When Dogs Mattered

From the monthly column "On The Line" by BJ Andrews. ShowSight Magazine, May 2018 Issue. CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE

Remember when you were a very small child, how everything was magnified and yet, the world was so infinitesimally small? You’d spend an hour huddled under a tree branch watching a spider spin his web. You were late to school because you discovered a puddle and in it were tadpoles! So there you sat, fanny on heels till your legs fell asleep and you finally realized you were late and in “big trouble”.

Your life was so uncomplicated then. No deadlines, no money worries, no internet, no cell phone in your pocket. Only mom’s voice could penetrate your secret hide-out and your innermost thoughts. Wasn’t it wonderful to have time to just “do nuttin” and explore the world around you?

So what’s happened to that child? Name me one thing more important than staring at a sky streaked with pink cotton candy, wondering if you could paint it better with your True Blue Washable Water Color Set? Tell me, how long has it been since you rolled on the ground in simple delight while a puppy chewed, snuffled and slurped at your ears? (And how does a puppy know to go for your ears?)

How long since you gave your own child a puppy and didn’t expect him or her to show it. How long since you really talked to your youngster about animals and what they mean (or used to mean) to you?

Have you bothered to find out what dogs mean to your child? Perhaps he’s just pretending to like scooping poop and leash breaking puppies for you? Maybe he’d rather just take a “regular” dog and go exploring and jump right smack in the middle of a puddle and come home muddy and wet and not get yelled at for ruining the dog’s coat!

Remember when you used to sneak out early in the morning before school and just go “fooling around” with your dog? Not a few grown men still steal away before the crack of dawn to go hunting or fishing with their best friends… At least one of them sure to be four legged! Those are the lucky grown-ups. They’ve found the perfect excuse to be 
kids again.

What about you? Have you ever been even one mile from a paved road? With only a dog? When the object of the game wasn’t “game,” it was the unaccustomed charge of getting up early and slipping into old, comfortable clothes, not bothering with the sporting goods store in order to get “properly” outfitted. Could it be that many of us use our dogs as an excuse to discover the wonder of being a child again? 
Then why has it been so long since you’ve laid down and smelled the Earth?

Have you ever seen your city dog quiver in excitement at all the new forest scents he didn’t even know existed? No? Then you’re missing something joyous and primitive.

What about you? Did you ever lose a whole ten minutes squatting over a funny looking depression in the cool damp earth. Wondering if that was a real deer track? Deciding it was and then, furthermore deciding it was a buck and it was headed out for a drink and he had just come into velvet. Laughing at yourself but relaxed because your friends would never know if you were right or wrong. Heck, you’d never tell them about it anyway.

How long since you sat down and told your dog how sad you are? And what makes you sad. Knowing that he’ll not only understand every word, every nuance, every tear that slips unbidden from your eye—but that he’ll never tell a soul. Knowing that while he’s ever so sympathetic, he won’t remain sad for long. And that he won’t let you be down for long either. Oh, he’ll lean against you and he’ll lick your hand and he’ll wait patiently for you to get it all out of your system. Then he’ll “notice” something over there and look up at you and ask if you saw it too? And away he’ll go, his joy contagious, and soon, you’re smiling at him and ready to go back and face the rest of the world. Try it sometime. It beats hell out of therapists.

Why, having become an adult, do we cast aside the precious pleasures of our childhood? Most of us owned a dog when we were little. If not, we envied our friends who did and vowed that by George, when we “grew up” we’d have a hundred of ‘em. Many of us have. It may take us a lifetime but when we stop and count…

OK, my friends, so why don’t we enjoy them as we once did? Why do we no longer experience the same sensual pleasure we once savored when stroking a Spaniel’s silky ear? Now we pull that deliciously soft leather and think, hmmm, needs a little thinning here and oh darn, the fringe feels a little dry. Why can’t we throw deportment to the winds and laugh uproariously at the antics of our Terrier—even if he chooses the show ring to display his sense of humor? Why can’t we see a bright-eyed scruffy little dog on TV and think, “What a wonderful buddy he’d make!” Rather than, “Yuck, what a 
crooked front.”

Why can’t we just lose ourselves in the undistracted pleasure of watching our dog eat? Didn’t you do that as a kid? Didn’t your mind just relax and sort of go blank as you watched an animal eat? Perhaps you were stretched out on a grassy knoll, reins to hand, watching your pony’s lip sort through, then grasp the tender blades of grass, the long flat incisors showing as he cropped it from the earth. Your dog wriggling on his back in something, probably stinky. Sigh. And you don’t even care. Something infinitely satisfying about that eh?

Maybe you sat in a duck blind with your dad. Or watched your mom’s face as she toweled a newborn pup and you prayed, “Oh God, please let her say I can hold it…” Maybe you resented an older brother or sister who seemed to have more friends, pleased the riding instructor more or made better grades than you. But the family dog loved you best and it was your bed he slept on. As an adult, that may sound silly but stop and remember, didn’t it make you feel warm and comforted and okay, like somebody special?

I don’t know. The world seems smaller as we get older and puddles just look like things our new shoes should avoid. Minutes fly by with the swiftness of the falcon I once met. But every once in a while, when no one’s watching, it’s fun to sneak in a minute or two and be a kid again. A really lucky kid. One with a dog. 

  • Barbara “BJ” Andrews is the breeder of over 300 AKC Champions including over a dozen All-Time record holders. She is the author of 8 breed books and founder of 3 AKC Breed Clubs. In 1998 she launched the world’s first public website (TheDogPlace.org) followed by TheDogPress.com and TheJudgesPlace.com which, as part of the NetPlaces Network, serves all facets of dog ownership and exhibition. She and husband Bill pioneered the Akita, Miniature Bull Terrier, and Toy Fox Terrier to AKC recognition and BJ served on the board of each Parent Club. She has judged in England and AKC Specialty Sweeps. She was awarded UKC All Breeds approval but has never applied for an AKC judges license because it could interfere with objective reporting on the sport.

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