What’s it like to be you? That question is the heart of empathy, don’t you think? Rather than judge someone, put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes to get a better understanding of why they do what they do.
Have you ever asked your dog that question? Really thought about what life is like for them? If not, I invite you to do so. I think it will enhance your understanding of why and how they do some of the things that they do.
Let’s start with the most basic thing. What’s it like to be 6 inches tall or even 3 feet tall in a world made for people who are at least twice as big as you? You’re looking up All The Time! You’re easy to ignore. Sometimes to step on by mistake. You’re never in anybody’s face – unless of course you’re jumping up to get attention – which makes jumping up to say hello kind of understandable, right?
Then there’s the language and culture barriers. On planet dog, you don’t look others in the eye because that would be rude. And you check tail position and sniff butts to get the 411 on the other dog. No words need be spoken. The two-legged humans are always looking you in the eye and get annoyed when you sniff their butt. They don’t even have a tail. What kind of barbarians are they? They make so many different sounds with their mouths, but none are clear. Everyone knows the difference in a bark for attention and a bark to warn – tone of bark, so to speak – so tone of voice from people is all they’ve got to work with sometimes to try to figure out what’s going on.
Then there’s the lack of control over the most basic things, like when and what you eat, where you go, where you sleep, and who your friends are. Humans would consider that intolerable and essentially prison because well, that’s kind of how prison works. Our dogs aren’t in prison when they’re in a good loving home, but when you look at it from their perspective, there is so little freedom. That’s why I always tell people to give your dog as many choices as you can. Let them make decisions about what they like to eat and what they like to do. If they don’t want to eat what you’re feeding them, for goodness sake, try another food! Let them choose a toy at the pet store. Anything that is the exercise of free will.
This list is just a start. Please, ask your dog, “What is it like to be you?” And listen carefully to the answer. You may just hear one. If you do, it will change everything.