Spirit’s and ‘Nala’s puppyhood in the old flat shortly after we added Nala to our little pack
I don’t know where to begin when talking about how good it is to have dogs, but I have long wanted to write about it and recently got extra inspired after reading A Kindred Soul by Musings of an Aspie.
We have 2 dogs. In line with the policies of this blog, they’ll have Internet pseudo-names and will be known as ‘Spirit’ and ‘Nala’ online. Spirit because she is a free spirit, and Nala (named after Simba’s girlfriend in The Lion King) because there is something lion-like gracious, majestic and childish about Nala and the way she moves.
What the dogs do to the house*
The dogs spread a happy & easy going vibe in the house, so we look extra forward to being home when we’re out … not to mention the cheering, tail-wagging welcome committee that greets us when we open the door. The dogs are great fun on an everyday basis; and a play or cuddle with the dogs can lift almost any heavy mood.
Most of all, the dogs have transformed our home into a little community. We are not just a married couple any more, we are a little tribe with a culture that we shape, but which also shapes us and which’ evolution is not fully under our control. I guess having dogs is somewhat akin to having kids in that regard.
The dogs are therapeutic
Whenever I’m feeling down, I can easily make the dogs happy, and that tends to lift my mood too. Sometimes all the way up from ‘tired and de-motivated’ to ‘having fun’.
When I feel nerve-wrecked and overloaded (or whenever Nala needs a hug), Nala will lean on me and/or rest her body on my chest. Although it sometimes feel like my ribs are slowly bending and it is hard to breathe, Nala’s warm heavy softness and trust is one of the most soothing sensations I know when I’m stressed, anxious or in sensory overload mode – just the right impact at the right time. And she is always around, with her unconditional support and strong but simple needs.
I also learn a lot from observing the dogs and their pack dynamics every day. I learn about social dynamics and political games (dog politics is mainly about bones, but still), perspective taking, care and responsibility, about their unique personalities, about being open to another species’ very different type of mental operative system, about conflict management and many other things.
And the dogs keep us/me physically fit. And safe too… protecting the house against real and imaginary enemies.
Dogs are routine animals
All that said, one of the key aspects of having dogs has to do with rules, everyday structure and routines. Dogs cherish and need daily routines such as walks, feeding rituals, training, and just all the little things we do at certain times and which they know will happen. Routines and predictability give dogs a sense of knowing the world they live in and be prepared for what will happen. Dogs thrive when they know precisely what to do, and carry out the same sequences day after day with the same persons. Carrying out routines together is a bonding kind of communication; it conveys that ‘we are together’, ‘we belong here’.
It isn’t necessary to be as rules-oriented as I am with dogs and some may find it a bit extreme, but I like to have many little scripts for longer activities, such as walks, that break the activity into small steps and mark how far along we are in the process and what will happen next. It helps the dogs to know what to do (even if they sometimes do the opposite!), and it helps me to control two dogs that are actually so strong that they can pull me over the ground ‘like a sled’ if they forget I am there.
Below is an example of a sequence of little scripts embedded in a daily routine; namely the morning run on a route via bush firetracks. It may be boring to read, but it is fun to do due to the dogs’ infectious enthusiasm for every step in the process.