As some of you might know, I’m teaching a class on finding time to train at FDSA. It’s about life getting in the way, and how to fit our training plans into busy days.
More than one student has noted that they feel ashamed or guilty about not doing more with their dogs. This got me thinking. It’s quite common in my circle of friends and colleagues that someone will talk about all the things they did with their dog last weekend, and someone else will respond with guilt. It also happens unprompted: “I really should do more with my dog …” I’m not unfamiliar with this feeling myself. I used to think I needed to do All The Things with All The Dogs All The Time lest I be a bad dog owner, unworthy of having such wonderful companions. I’ve gotten better about it in the last year or two. And let’s be honest for a minute: it’s not just that some days, I don’t do All The Things with All The Dogs. The unspeakable truth is that some days, just for a moment or two, I wish I didn’t even have dogs. And, believe it or not: it doesn’t make me a bad dog owner. It just makes me human.
I think our guilty gut reaction stems from the dog training culture we are a part of: “we,” that is me and probably you, too, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog: it’s people who are committed to providing their dogs with as rich and fulfilling a life as possible. People who go the extra mile for their dogs. Social media makes it easy to connect with and follow others who share the same culture. You can join Facebook groups and watch the youtube videos and pictures of friends and strangers. All of this is great and can be lots of fun – until it isn’t, and we feel guilty when our day was too busy to do All The Things other people seem to be doing for there dogs. When we scroll through our newsfeed, we see pictures of people spending time with their dogs: Susan rocked a nosework trial last weekend, Tom is blogging about his agility training journey, Meg and Thunder just got their CDX. We see pictures of dogs posing with trophies, flying over a jump, or indicating a vehicle hide. We also see pictures of people hiking with dogs, announcing they just entered a trial, and pictures of a delicious-looking home-cooked dog meal someone spent at least 30 minutes preparing.
When we meet up with other dog people, this is what we talk about, too: someone’s getting ready for their BH, someone else didn’t have a good day at a show, but stood up for their dog and made sure they felt safe, someone else took their dogs on a play date, and someone else yet tells us about the goings-on at the local obedience club they volunteer at.
Let me tell you a secret: just because people actively doing stuff with their dogs is all we see and hear about doesn’t mean this is all there is. Just because everyone seems to have all the time in the world to meet all the needs their dog may have or develop doesn’t mean they really do this all day, every day. They probably work, in order to be able to afford meeting all these needs. And occasionally, they sleep. They fight with their significant others, teach their children how to brush their teeth, they are stuck in traffic for an hour, visit their parents, and shop for groceries and Christmas presents.
It’s easy to capture and share perfect moments on social media. Every day has some of them, surrounded by lots of mundane stuff that has little to do with dogs, and isn’t worth posting a picture of.
My days have mundane stuff, too, and the part of my life I spend working with other people’s dogs is often bigger than the part that I spend with my own. And still: I’m a good dog owner, and if you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure so are you. I believe my dogs have well-balanced, rich lives. They get off leash hikes, R+ training, food toys, cuddles on the couch, and they have social relationships with both humans and dogs. I love my dogs. I’m one of these people who post pictures and videos on facebook all the time.
You probably already know that, so let’s talk about the things that usually get swept under the dog bed instead. I love Fanta, Phoebe, Grit, and Game. And yet, there are days when I wish I didn’t have dogs! Yep – I wish I didn’t have even one of them. I’m a freelance writer, editor and translator, and I own a small dog training business. With rare exceptions, I work 7 days a week. That’s fine – I love what I do, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But sometimes, when there’s just too much on my plate, when I’m stressed out and tired and my head hurts, I’m trying to finish a book project, see clients, get groceries, write an article for a dog sports magazine, do the laundry, clear my forums, and listen to a friend who just went through a divorce … Then I wish I didn’t have dogs. I wish I could finish the day’s work, get in my car, and drive to a spa. I’d check into a big, luxurious room with a big double bed and a view over something gorgeous. I’d take a steaming hot shower with several ridiculously tiny bottles of hotel bath products. Smelling like vanilla and almonds, I’d get out of the shower (after at least an hour), and slip into one of these incredibly soft, white bathrobes, and I’d walk barefoot, leaving wet footprints on the floor, back into the bedroom. I’d order room service, and I’d zip through the TV channels on a big flat screen TV while lying on my bed and picking on something delicious. I’d watch some romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet – nothing profound, please, but corny enough to make me cry. I’m on vacation. I’d order a lava cake for dessert, or creme brulee, or something else with a French name that sounds much better than it tastes – in this fantasy, it tastes fantastic, of course. And then I’d fall asleep in the big, white, cozy and dog-hair-free bed. It would be so comfortable that I could immediately fall asleep, without thinking about work or life or anything else, like I usually do. I’d have the best kind of dreamless sleep, and I’d sleep in (something else I rarely do). Then I’d get up and splurge on a fantastic breakfast buffet. Later, I’d go to the pool and hang out and soak in the water, and lie in a deck chair and re-read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, or something like that: good, yet easy to read. At some point, I’d get up and have a massage. It would smell good and there would be relaxing music in the background, and the masseuse would help me get rid of all the tension and stress in my shoulders. I’d feel wonderful. I’d have lunch, and then hang out in a whirlpool, and then have a nap, and then order more room service, and take a bubble bath in a triangle-shaped bathtub in my huge bathroom under a palm tree.
On days like this, sometimes, I don’t take my dogs for a walk, and I don’t train them. Instead, they get to spend the day running around the yard together and hanging out next to me while I work, chewing on a bully stick. Did anything exciting happen that day? No, not at all. Was it a bad day for a dog? No, it wasn’t – it was just a day where nothing exciting happened. And you know what? That’s okay. Even for a Malinois. (And, which is more surprising, even for Phoebe.)
I’ve never stayed at a spa hotel overnight, by the way – I don’t have time for stuff like this, and I can think of countless things I’d rather spend my money on than spa vacations. I probably wouldn’t like the real spa experience as much as my imaginary one, anyways – I might get bored doing nothing all day. I’m not used to this. It might be quite scary. My imaginary spa vacation is perfect though. I’ve perfected the art of imagining it to the point where I’ll lie in bed and imagine the massage part in so much detail that my shoulders will actually feel better by the time I get up.
The next day, I’ll be back to being a happy dog owner, and we’ll train again, or go for a long walk, or both. I won’t have loved them any less the day before. I just wished, for a moment or two, that I could press pause and step out of my life for a relaxing spa weekend. And that’s okay. We all get to do that sometimes – whether it’s our dogs, our children, or our significant others we need an imaginary break from. And I honestly believe it’s okay to give ourselves permission to do so.
Are there people who never wish they didn’t have dogs (or children, or significant others)? Probably. If you’re one of them – good for you! I’m not one of them though, and you know what? I’m okay with that. And if you’re like me, you should be okay with it, too.