What Does Your Dog Call You?

Honey is not my baby. And I am not her “mommy.” Honestly.

Recently someone noticed how Honey liked to carry a red Kong in her mouth. I replied, “Yes, her mother does too.” They stared at me blankly for several long seconds before I realized what was going on and said, “Y’know, her birth mom. The dog.” The light went on. The person in front of me stopped picturing me with a rubber dog toy in my mouth.

And yet…

Golden Retriever rolling in snow

Ok, enough with the "lady who gives me toys in the snow." How would you like to become the "lady who feeds me hamburgers?"

I am her nurturer. Honey depends on me for her most basic needs. If I’m not a “mommy,” what am I?

In writing, I usually call myself her guardian or caretaker. I’ve never felt comfortable with the word “owner.” I remember Alice Walker writing in Dog is my Co-Pilot: Great Writers on the World’s Oldest Friendship about how she, as the descendent of enslaved Africans, just couldn’t be an “owner” of a sentient being. Yeah, I get that.

But Honey is not my child. And I’m careful to not compare her to children when I speak to parents. (My husband, on the other hand, has been known to advise parents how to raise their children based on dog training techniques. He’s lucky no one pushed him in front of a bus.)

Sure, dogs and children both need consistency, a sense of what’s expected of them, love, and guidance. But dogs aren’t children. And when we treat them as if they are, we’re missing out on their innate, adult dog-ness.

We can’t understand a new way of communicating that involves barks and eyebrows and tails. We’re missing out on the amazing things dogs can teach us. And we’re not recognizing that they are a species outside ourselves that we’re blessed to have in our midst. A relationship that goes back thousands of years and that came about by choice–by both humans and canids.

Some people know exactly what they are to their dogs. They feel perfectly comfortable being a “mommy” or “daddy” to their dog or cat or bird.

Others share my ambivalence. I read some of their blogs. They devise humorous names for themselves that express both a deep affection for their dogs and a recognition of the complexity of our relationships. Just a few favorites that come to mind:

How do I refer to myself with Honey? My husband and I are “the dad” and “the mom.” The addition of that “the” is very important. No mother of children ever callers herself “the mom.” Unless it’s in “Because I’m the mom and I said so.”

“The Mom” and “The Dad” is affectionate. It’s mildly humorous. And it’s the most satisfying names we could come up with.

We can’t change it now. Honey has just learned the cue, “Go find the Dad.” She can now do it over 50 yards distance and even when my husband is not visible to her at the start. I guess we’re stuck with it.

How do you refer to yourself in relationship to your dog? Are you ever embarrassed by it when you talk to others? Or are you a mommy or daddy and proud of it? Do your parents refer to their “grand-dog?”  Please share.

Golden Retriever

Those are some very interesting thoughts to ponder. Now I think I'd like to ponder some liver.

New Tech Talk Discussion Board for Pet Bloggers

 

[Update: The Dog Tech Forum is not active. But the BlogPaws community has a great group for people with tech questions about blogging. If you haven’t joined yet, you should.
While you’re there, don’t forget to become my “friend.” ]

I’ve started a discussion board where we “non-techie” bloggers can share suggestions and ask for help. It’s easy to sign up. The more you share the more useful it will be.

So join us over at Dog Blog Tech. Click on General Boards to find the Welcomes & Introductions Threads. There you’ll find tips on how to use the boards, find out how to get updates in your inbox, and can introduce yourself to others.

Look forward to seeing you there.

This is a blog hop. Hop on.

 

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Comments

  1. Dear Ms Pamela,

    Thank you for calling me humorous. That’s a big word. I’m going to assume it’s a nice thing to be.

    I have a secret to tell you. My Cushion calls me his Girlie. He tells me he’s my Daddy. My Typist scoffs at this show of a.n.t.h.r.o.p.o.m.o.r.p.h.i.s.m and tells him not to be silly because I look nothing like him. My Typist is very harsh. This is why she’s always going to be just My Typist, and not My Cushion or My Favourite Person In The World. It’s a good thing she’s also My Cook or she’d be in big trouble.

    It’s getting late again. Good night and thank you again for telling people I’m humorous. Have a good Sunday! xox Georgia

  2. Oh no, I don’t see georgia’s comment. Did it get lost? :( I think I need to go do some dogblog tech soon. Sigh.

    • Ohhhh, I’m sorry. I swear there’s some kind of battle going on between Blogger and WordPress that causes comments to get lost. We just have to fight on and let everyone know that we can form friendships between different blogging platforms.

      • On the forum, does it alert members when there’s a new topic or do we have to check in regularly?

        • You can set up the forum so you get alerts. You need to “bookmark” the threads (discussion topics) you’re interested in following. Then, in your profile, (the same place I said you could pick a “display name”), you can choose a setting that that sends notes to your email box when someone has added a post.

          If you read the Welcomes & Introductions threads, you’ll find a description of the process right on the site.

  3. Dear Ms Pamela,

    Although it’s now way past my bedtime, My Typist insists I should try again to thank you for calling me humorous. I wrote a note to you already but it got lost. I hope this one gets through because I’m really very sleepy.

    We call each other names all the time in my family. My Cushion calls me his Girlie. He tells me he’s my Daddy. My Typist thinks that’s silly and laughs at him. She says I look nothing like him and am A Dog. My Typist is mean. That’s why she’ll always be just My Typist, and not My Cushion or My Favourite Person In The World. It’s a good thing she’s also My Cook or she’d be in big trouble.

    That’s it then. P.S. I like what Honey is pondering. She’s obviously A Very Deep Dog. Good night and thank you again. Happy Sunday! :) xox Georgia

  4. You’re right, dogs aren’t children (although my fiance’s mom keeps claiming the opposite). I cringe at the “mom” and “dad” names. I’ve also seen the names “people” “humans” and several variations (depending on the cheezburger style adopted).
    I do say I’m Aschiuta’s owner, but that doesn’t make her my property or slave. It’s more of a convention than anything else. She is our crazy little doggie, also known as pooch.
    But following that line of thought, if the words “my” and “own” depicted some malicious form of possession and abuse, it wouldn’t be ok to say “my mom” or “my husband”, in my opinion.

    • Yep, lots of things go into what we decide to call ourselves. My husband is fine with owner too as are most people. For me, it just doesn’t roll off my tongue very well.

      I’m sure a psychoanalyst could make a great research project out of this blog post. :0

  5. Thank you for mentioning Frankie’s name for me. I have struggled with this issue, and devoted one of my 99 other questions in AM I BORING MY DOG? And 99 Other Things Every Dog Wishes You Knew to the question.

    I find all reference to human parentage creepy (sorry), the term owner too cold (though sadly accurate by law), and guardian too shmaltzy. My solution is another acronym: SCO — Significant Canine Other.

  6. Haha…I loved the Kong story! We were ambivalent at first too. One of our neighbours who saw my husband and our dog in our yard when she was walking by asked what Oscar’s dad’s name was, and my husband answered that he didn’t know. Then he figured out that she meant him, not Oscar’s biological parent. Now we’ve fallen into calling ourselves “Mom” and “Dad,” but more out of convenience than anything else. I’m not creative enough to come up with any other term. :) Happy blog hopping!

    • Haaaaaaahaaaaaahaaaaaa!

      Yep, the mom and dad thing is very convenient when you know a dog’s name but don’t know what to call his human companion.

      • Although I don’t really like being referred to as “Bella’s mom” (although some people insist on doing so), I do catch myself saying that about neighbors when I only know their dog’s name – “oh, that’s Fido’s mom.” Another interesting thought – I’ve been called Bella’s mom, but nobody calls my husband Bella’s dad. Odd. I wonder if it’s more commonly used for females than males. In any event, sometimes we call ourselves Bella’s puppy parents, or just her “people.”

  7. My human children (jealous little beasts) objected early to me referring to myself as the dogs’ mommy.

    I have no problem with owner, because I believe that with ownership comes responsibility although in a very real sense I know that I am owned by my pets. :-)

    I have a problem with guardian, because it was first used by those who believe that the government has all rights over my dogs and I am merely their guardian.

  8. Great post. We struggled too with what to call my human. She really doesn’t like “owner”, especially with so many people abusing dogs because they “own” them. But still, we wanted to maintain some dignity so “the cook” seemed unacceptable as well. Who would have thought naming a human would take so much work!

  9. For years I resisted referring to myself as the dogs’ mom but it became a convenient shorthand among other dog people. It’s also less awkward than “the human” or strange variations on the word “human.” I dislike using the term “pinkies” to refer to people. Among scientists and others in the animal business, pinkies are blind, hairless, pink newborn mice! “Owner” is still the legal term; “guardian” is a mouthful and sounds too distant; “companion animal” is a good, all-purpose formal designation but not one for around the house. So I stay with ownership because I own my dogs and they own me.

    • You make a good point about using shorthand around dog people. I wonder how many people use different words for themselves depending on who they’re talking to?

  10. I LOVED picturing your husband offering parenting advice based on dog training techniques! MUST. BITE. TONGUE! I’m often soooo tempted too! We are Mom and Dad as well, but just for convenience… really don’t like insulting our dogs’ dignity as a species by thinking of them as children. And it drives me batty when people talk baby talk at them! But I’m grouchy because it’s still winter here. Just ignore me!

    • Are you actually able to resist baby talk yourself? I find it pretty tempting myself (at least with Honey at home; not with other dogs).

      I’m just glad I didn’t suggest clicker training for my friend who is potty training two toddlers.

      • “I’m just glad I didn’t suggest clicker training for my friend who is potty training two toddlers.”

        Hilarious and my favorite quote of the day! Thanks, Pamela!

        -Chandra at Daley’s Dog Years

  11. In *some* ways dogs are more like children than adults, because of the neotony thing. Of course, dogs are not baby humans, but rather baby WOLVES. It does make me cringe when people say “mom and dad” to their dogs and really seem to mean it — as a trainer, I find these people are the most likely to misinterpret dog behavior, and to ascribe overly complex emotions and motivations to their dogs.

    Now that I do agility, I most often call myself Gromit’s handler … as in, “great dog, shame about the handler.” :) :)

    • {Grin} “…shame about the handler.”

      Interesting irony in your statement about dogs being baby wolves. David Mech, the premier wolf researcher on whose early work many people base their ideas about pack leadership, is now finding that wolf packs are more like families. http://www.davemech.org/news.html

      BTW everyone, Rachel has a fun puppy naming survey going on over at her blog.

  12. Hi Y’all,
    I’ve never thought of Hawk as my baby, but as a dog first and an assistant second. He helps me a great deal when knees or back don’t work well.

    In our blog he usually starts by referring to “his Human” but then drifts into Momma or Papa. I never considered us “humans” as his mommy or daddy. He’ll take things to “Momma” from “Papa” and vice versa.

    Since Mama and Papa were what I always called my grandparents, that seemed acceptable. Grandparents were a close relationship while not a “birth” parent relationship. It was a relationship of respect and affection.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

    • Interesting idea about using Momma and Papa as signs of a close relationship of respect and affection.

      I’ve known southerners who use Uncle and Aunt for close family friends they love and respect. I wonder if anyone refers to their pets that way?

  13. I’m not completely comfortable with the term “mommy”, or as my trainer says, “mama.” I’m not my dog’s mother. Unfortunately, I don’t know who her mama is. What’s more, I really don’t feel like a mother. While I do share your some of your feelings towards the term owner in the eyes of the law, that’s what I am, a dog owner. According to the current system, dogs and other animals are property. (Not that this is a great view or one I exactly agree with.) Also, if she screws up, legally, it is my responsibility. As it should be.

    I have used the term guardian before because that’s how I see myself a lot more. The human in charge of looking after her needs. However, I have read articles that made me reconsider even that term. The idea of guardianship has the connotation that it has been granted to me with express permission. If a human designates a guardian, it is an intense legal process. In order to make any decisions regarding another human’s life it is very difficult. I don’t want to have to sign countless forms or go through a lot of red-tape in order to do what I think is best for my dog. Legally, guardian-status would elevate my dog to the same status as any child I may have.

    I am not sure if I am explaining this properly. While, I like the term guardian much better because it doesn’t sound nearly as negative, I don’t think we should be changing the legal concept of pet ownership to pet guardianship. So I try to steer clear of that whole argument and avoid both terms.

    For the most part, I use the word “human.” As in, I am my dog’s human. It’s true and less sappy than “mama.” I also think it is how she sees me and my husband. We’re her people. In her mind, we belong to her as much as she belongs to us.

    Great post, by the way!

    • Your talking about the legal effects of the term guardian are what makes this an important topic. Many animal lovers feel that switching to a legal system of guardianship would serve animal welfare better than ownership.

      Historians that we both are (whether we’re paid for it or not), know that all laws have unintended consequences.

      I too use the word “human” or “people” when I’m discussing other dogs’ relationship. For me, The Mom and The Dad is kept in the family.

  14. I admit it – inside our home we do refer to each other as “mom” and “dad” for the ease of identification amongst the critters. In the outside world, we’re “owners” all the way :)

    P.S. I have given your blog a Stylish Blogger Award! Stop by my spot if you’d like to pick it up :)

    • Oooh, thank you Vicky. It’s so nice of you to think of me. I have to admit, however, “stylish” is the last thing anyone thinks of where I’m concerned.

      To anyone reading this, check out Vicky’s site at Paw Print City Times. It’s one of the most attractive blogs I’ve ever seen and it’s full of interesting posts.

  15. I am comfortable using the terms “mom” and “dad” in reference to our dogs, but we are also know as “my human” and “two leggers.” To me, the phraseology is less important than the relationship and the fact that we each in some ways belong to each other. I guess maybe I don’t define our relationship too definitively because it’s a changing and evolving thing as we move through life’s journey together.

  16. I’ve also had issues with the terminology. I think I usually use “partner” because that’s what they are to me. I try to do everything I can with them, and they’re my partners in all our endeavors. I do make fun of my mom and call her “grandma” but it’s more for effect than how I really feel (my mom also thinks I’ll never have kids of my own [I’m only 22!!] so it works to rile her up ;-)). I remember being a little taken aback the first time I read the term “furkid.”

    • My mom has started to refer to herself as grandma and she’s not even a dog person. Of course, I’m 45 so by now she’s figured out not to expect grandchildren.

      I like the use of partner. That’s a really good one.

  17. I was actually made me very uncomfortable being called mommy, because I do not think of the dogs as my kids. But I think when Silver had her litter and we became ‘grandparents’, it started to really mean something wonderful. We don’t ever plan on having children and I still don’t think of the dogs as kids, but I like being called a dog-mom and dog-grandma. It feels like such a sweet sentiment for our loving family and I feel pretty proud of it.

  18. It looks like we’ll be one of the only ones (thus far) 100% okay with referring to ourselves as our dog’s mom and dad. We feed, exercise, protect, clean, teach, shelter, encourage, discipline and most importantly, love Gus. All things our parents did for us.

    • Lori, you just brought up something very interesting with your last sentence. I wonder if those of us who feel uncomfortable with using the “m” word and the “d” word have more ambivalent feelings about our own parents? Hmmmmm.

  19. We are of the (apparently few) “mommy” and “daddy” group. Like Vicky, not so much in public, but here at home… I’ve been known to toss out a “go see Daddy” and such. This whole conversation reminds me of a new term I recently heard – my friend’s boyfriend adopted a new dog and my friend called me all excited about her new “StepDog”.

    • If your friend marries her boyfriend, will she adopt the dog?

      I have a friend who refers to Honey as her “God Dog” (say that ten times fast). It’s a very nice thought to have someone else interested in her welfare growing up.

  20. I agree about disliking the term “owner.” I don’t really have an issue with “pet parents.” We’ll say Mom or Dad on occasion, I just prefer not to make it sound babyish. After all, my dog Kelly is 63 in human years!

  21. In all my time hanging out at the park, the only term I’ve ever heard used is “owner.” I guess we’re behind the times in our neck of the woods.

    I talk baby talk to our dog, which I have read is A VERY BAD THING TO DO, but I can’t help it. It bothers the Spouse no end. Under no circumstances does he consider himself the dog’s “daddy” or “father” or anything remotely biological. And while I’m prone to obnoxiously saying, “Who’s Mama’s dog? Who? Who does the Mama love? YOU! Mama loves the Baby Dog!”, I never tell people I’m his “mama.” He’s mine and I’m his, and that’s all there is to it.

    • If you’re reading that baby talk is A VERY BAD THING TO DO, you need to find a new book. Science shows us that high pitched, fast tones can be very useful in training to “speed your dog up” (like when you’re calling him). So don’t let anyone tell you baby talk is a bad idea. Tell them it’s a training technique.

  22. Great essay thanks very much. I have thought about this a lot, and you helped me with my thought process.

    Talking about the act of owning a living being definitely makes me uncomfortable, but when I start trying to figure out the appropriate verbs and adjectives, other words start to not work so well. If I am the pet’s guardian, then do I guard it? If I am its parent, it can really bother parents of human children, and I do not think of dogs who live with me as children. If I am my dog’s steward, then should I show it a wine list, or what? It is a tough one.

    For me, there is no wrong answer — I don’t let what anyone calls their pet bother me — and I still talk about owning my dogs… only because it is the option that bothers me the least.

  23. Wow – you’ve sparked a great conversation here. I guess one of the benefits of being a bit behind in my reading is that I get to see what everyone else had to say.

    Like many others, I’m not completely comfortable with “mom” and “dad” but those are the terms we use to refer to ourselves – especially with the dogs (e.g. “Go find Dad.”) To me, “owners” doesn’t convey the loving relationship we have with the dogs, and “guardians” seems a bit too contrived. For now, we’ll stick with Mom and Dad.