Legally speaking, of course not! But, in a traditional sense maybe we should be!
In a marriage we are devoting ourselves into a relationship, a full commitment to that person for better or for worse, we are committed to the relationship and working through whatever storms come into our lives. Should we not have the same devotion, commitment and patience with our dogs? Of course I am not suggesting that we enter into a passionate love affair with our dogs! However I am suggesting that we have a similar amount of devotion and commitment.
A commitment, not just on the easy stuff like loving our dogs, that part is easy, in fact I would argue that it’s hard not to love them! A commitment of time, patience and understanding, a devotion to understanding their language, their conversations, their needs. We cover the very basics when we get a dog, the information is limited to food, walks and some basic training, but there is so much more to having a dog! Their needs are so much more than food, drink and walks with some basic training! They need companionship, play, reassurance, understanding, patience, enrichment, guidance, conversation, choices, nutrition, let alone individual needs.
In society we give up on dogs too easily, partly because we are given an unrealistic expectation of how dogs behave, so when dogs do not behave the way we believe they should, we can end up frustrated with our dogs and ourselves. This can lead to a relationship breakdown, often referred to as a relationship fallout. When owners cannot understand why their dog is behaving a certain way that they feel is undesirable and they don’t know how to change their dog's behaviour, this often leads to a frustrated response to the dog’s behaviour in a desperate attempt to stop the dog’s behaviour. The dog will behave in this way for a reason, but the reason is not understood, so the dog ends up feeling confused and unheard which will often lead to the behaviour either intensifying or they can go into a state of learnt helplessness which is an emotional shut down, where the dog stops the behaviour temporarily. This leads to the misconception that the owner's methods worked, until the dog can no longer suppress their underlying emotions and the behaviour returns, often more intense or accompanied with other behavioural issues that weren’t present previously, (but that is another blog!)
So in short we end up with an owner and a dog who do not understand each other. As we know in any relationship, a lack of understanding causes frustration and friction which can lead to resentment and hostility. We can become overly defensive of our actions when someone doesn’t understand them, we can also become hostile when we don’t understand someone else’s behaviour. This is not the foundation of a healthy relationship, this relationship will end up either stagnant or will break down. When a breakdown of communication happens, a breakdown of understanding accompanies it, without understanding our actions can be more hostile, forceful and fierce. When this happens the recipient becomes less trusting and can eventually react which leads to the other becoming equally less trusting. You can see the pattern that is building here, a vicious cycle of a breakdown in a relationship, eventually breaking down every founding structure that a relationship can be built on.
This relationship is seen often between owner and dog, it’s an easy trap to fall into especially when there is not enough clear information to help guide owners in a more helpful way to understand what their dog is actually saying, wanting, needing or asking.
Understandably when this happens owners feel torn by a choice to either give up on their dogs completely by continuing this unhealthy relationship, re-home their dog or try to seek help, this can be harder than you think with dog training and behaviour being an unregulated industry, owners can end up seeking the wrong help which will make the situation far worse and make them reluctant to try again.
We owe it to our dogs to offer them dedication, commitment, understanding, time and patience in the same way we would In our relationships.
That starts with truly understanding them, this means not projecting our own frustrations onto them.
“She is just barking to annoy me” “she just wants to press my buttons” “she did that out of spite!” “Why is she so horrible to other dogs?” “ she growled at me today! She is so bad!”
It’s human nature mixed up with the stresses that people face in their own lives that can lead to these inaccurate assumptions. If you have just come home from work, or looking after children and your dog is adding to your stress it is understandable why you would feel frustrated, inpatient and irrational about your dog’s behaviour. The problem is, it won’t solve the issue, it will begin the relationship breakdown.
It is essential that we allow some time to understand from our dog’s perspective, in order to fully understand their reasoning. Instead of projecting, ask the question why is your dog is acting in this way, is their barking related to boredom, frustration, anxiety, pain or discomfort, fear? When a dog is barking they are communicating something, when a dog is growling they are also communicating something rather essential. When a dog growls it means something is wrong, it does not mean they are bad. Ignoring this or even worse, punishing them for growling is potentially dangerous as your dog is telling you or whoever the growl is aimed towards to either stop something that is either putting them in a state of fear or physical/emotional discomfort or pain. Punishing their communication is the same as punishing a person for speaking, it will never solve the issue.
I won’t go through the list of possible causes for each possible behaviour as this could be endless, but I will end with this.
Every behaviour has a reason, a drive, an emotion, a physical need for something. We need to devote ourselves into understanding what those reasons are in order to ever hope to achieve a difference. If we carry on misunderstanding our dogs then we risk our relationship failing, our commitment failing and priorities will change. Marry your dog in the sense of devotion, understanding, commitment, clear communication, patience and through better or for worse. Having a relationship with your dog takes devotion and time but the more you nourish it the more you will watch it grow and flourish.