Sometimes I feel like I’m falling short as a wife, a mother, a collaborator, a friend, a sister, a daughter or in any other role in my life. I’m not beating myself up over this because every day I fight the good fight and try very hard to do my best. I don’t live with constant guilt because I put in a solid effort, but I know in my heart that many times I don’t quite succeed to the degree that I want.
The funny thing, though, is that I feel much better about how I come through for dogs. I don’t know why, but I’m generally more confident that I am doing better by the dogs in my life. Don’t get me wrong—sometimes I still have dog-related guilt and a desire to improve, but not as often as I do with people. On the one hand, it’s not as complicated to provide for dogs’ needs, but the real issue here is, I think, that dogs bring out the best in me.
Sometimes, I’ve been too tired to play with my kids and I’ve answered no to their request to go to the park, but I always manage to walk dogs. At the end of an exhausting day, I may leave dirty dishes in the sink, but if a dog needs to be brushed out, I find the energy to get that done.
I’m more likely to comply with the majority of the Boy Scout Law with dogs than with people. (For those who are not familiar with it, this law says that a Boy Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.) I’m not sure whether it is the vulnerability and complete reliance that dogs have on us that brings out the best in me, or if it’s just that dogs don’t tend to be as demanding as people, so it’s easier to measure up. (Yes, I realize that some dogs are unbelievably demanding, but my experience with such dogs is a small percentage of my interactions with the canine set.)
It can be really hard every day to face not quite being as good as I’d like to be, and I’m so grateful that dogs provide an area of my life that is less prone to causing such feelings of failure.
If dogs bring out the best in you, why do you think that is?
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear inThe Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.