What do you say when someone calls your dog spoiled? Do you agree like I do, secretly hating the person (after all what business is it of theirs?)? The spoiled comment does not come when my dog is being disobedient, but when she refuses, a treat is cuddling in my arms, or “bust out of her fur” happy.

I don’t know anyone who would call a child “spoiled” directly to them in front of their parents. My mother used to tell me, “You spoiled, just realize it”. Yet I started working on the farm at 5 (I stayed home from kindergarten to learn how to drive a tractor, my father thought I would get more use out of that knowledge), and never could even try out for cheerleading or any after school sports because I had to be home to do chores. Once I ran away, and my parents never even noticed I was gone, they just chastised me because my chores weren’t done on time.

But I digress. This isn’t about me.

I read on a dog tag, “not spoiled. Blessed” that, I thought, was a good answer. But it really doesn’t have a ring to it.

I thought about responding: “well let’s think this out. I love this dog. She is part of my life. She supports me unconditionally, is always there to snuggle with me, always in a great mood, happy as can be to just go for a walk. I am the most important person in her life. But I don’t want to treat her too nice. No. She needs to know her place, that she is A DOG. That humans get treated better. That I want her to know rules, and I want her to suffer sometimes, that what it means to be a dog.”

Years ago, I was asked a statement that changed my life. It was simply this: “will you love me as my dog does?”  It caused me to pause, thinking nobody loves you like that. I have asked this question to many people in the years hence: “does anybody love you as your dog does?” and I always get a snort of laughter that I am even ASKING the question, followed by an emphatic “NO”.  When I thought about how my dog loved me, how completely and deeply, and of course unconditionally, another question replaced the first one. It was simply this: “Why don’t I treat my dog better? She certainly deserves it.” Or is it that someone who loves us has to be relegated to the sidelines, that there is something wrong with someone who loves us so deeply, and we secretly want them to suffer for it? Like we suffer ourselves for being foolish enough to love ourselves? Is that the truth we are saying? My dogs have allowed me to see when I am not enjoying my life to the fullest, not savouring the wonderfulness of an ordinary afternoon walk. Their love has allowed me to absorb others love for me, to realize I deserve to love myself. That is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Yet I am supposed to give back to my dogs that they don’t know their place? That perhaps they are having too much fun? What is it someone is really trying to say when he or she calls a dog spoiled?

With my dog I have been able to practice what it is like to be in a giving loving relationship without game-playing, without constantly doing the relationship dance of am I giving too much, does he love me as much as I love him, shall I be withholding and make him suffer in order that he wants me? The dogs honestly have taught me a whole new way to love and live. My dogs model for me how to forgive, to be in the present time, to not always be looking under the surface to find out “what is really going on”.  There is a quote that no man is so evil that his dog does not love him. I am thinking of the movie title, “Sure Thing”. A dog-loving you is pretty much a sure thing if you show them any affection at all. I know some people who would say that I could have learned the qualities I mentioned before by having kids. That simply isn’t true. I have first-hand knowledge of how cruel children can be. My father raised three children and never learned to love himself or enjoy the moment (he always had to be working). Plus there is that whole “not being able to lie” thing that dogs have gone through that is both endearing and educational. Just imagine what people would be like if they could not lie. No more reading the undercurrents in relationships, no more fudging on taxes, bluffing in poker totally gone by the wayside.

So next time someone asks you if your dog is spoiled, or states that they are, think about what that person is really saying. More important, think of how you want to respond. Like maybe, just maybe, you can smile and genuinely say: “Thank you. I work very hard at making sure she is loved and happy.”

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