Our homes are filled with the ghosts of dogs gone by. If you’ve loved dogs all your life, chances are the lucky one currently sharing your home is surrounded by phantoms of dogs past.
In one way, that’s a wonderful thing. When your now dog does something adorable that past dogs have done, like the way he wiggles around on his back, you get a flash of memory that lets you smile and remember.
In another way, it’s sad and harmful to the dog in front of you. We tend to think about the stuff that was good, that we miss, that was comfortable. Stuff our now dogs can’t live up to.
We have a dog training student who dearly misses her last dog. Her almost-constant lament is that her 11-month old dog isn’t like her last dog, Mortimer. “I just want him to be a good dog, like Mortimer!” she says.
There are good reasons Oscar can’t live up to the standard she’s set. For one, he’s an adolescent, intact terrier boy. As anyone who knows, or has been, an adolescent boy knows, it’s a particularly volatile time of life. Another reason; Mortimer was an old, mellow dog when he died. He’d lived with her for a decade and a half, knew her, knew the rules of the house. Their relationship was long-standing, suited both of them, and was comfortable.
And it’s been 17 years since she’s trained a puppy. Everyone tends to forget the hard work, constant attention, and continual frustration that includes. She remembers the end product, not the difficulty of producing that perfect dog.
Get over it
It sounds kind of harsh, but we’re constantly telling her “Mortimer’s gone. This is Oscar.” Oscar doesn’t deserve to be shrouded by ghosts of dogs past. Actually, he’s a pretty neat little guy. Handsome, smart, willing to learn, and he’s got a great “work ethic” – up for any training game his owner will play.
The biggest challenge for his mom, Christine, is to focus on the good stuff about Oscar, instead of the jumping on guests, biting the leash, running away when called. We’re working on all those pleas for attention.
Christine’s assignment this week is easy. Every day, while she’s drinking her morning coffee, look at Oscar and write down five things she likes about him. And only three can be the same good stuff as the day before.
Focusing on the dog in front of you is sometimes hard. There are days when we miss the last dog, or the dog from 20 years ago. The pangs of loss are almost tangible. They’re indicators of the great love we’ve shared. Luckily, there’s no limit on love.
Look to the future
The dog in front of us will never be the same as the last dog we had. Dog people know that every dog is a unique personality. If this dog is the same breed, there will be some similarities defined by genetics. But there will also be traits and quirks unique to this dog. Seeing the dog you have, embracing those unique characteristics, is part of the joy in the relationship.
Christine and Oscar are getting there. There will come a day when Mortimer’s ghost won’t be superimposed on Oscar. Instead, he’ll be off to the side, watching with that doggy grin. Matched by one from Oscar, and a smile from Christine.