This morning I jogged past an interesting dog couple. They got me thinking about the relationship between dog and man. He was a medium sized, grey terrier and the owner was a blond in her thirties. They were both sitting on a bench together. The dog was looking one way and she the other. She was on her phone chatting and he was observing the scene. As I got closer, the dog leaned further out and looked toward me. He was tracking me from afar, his deep set black eyes hounded me. As I passed, he jumped up on all fours and pulled hard on his leash. He clearly wanted to run, like me. His owner engrossed in her conversation, barely looked up when she gave his leash a hard pull to the effect that the dog cowered and sat back down instantly. His eyes, however, did not stop watching me. The last I saw was his head turned the other way, while seated and waiting.
Dogs are domesticated creatures but they are kin to wolves and coyotes. Although teachings vary from tribe to tribe, according to Native American tradition, each animal carries a special medicine energy (Sams & Carson, 1988). The dog is loyalty, a protector and a servant. Wolves, in contrast, are the pathfinders, the teachers of new ideas. The coyotes, are the tricksters with a keen sense of humor and a hidden wisdom that reminds us not to take life so seriously.
What is the true nature of dog without training? What can we learn from the relationship between dog and man to understand notions of love, loyalty and security?
Dog owners spend an inordinate amount of time and money training their dogs to be obedient. In this teaching, there’s something we can learn by thinking about this practice and the outcomes we seek. For example, to train a dog, you make them obey orders by way of reward and punishment. Orders like: Come here! Go! Lay down! Stop playing! Sit! Stand! Calm down! When they follow the rules, they get a treat and when they don’t, they get beaten or neglected. Over time, this process conquers their nature and reduces their ability to do anything without fear. In this relationship, the master justifies the beatings, touting the benefits. Dogs are given food, shelter and stability! In exchange, a good, domesticated dog bestows upon man unconditional love, protection and loyalty.
As I watched the behavior of the grey terrier this morning, I wondered if it’s possible to completely destroy one’s natural instinct, like the yearning to run and be free? I wondered about safety and stability. I even thought about government and how human beings pay a price for a sense of security and loyalty. What is the right balance, if any, between honoring our true nature and taming?
Where I live in New York City, there is a preponderance of dogs. Truth be told, from the outside looking in, they look happy. They are so clean! Their owners take them out for walks along the river, allow them to get some fresh air, poop and pee amongst trees. Sometimes, the owners keep them on very long leashes to get the illusion of space. It’s as if they own the city. Every so often, a van arrives on my corner that caters to dogs. They call it a ‘dog spa’ and they go in there and take breaks. In fact, sometimes I’m jealous that dogs can get spa treatments in the time of COVID so easily. On other days, I think it’s just a van, the apartments are quite small in the city and leashes are leashes no matter how far they reach.