Have you ever had a dog that you loved, but didn’t like? If you have, you’re not alone. Last week I asked readers what was on their mind and what they’d like to talk about. In response, loyal reader HFR wrote “Having a dog you love but not like.” That comment opened a flood gate of similar comments from people in the same situation.
It’s not something that we talk about often, is it? When it came up, I suspect it was a relief to many dog lovers. But truth be told, surely it’s impossible to be in love, and like, with every dog we have ever had. I wonder, though, if we all have the assumption that if we were good people, we would love or like all of our dogs equally. And if we don’t feel that way, we need to keep it quiet..
But we don’t have to. I will tell you right now that I don’t have the depth of feeling for Tootsie that I do for Maggie and Skip. There. I said it. I also love Tootsie very much, and feel fiercely protective of her after her seven years pumping out babies in puppy mill hell.
She is also exhausting us. She is at least sixteen now (beyond ancient for a Cavalier), deaf, going blind, and has lost all vestiges of house training. She needs to be taken outside often, where she’ll wander around in the yard for a long time and then trot into the garage and poop on the welcome mat. She is always underfoot now, and if we’re not always on alert we trip on her–and then feel horribly guilty. She barks like a elephant seal when she smells food or senses me leaving the room. She wails like an abandoned orphan when I’m preparing her dinner.
And yet, she has moments of what looks like ecstatic joy, when she runs around like some tiny, cocaine-infused Dumbo, with her ears flapping and her mouth open wide in a comical grin. This is always related to the anticipation of food, whether it be the Greenie she gets when we leave the house, or the potential of finding cat poop in the garden. But it’s so damn cute that I dare you not to break out laughing when you see it. Sometimes in the evening she lies in the crook of my arm while I stroke her belly. She closes her eyes and relaxes completely, and so do I.
But even when she was younger and healthy, I have always felt less connected to her. There’s a part of Tootsie–sweet, docile, baby-faced Tootsie–that is shut down. It’s not her breed–the other Cavalier that we considered adopting had a fire in her eye that melted my heart. But that one had serious health problems and I’d just spent the last two years of my life dealing with one critically ill dog after another. I was spent, physically, emotionally and financially. So we adopted Tootsie, who doesn’t have an aggressive bone in her body, and is sweet and cuddly and adorable as it is possible for a dog to be. But that “soul mate” connection, the one that I have with Maggie, and developed in five minutes with Skip? It was never there.
And, of course, there was Willie, the dog I write about in The Education of Will, whose behavioral problems set off many of my own, and who made my life hellish for several years. But connected? Oh my yes, if anything, Willie and I were too connected at one point, sharing each other’s demons and fears until I was able to break us out of them. I loved Willie as much as I could love any dog, ever, but there were times that I didn’t always like him.
Love, but not like? Like, but not love? Surely that’s a common place we find ourselves in. And most probably, it’s not either/or. We deeply love one dog, but don’t like them when they are growling at other dogs. We very much like another dog, but don’t feel that deep-seated love we talk about when our eyes get starry when we talk about “my forever dog.”
What do we do with all these complicated feelings, in a world where there seems to be increasing pressure to give our lives and our hearts over to every dog who has come our way? I don’t know “the answer.” I don’t know that there are any, but here are some thoughts that might be helpful.
First, speak your truth, at least to yourself. Acknowledge how you are feeling about any one dog at any particular time. It does not make you a bad person to be angry that Dog X has made your life difficult and less fun than it was. As long as you don’t take it out on the dog, it’s liberating to give yourself permission to say “I love Chipper, but I don’t like him right now.” Of course, it helps greatly to distinguish between the dog and the behavior, as in “I love Chipper but I hate his behavior to other dogs.”
Sort out your feelings. If I’ve learned anything from meditation and counseling, it’s the importance of examining one’s emotions.What is behind your feelings toward your dog? Am you frustrated? Scared you can’t fix it? Angry that your life with this dog isn’t what you wanted? Your feelings are your feelings, and the more you can fine tune your understanding of them, the easier they are to deal with. I remember the burden of guilt that left me when Drift, my first Border Collie, was dying. He had become impossible to live with in his old age, and I spent some horrible nights feeling guilty that I wanted him to die. It felt like a betrayal of my love for him, which had been immense. But then I realized that my feelings had nothing to do with how much I loved him. I loved him deeply. But, separate from that, it had become a nightmare living with him. My love for Drift was separate from my need to have a life that wasn’t a full-blown nightmare. That realization made my last days with him full of love and compassion, rather than fear and guilt.
Ask yourself what you can do about what’s going on. What can you help? What can you work on? What can you give up, accept? Be realistic. Some people can rearrange their lives around a dog with a lot of behavior problems. Some can’t. Often, we can at one phase in our lives, but not another. Ask yourself how long the issue might last? How realistic is it that things will change and get better? How realistic is it that you can say hello to anger, frustration or fear, and live comfortably with them? Right now Jim and I have fully accepted that this is our life with Tootsie, but I know that we are lucky, given what so many dog owners are dealing with right now. I too know what it is like to be not just exhausted by your dog, but fearful something horrible will happen because of your dog’s behavior, (perhaps again), burdened by constant monitoring, training, analyzing what to do next, or just plain disappointed that X dog isn’t who you thought she’d be, and wishing that she was Y.
Find the humor. Jim and I laugh a lot about Toots. When Toots goes from standing blank-eyed on shaky legs to full-out puppy zoomies, usually after a whiff of cat poop in the garden, we chant: “And, she’s off !” Several times I’ve thought, after a couple of days in which Tootsie has had trouble standing up, “Is it Tootsie’s time now?” And then she takes off running and flipping around in circles through the house while Jim and I bend over laughing. It’s easy to laugh around Tootsie, and I realize it would be much harder around other dogs. But you CAN add humor into any situation. Use silly terms to describe something your dog does that is driving you crazy. Become your own stand up comedian, no matter what’s going on. And if you can’t laugh about your own situation, watch as many comedies as you can–laughter really is good medicine.
What are you doing for you? Speaking of medicine, what are you doing for you? This isn’t necessarily relevant if you’re mildly disappointed because your dog isn’t the dog you thought he’d be. But it could be critical if you have a dog with serious behavior problems that are truly stressful. I had hundreds of clients (thousands?) whose lives were seriously compromised by their dogs. Perhaps they hadn’t had a vacation in years, or they no longer had visitors to their home. Some couples were on the verge of divorce over the dog, others owners were simply tired and depressed. Life is hard enough anyway in normal times, and things are so far away from normal right now it’s hard to know how to categorize them. Nobody knows what you need better than you, so dig deep and see what you can do, realistically, to take care of yourself.
Reach out. It helps to talk about it to others, but choose the ones you trust to have your back. I have a dear friend who also has a dog with a raft of health problems that is making her life especially difficult, and we don’t hesitate to say things to each other that we’d never say to others, because we know how deeply we love and care for our dogs. (See Brenee Brown for a list of of who not to talk to.) If you haven’t yet, reach out to a professional. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who told me that just talking was a huge relief, even in just a phone consultation. If you need perspective from someone who deals with dog behavior for a living, try the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Veterinary Behaviorist. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t but it’s worth a try.
One thing you can do is join this conversation. We’ve already had a raft of insightful comments in response to HFRs comment, from people who identified closely with having a dog that you love, but don’t like. (I love the comment about a dog you “wouldn’t want to be friends with if it was a human.”) What about you? Do you have a dog that isn’t the dog you wanted? Or that you dearly love, but don’t like? What about like, but don’t love, at least not as much as you want to?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Please, sir may I have some more? (Thunder treats, that is.) You gotta love it when it finally thunders during the day rather than at dark thirty in the morning so that it’s easy and fun to counter condition thunder. Skip thought it was the best game ever and is looking forward to the next storm. Maybe? I hope? Could be . . . We’ll see. (Tootsie can’t hear thunder any more, but she thought this was a great game too.)
As I write this it is hot and humid, lousy weather for me and the BCs. But there have been several gloriously perfect days, weather-wise, last week. We have savored every minute of them. I love this set of hills decorated with various shades of green.
What says summer better than fresh strawberries! We picked a huge flat of berries at Bure’s Berry Patch Saturday morning.
Of course, Strawberry shortcake for desert that night, what else?