The approach of Valentine's Day has many of us pondering the “L” word more than usual. But what about pets? Animals are more St. Francis’ bailiwick, but pet guardians find that, like St. Valentine, we humans can learn a lot about love from our non-human companions.
Certified Life Coach Diane Dennis, a local authority on relationships, confirms that she herself takes relationship advice from her dog, Jake.
An Australian Shepherd/Lab mix, Jake came into Dennis’s life over two years ago via a boyfriend (they met at Jake’s Famous Crawfish – thus his name). Hesitant after having recently lost of her longtime senior dog, Lacey, Dennis eventually demurred, and Jake was in.
Today, the boyfriend is long gone but Jake remains. Occasionally Dennis wonders how much better human relationships could be if we emulated the love of our pets. “Our best examples of love come from dogs,” she says.
According to Dennis, “control, power, fear and competition” are the four motivations at the root of discord in relationships. Behind these motivations, she says, is ego. Citing Jake's wholehearted eagerness to please, Dennis says dogs lack the selfish intentions inherent in human nature.
Diane with Jake, her Aussie/Lab mixWhen it comes to human relationships, empathy is key. “This requires good listening skills . . . really feeling what the other person is feeling as you’re communicating,” Dennis says.
As hard as it can sometimes be for humans to focus on what their loved one is saying, dogs listen [most of the time] with their entire beings. Without spoken language to muddle communication, dogs listen with all of their senses. They see tension in our movements, even smell chemical changes in our bodies. They can hear beyond our words, detecting the emotions in our voices.
Dennis isn't saying we should go around smelling each other in order to communicate better. If we're focused — as focused as dogs are when they listen to us — we would find communication easier, and often smoother. But we let our egos get in the way, fracturing our attention.
That's when relationships start to break down: when we start paying attention to the voice is in our head, signaling fear, urging control.
Dogs don't have that internal monologue, even when they do “bad” things. Dennis recalls a series of expensive dog beds Jake loved to destroy, showing remorse after every incident. When she found he had chewed up yet another bed, Jake crawled to her feet and lay prostrate.
While such a display might be unrealistic for humans, Dennis sees the clarity of purpose and the focus on listening as attributes humans would do well to learn.
When we fight with loved ones is it really about the socks on the floor? Or being constantly late? As vulnerable as we might feel when we talk about the real issues — our real fears and desires — are we as vulnerable as a puppy in submission at our feet?
Our pets learn to interpret our needs, and we theirs. We let them out when the paw at the door. We comfort them through fireworks. They lick our cheeks when we cry and fetch the newspaper when it's cold and rainy.
With this simple give and take — the statement and fulfillment of needs — we naturally fall into a balanced, successful relationship . . . with our pets. In fact, the popular bumper sticker that says, “Help me be the person my pet thinks I am” simply states that we know we often fall short of our pet's version of us. Ever seen “Help me be the person my wife/husband thinks I am” on a single bumper? Probably not.
Emulating our four-legged companions might be an overly simplistic answer to the age-old issue, but simplicity might just be what your human relationship needs. As Dennis puts it, “It's a gift to be able to meet another person's need.”
Got a question about love or life with your pets? Diane Dennis will join Spot as a featured guest at Spot/Monaco’s Mutt Mixer 1st Thursday Feb. 4, 6-8pm at the hotel. Dennis also appears frequently on AMNW and hosts Family Focus 101 on KUIK AM radio Saturdays at 10am.