Dog as a Mirror of Self

Golden Retriever Playing

It's like looking in a mirror. He's just like me!

My sister sometimes tells me that cats hurt her feelings. It takes a strong ego (something none of the women in my family are cursed with) to live with a creature who appears not to care if you’re there or not.

Dogs–the gregarious, “can’t wait for you to come in the door”, wagging like a fool kind–can be an amazing ego boost.

I sometimes think about all the burdens I’ve placed on my dogs. They have to suffer my moods and I can’t say to them, “It’s not you, I’m just feeling a little low; don’t take it personally” like I can with my husband (well I can say it but it probably won’t mean as much to them).

And as much as I try to avoid it, I know I interpret their lives through my own patterns of thought and weird neuroses.

I sometimes look deep into Honey’s eyes trying to see if she’s happy. Does she have everything she needs? Is there something that would really make her life better that I’m just not providing?

I’ve seen other people pick up their little lap dogs, squeeze them tightly, and murmur in high squeaky tones about the unconditional love their dog gives them even as he’s squirming or licking, or otherwise showing extreme discomfort with all the hugging. I sometimes wonder if I also misread the desires of my dog and what messages I’m missing.

I guess all this wondering is what comes from being in a relationship.

Yes, sometimes I will do something to Honey she just doesn’t enjoy very much. Because I need to and just can’t help myself. Like trying to stroke her fur while we’re playing tug. And she’ll either decide to put up with it or end the game and walk away.

But most of the time, I’ll recognize that Honey doesn’t enjoy being petted all the time. Sometimes she just wants to play. And I’ll put my desires aside and do what she finds fun.

Because Honey can’t speak in English and because she isn’t free to just walk away and find a new home if she finds this one doesn’t meet all her needs, I’ll never know if she’s perfectly content.

That’s why I’ll need to keep nurturing the relationship. Pay attention to what gives her joy. Balance my needs with hers. And try very hard not to only see her as a reflection of my own weird mind.

How do your animals reflect your thoughts and dreams? Do you “check in” on your relationship? How do you know when you’re doing a good job?

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Comments

  1. Sometimes dogs and owners do look alike, but that is more in appearences. Maybe coincidence, maybe just a faireytel. We humans love to project, and I cannot deny that a lot of reasons why I got a dog is all about me and my projections. Still, getting to know Kenzo (and later Viva) was maybe for the wrong reasons, but I am glad to have learned to appreciate them as indivudual beings with their own needs.

    Somewhere down the line they just took over. Hey wait, are they doing the mirror thing on me?

    btw are you on twitter?

    • Nice thoughts. It’s true that bringing an animal into our lives can be all about us but we’re soon lucky to find we can get so much more–

      Not on twitter yet. It’s on my to-do list for today. But I have to admit I get a bit overwhelmed with data coming and going. I’ll check you out when I get there.

  2. You’re right, I do “check in” on my relationship with my dog, thinking of what new games I can play with him, or at least set up for him, to keep him mentally and physically stimulated. While snoozing on the sofa next to me is okay, I like to remind myself that no matter how busy *I* am, my dog needs interaction, play, some dog fun, and he deserves that no matter how tired or out of sorts I may be. He is not a little furry creature that shares my home, an appendage I occasionally pet, talk to and walk.

    He is a species separate and apart, and it’s up to me to figure out where he finds his joy, as you said, and how he thinks, how I can make his life a good and fulfilling experience. He can be very demonstrative when he likes something new – his play bows more excited than usual, and when he really really likes something, he’ll try to keep me engaged to play the game again, or, hours later will casually stroll up to something that is part of the game, sit down right next to it and stare at me. If I look, his tail starts wagging, he laughs his dog laugh and says “please please please” with a play bow, sometimes trotting over to me, and then back to the game…there’s no mistaking the association:)

  3. That’s a very thoughtful post today! I think I’m often checking on it, but I don’t know how to describe the barometer. I know when my dogs are happy, but not always when they aren’t.

    • I suspect you actually do know when you dogs aren’t happy. From reading your blog, I get the feeling you’d move quickly to make changes if you got the sense that someone in your house wasn’t quite happy.

  4. That was a great post! It sometimes is hard to judge your dog’s emotions, but I love it when they have a big smile on their face! I remember how well Maggie (who passed over the Rainbow Bridge a year ago) was able to express herself–both happy and sad. Some dogs are better to read than others.

    • Some dogs really are very expressive, aren’t they?

      Shadow, who also passed a year ago and is featured in the header of this blog, was never very expressive. I never saw her do zoomies in the yard or even play bow. But that made the few times she really did express joy so much more precious.

      Of course, pessimist that I am, I always worried that her quiet moments were sad moments. I still hope that wasn’t true.

  5. seems like you speak dog more than you know, if your dogs needs come first, sounds like they do… my cici is a big snuggle/cuddle bug, has to be near me a lot, even as I write she is up close and personal, but sometimes, when I want her to be, when I am feeling needy she does not want to be so close. just like relationships, there has to be some space between two individuals. i too have wondered if cici is really happy and not long ago checked in with an animal communicator (I can check in with other people’s animals, not always my own) and he said she is very happy. at times, when she is bugging me, i think no matter what i do she’s not happy and get frustrated. but dogs always want more of whatever it is, food, food, food, play, play, play. so yes, I do put my human perspective on that sometimes and feel like I am falling short. But that’s not how she sees it, she just wants more good stuff… and more and more and more.

    • Thanks for your kind words. I like the perspective you add in stating that dogs always want more of the good stuff. Doggie hedonists?

  6. You gave me a lot to reflect on. Thank you! Enjoyed the read!

  7. You raise some very interesting questions. I think it’s pretty easy to recognize when a pet is happy, but when they are not happy for some reason, all you can do is to be the best friend you can be to them. As with human lives, perhaps our pets just have to accept that there are good things, and not-so-good things, that naturally occur in any life. As long as you always offer your love and nurturing to your friend, the unhappy periods will pass.

  8. In the house Shiva is hugely affectionate and often seeks out petting. But outside or in class, she hates when I try to touch her for the sake of touching her. She always moves away, like it is embarrassing her or something. It makes me laugh. Like my mom, sometimes I do it anyway but I try to respect her boundaries as much as possible.

    I don’t know if there is a good way to tell if dogs are happy. I think she is, I try very hard to meet all of her needs and beyond. But I don’t know if I can ever say for sure that she is. Thanks for another thoughtful post!

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