering babies or eclipsing Pyrrha’s fear threshold?

As always, I’m very open to your suggestions!

Pup links!

Audrey Hepburn and her Yorkshire terrier. Click for source.

Dog-related links from around the Web this week:

Careers in Behavior and Training. Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve daydreamed about quitting my job and becoming a full-time dog… person? Karen London, who did just that, shares some of her wisdom about careers in canine behavior and training. (The Bark blog)

In France, the (Abandoned) Dog Days of Summer. I admire a lot about French culture, but this is really appalling: Apparently, an estimated 100,000 dogs are simply abandoned every year by their French owners when they take their long summer holidays. The French SPCA comments on their campaign to end this practice. France has the highest numbers of pet ownership in all of Europe; you’d think this wouldn’t be an issue there. Big sigh. (NPR)

Police Dog “Bono” Plays by Own Rules, Plants Drug Evidence at Nearly Every Crime Scene. So, this is actually a big problem, and I’m surprised I haven’t read about it more before: Police dogs read their handlers so well that they generate an unfortunate amount of false positives when sniffing for illegal substances. How do we fix this egregious problem? Anyone heard of this phenomenon before? (Reason)

Hearing in Colors: Your Dog’s Coat Color Predicts His Hearing Ability. Stanley Coren, the popular canine psychologist, discusses research on how coat patterns and colors relate to hearing ability. This doesn’t break it down so far as to say that black dogs hear better than brown ones, but the research affirms the fact that primarily white or merled or piebald dogs do not hear as well or are more likely to suffer from hearing loss. (Psychology Today)

Fast and Furry-ous: Flyballin’. These are such great photos; the dogs look like they are having a blast! You can feel the energy and excitement. (Identity: V+E)

Reflections. OK, no dogs in this one, but this just made me giggle, particularly the photo with the whole crowd of sheep staring at their reflections. Really puts an image to the cliche “herd mentality.” (BCxFour)

The Benefits of Pet Ownership for Children. As a child who pestered her parents constantly for a pet, I’ll add a hearty amen to this article. Some great research cited here, too. (AAHA Healthy Pet Blog)

Pawsitively Amazing: Kiya. These sweet photos of this disabled German shepherd actually brought tears to my eyes. What is it about disabled dogs that is so gut-wrenching and inspiring? Probably because they don’t seem to worry at all and still have such light and joy in their eyes. It will get me every time. Kiya looks like such a doll, too. (The Daily Dog Tag)

Pup links!

Black labs go with everything. Click for source.

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Are All Dogs Monsters? Kristine sagely reminds us that all dogs can bite and we should never take that fact for granted. (Rescued Insanity)

Preventing Dog Bites. Patricia McConnell throws in her two cents about how to prevent dog bites. Reading body language is key! (The Other End of the Leash)

Dog’s First Camping Trip. This post caught my eye, because we’ve discussed taking Pyrrha camping with us in the coming months. Anyone go camping with their dog? Any tips we should know about beforehand? (Go Pet Friendly)

How to Teach Children to Get Along with Dogs from an Early Age. A very thorough and thoughtful article on training your kids to treat dogs with gentleness and respect. (Whole Dog Journal)

Elderly Dogs and Babies: A Primer. This is a funny (and sad?) piece on what a baby does to your elderly dog, by one of my favorite online writers, Nicole Cliffe. (The Hairpin)

Seven Steps to Off-Leash Reliability. Ian Dunbar’s progression of training elements that lead you to having a dog who is trustworthy off lead. (Some Thoughts about Dogs)

Dogs Make Weddings Look Good. This is too cute: Jenny trained a pair of French bulldogs to participate in their humans’ wedding. Adorable. (Of Pit Bulls & Patience)

Emmanuelle Walker. Fun, mod illustrations of dogs riding in cars. (Gems)

Pup links!

Actress Donna Drake and her cocker spaniel. Source: LIFE Magazine Archives.

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

The Furry Ties That Bind. A beautiful post that reflects on what it is that makes us dog people, tracing the deep connection that children often feel with dogs. (City Dog/Country Dog)

You Don’t Have To… This post by trainer Tena is a great reminder that there are multiple alternatives to any given technique or method. It’s relieving to read. I’ve had lots of people tell me that I HAVE to use a prong/choke collar if I get a German shepherd, that I have to use physical punishments, etc. As Tena would say, “You don’t have to.” There are other alternatives. Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy when it comes to training your dog. (Success Just Clicks)

Hierarchy: These Are a Few of Her Favorite Things. A ranked list of Elli’s favorite toys! This was fun to read, and a nice place to start for good ideas among the overwhelming cornucopia of dog toys. (Identity: V+E)

Conflicting Gestures of Affection. Why declaring a “National Hug Your Dog Day” might not be the best idea. (The Bark blog)

DIY: Liver and Potato Grain-Free Dog Treats. This sounds like a (fairly) easy recipe to make homemade treats. (The Hydrant)

AKC’s Top 11 Dog Breeds by City. This is an interesting report: Do certain cities prefer different breeds? It seems so! What breeds do you think are most popular in your city? And what does that say about your city? I think Charlottesville probably has a higher proportion of setters and spaniels than most cities; they seem to complement the landed gentry image that is somewhat prevalent around here. Here’s the more complete 2011 AKC breed report by city. (Woof Report)

Run, Doggy, Run. Laura Benn shares some great pointers on how to prepare yourself and your dog to run together. (iRun)

Pup links!

A lady and her English cocker spaniel. Source: LIFE magazine archives.

Dog-related links from around the Web:

If the Characters in Downton Abbey Were Portrayed by Canine Actors… A friend shared this on my Facebook wall, and I just had to share it here, too. If you watch the period soap opera Downton Abbey, you will appreciate these comparisons. I think they’re pretty spot-on. Matthew is totally a golden retriever and Mary makes a lot of sense as a poodle. And, poor Edith! The Bedlington terrier! (Dogster)

How to Properly Care for Your Dog’s Teeth. Canine dental hygiene is usually pretty terrible, and, from my experience, it’s an easy thing to forget to take care of–and not exactly fun when you do. This is a thorough article, however, that reminds us all of why it’s very important to care for our dog’s pearly whites. (The Whole Dog Journal)

Investigating Halitosis. Related to doggy dental care, here’s a veterinarian’s list of possible causes of your dog’s terrible breath. (The Bark blog)

Where’s the Beef? Subtitle: “Why your dog should never eat another Milk Bone or Beggin Strip, and you should avoid the Slim Jims.” You won’t ever want to buy those products again after you read this article by Amy Renz. (Goodness Gracious Treats)

Identifying Merle. I grew up with a beautiful tricolor merle Australian shepherd and I’ve always had a fondness for merle coats, especially when they come from conscientious breeders. But I learned a ton from this post and learned that I’ve been incorrectly identifying some dogs as “merle” that really aren’t. Fascinating stuff. (Musings of a Biologist and a Dog Lover)

House Rules and Time-Outs. Aleksandra shares her wisdom about how they use “time-outs” to teach their newly adopted pitt, The Dude, some house manners. Great, gentle, and effective advice. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

Binq Design. If I was in the market for a tiny dog, and had a lot of cash to spare, I think I’d definitely consider these functional and attractive side tables + dog beds. They look like they’d be a nice place for a toy breed to hide out during family commotion. (Dog Milk)

Bambino vs. Fido: On Loving Dogs Less. Shauna, a pregnant blogger, reflects on how her relationship with her dogs will change–and stay the same–when she welcomes her baby into the world. I found this post very reassuring. As someone who hasn’t had kids yet but plans to one day, I confess I’m frankly terrified of the idea of emotionally displacing my future dogs. But, as she points out in this post, you don’t displace your dogs in your heart; you just make room. (Fido & Wino)

BFFs. Greyhounds snuggling on the couch. So cute. (Hiking Hounds)

Religious Dog Bumper Stickers. OK, pretend bumper stickers, but these still made me giggle. My favorite: “I’m Catholic but my corgi is affiliated with the Church of England.” (Dogs of the Interwebs)

Dog Refuses to Go Into Pool to Get Tennis Ball He Desperately Needs. In need of a laugh on this fine Tuesday? Look no further than this very, very determined golden retriever and his quest for one slightly out-of-reach tennis ball. (Best Week Ever)

Hiking with Bo

Carter Mountain with Bo
Bo is paying extremely close attention to that apple in my hand. Source: Husband's iPhone

We had glorious early autumn weather here this weekend and so we decided to hike up to Carter Mountain Orchard with friends. Failing to be outside on a weekend like this would be a severe crime. Liz, Bo’s mama, was out of town for the weekend and we were left with the beautiful Bo as our charge. I thought he’d have a great time in the woods and so we decided to pile him in the back of our Jeep and head out there.

My husband informed me on our way up that it was Festival Day, which meant that the entire town–and their dogs!–were at the orchard. I was nervous. Festival Day at the orchard was stressful for me as a human; I wasn’t sure if it was going to be totally overwhelming for Bo.

Thankfully, however, our hour-long hike up the mountain proved to sufficiently tire him out, and by the time we reached the throngs of people, Bo was in a calm, resting state.

A few things I learned from the outing:

  • Bo is extremely even-tempered; he’s the perfect dog to handle a big crowd, especially once he’s a bit tired. Dozens of kids came up to him and most were very polite and sweet with him. He took it all in stride–even when a rather pushy father stuck his toddler in Bo’s face. The toddler kept grabbing Bo’s tongue and pulling it and Bo didn’t even flinch. I gently moved Bo away from the kid, who started to scream, but the father eventually got the message: Yep, it’s time to keep your kid from torturing patient animals. However, I was very relieved to have such a trustworthy dog with me.
  • Taking a retriever to an orchard means that said retriever will try to retrieve every fallen apple on the ground… even when there are literally hundreds of fallen apples. I think he was eventually overwhelmed by all of the tasty retrieving options and finally gave up.
  • I saw two German shepherd puppies among the crowd up there and got to pet one who had recently been adopted from a breeder in Chesapeake. The puppy was very sweet and didn’t seem too overwhelmed by the madness. As he walked away, though, I couldn’t help but notice his already extremely bent hindlegs, in the GSD show fashion. It made me a bit sad.
  • Bo is especially fond of my brother-in-law, Win.
  • Bo is weird about drinking water that’s not from his specific bowl at home. He was clearly thirsty when we reached the top, but when we offered him a bowl of water at the orchard, he only took one lap and then moved away. We kept trying to tempt him with it, but he was uninterested. Strange.
  • On the hike down, we took him off leash and he was wonderful. He’d wander a few yards ahead of us but always stopped and turned around to make sure we were still following. A quick whistle or call of his name would bring him back to the trail after he went bounding after a random scent or squirrel. His recall is not superb, but he will always stop and listen when you ask him to; it’s just getting him to come that’s the hard part. A play bow on my part was often a helpful incentive. And a ginger cat cookie from Trader Joe’s…
  • One of the most joyful things in the world is watching a dog running free in the woods.
  • Resounding opinion of all of our hiking friends: “Bo is the perfect dog.” He’s pretty darn close.

All in all, we had a perfect day and I’m so happy that Bo joined us. I can’t wait to go on similar adventures with our own dog! And hopefully Bo will come along too…

The unconditional love of dogs

Elizabeth

On Friday, I volunteered for the Charlottesville SPCA during an adoption promotion event on the downtown pedestrian mall. It was the 35th anniversary of the mall’s creation and the streets were packed with people. I was helping walk dogs (including Elizabeth, featured above), handle kittens, and talk to people about adoption.

When I got there, I was feeling kind of uneasy about my role as a volunteer. My husband walked me over there and as we walked, he mentioned that one of our mutual friends harbors some disdain toward me for my dog obsession (OK, that’s fine; it is a bit out of control) and for being a volunteer at the SPCA. This person thinks that pets are frivolous and unnecessary and that people should never own domesticated animals. Accordingly, this person believes that it is silly and wasteful for me to give my time to dogs at the SPCA.

Naturally, I disagree, but I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty as I went over there. Should I be volunteering at the homeless shelter instead? Serving food at the soup kitchen? I do believe that people are more valuable than animals, but I’ve never felt called to work with the homeless. I don’t think I’m gifted in that kind of ministry. Thankfully, there are many people around here who are capable and motivated to work with the many homeless people in our community. I’m just not one of them.

Somewhat troubled in spirit, I arrived at the SPCA’s table and was handed the leash of a large, placid lab/hound named Thurgood (not pictured, because I think he was adopted this weekend!). Our area was mobbed with people, especially parents with children. Animals act like magnets to most kids. The cat pen was packed with little kids who were squeezing kittens and the three dogs that we handled were constantly being hugged, petted, and ambushed. Thankfully, the shelter staff made a good choice by bringing Thurgood and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a senior hound who is extremely patient and slow-moving; she’s friendly to everyone, especially those who smell like food. Thurgood is a youngish, steady lab/hound mix and I worked primarily with him for a few hours. He was stubborn, but very gentle and submitted to the attentions of every type of person who rushed up to him.

The dogs were showing signs of exhaustion and stress–especially the third dog, Benny, who was unable to cope with the crowds and had to be walked away from everything–but they never showed signs of irritation or aggression. This alone taught me a lot about patience. I think I would have snapped at someone if I had armies of squealing children sticking their fingers in my eyes and mouth. But the dogs took it all in stride.

One of the biggest lessons the dogs taught me that day was about unconditional love. As I’ve already mentioned, our table was very popular with all of the children on the mall that day. But I also noticed that we drew a steady crowd of homeless and mentally handicapped adults. These people were more or less ignored by the other booths. It was assumed that they weren’t capable of supporting any of the neighboring causes or even carrying on a rational conversation about a business or a fundraising campaign. Other people would just look right past them when they approached, as if they weren’t there at all. No one paid them any attention. Except for the dogs.

The dogs treated them like everybody else. These socially marginalized people found attention, respect, and love from these animals, who did not discriminate against them based on their appearance, mental ability, or class. I will particularly remember a mentally handicapped woman who stayed at our table for almost half an hour. She kept stroking Thurgood’s head over and over, bending down to hug his neck, and kept excitedly saying to me, “Look, he likes me! Look how much he likes me!” I reassured her that he did like her. Because dogs don’t lie.

If I ever had to give an answer as to why I love dogs, I’d tell this story. The unconditional love of dogs is one of the primary reasons why they matter. It’s the motivating reason why I think we should do everything in our power to give these homeless dogs the best life possible. They have done so much for us and we have done so little for them. Just watch a dog lavish love on a complete stranger. I think that should be proof enough that dogs are valuable.

Pup links!

Two classy broads. Source: Miss Moss

Interesting pup-related links from around the web…

A retriever in the lake. These photos are so gorgeous and peaceful. I love Shirley Bittner’s work. (My Everyday Life, Shirley Bittner)

Farnham Park Flyball. I always love a good series of photos of herding dogs in action. (An English Shepherd)

Honoring Animal Heroes. Every year, Purina nominates some dogs and cats to go in their Animal Hall of Fame. These pets are pretty awesome and, I admit, their heroic stories made me tear up a little. (Rescuing Insanity)

Causes of Death Vary by Breed. This shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone who’s read about the dangerous genetics of purebred dogs, but it is an interesting and helpful study to be aware of. (The Bark)

Top 5 Myths about Dog Behavior and Children. A helpful overview of the myths that people perpetuate about the interactions between dogs and children. (The Dog Training Secret)

Artist Anna Dibble and Her Unforgettable Dogs. Anna Dibble makes lovely–and un-tacky!–paintings of pooches. (City Dog/Country Dog)

Peonies and Rain Don’t Mix. Martha Stewart’s team writes a blog from the perspective of her French bulldogs, Francesca and Sharky, and, I have to admit, it’s pretty adorable. (The Daily Wag)

DIY Pet ID Tags. Speaking of Martha Stewart, check out this great template for making pet ID tags at home! She’s the best. (Martha Stewart)

Puppy’s First Year: Time-Lapse Video. OK, this is a cool idea. Watch this German shepherd puppy grow up! (Paw Nation)

How to Run with a Dog. Tips from a pro about running with your dog. (That Mutt)