Yes, I know I’m not perfect, and there are things I hate about myself. One of those is the fact that at times I seem to have a hard time controlling my temper, and while on the one hand I know that is not the most uncommon of traits, the guilt I feel afterwards… well, let’s just say that it is no fun. And how does that connect to my dog? Well, because too often he is the target of that rage. Now, when I say rage I don’t mean I am beating him on a daily basis (or ever), but a couple of nights ago, for instance, after I had barely slept the night before, my boy took it upon himself to start barking like crazy in my ear about an hour after I had finally managed to fall asleep. Let’s just say that the animal in me was not amused, and barked back… loudly.
Of course, at times I also lose my temper with other humans, but my reaction in those instances is different… less violent, more controlled, and I wonder why. It certainly isn’t because I like those humans better than I like my dog. Maybe it is because, unlike my dog, they can understand what I’m saying, because we have a means of communication that, as much as I love my boy, is not available to me in this cross-species bond, or maybe it is simply because, as much as I hate to admit it, I can’t quite shake the fact that from the day I was born I was taught that dogs were less than human.
Now, I know they are different, there is no denying that, but we humans are rather anthropocentric as a lot. We are convinced, or we are taught, that everything revolves around us, and our dogs are there for our benefit. Oh, in a way I know this is not entirely inaccurate. I know we keep our pets, that we choose to care for them, that they are entirely at our mercy and for the most part we care for them for services rendered, not out of the kindness of our hearts. In the old days those services were more tangible. They helped us with the hunt, they watched our flocks, and guarded our property, now those services are of a different kind: they provide us with love and emotional support in a world that can reasonably be described as broken in that regard. A world in which humans no longer feel quite so reliable.
As a woman who lives alone, with no family to speak of in hundreds, if not thousands, of miles, I can safely and honestly say that my dog is more than just a pet. He is basically my family… my whole immediate family by one particular definition, so why do I feel entitled to treat him in a way I would never treat a human being? And more importantly how do I balance my sense of fairness, my love for him, and the need to maintain some sort of discipline when we have nothing even remotely resembling a common language? I don’t know. All I know is that whenever I lose my temper, after I have snapped at him, and when I finally calm down, I can’t help but to realize how much better he is. If he were to snap at me as I do at him he would be in so much trouble. If he did it as often as I do he might even find himself being rehomed… or worse, and yet he stays by my side, he doesn’t hold a grudge… he comes to me, with his tail between his legs, asking for some sign that I still love him.
I do, but I am not sure I can convey to him the magnitude of that love. Not after I have lost my temper for the umpteenth time, not after I have yelled at him… not after I have shown myself how much less I am than he is.
Yes, I have been conditioned to think that humans are better than dogs. Whether we like it or not, we all grew up with books and tales that implied that we were our dogs’ ‘masters’, but I don’t want to be his master, and yet I am not the only one who has been conditioned to think in those terms.
We spent thousands of years breeding our dogs for submission, and even today, with our changing attitudes, that subservience is still expected. We can lose our tempers, they cannot, so maybe the answer is for us to do better, to be more like our dogs… except we can’t afford to do that either. Humans won’t let us. If we were to go to one of them with our metaphorical tails tucked between our legs, asking for a token of affection after they have snapped at us for no good reason we would be torn to shreds, maybe not physically, but we would certainly be setting ourselves up for a lifetime of abuse. That is who we are at a fundamental level. We are taught to stand on our own two feet, to fight back. This is the way of the world, the question is, does that way truly make us the better, or more enlightened, species?