Opinion: What our dogs say about us

My takeaway from two dogs who have deeply contributed to my life is that dogs are as imperfect and varied as we are.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

I’ve been mourning the loss of my 14-year-old Goldendoodle, Nemo, who we put down in April. We anticipated how bereft we would feel when that sad day came, and so three years ago, I listened to my husband, who said we needed an “overlap dog.” This led to our second Goldendoodle, Teddy. Teddy will never replace our feelings for Nemo, but he does help with frequent unsolicited love and graceful running like no other. I call him the “Usain Bolt of dogs.”

These last few months have reminded me what I already knew: Dogs vary in temperament as widely as people, and if we are smart and just, we can appreciate them for who they are.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

From the start, Nemo was “Demo dog,” which he was dubbed early in training classes. He could do what you wanted to a tee, he seldom snapped, and he instinctively found the saddest person in the room to sidle next to and comfort. “Too bad he can’t run for president,” was a frequent observation of my neighbors.

Now comes part two. All dogs bring something, and Teddy has reminded me of a whole different set of gifts. While he is far from perfect, he leads with unbridled love. He will lick my face when he suspects I need it, or in fact, he needs it. There is simply no quiet reserve in him.

At the behest of our trainer, I had to invent and teach Teddy the “hug” command because this very tall dog wanted to put his paws around my neck and embrace me as if he hadn’t seen me for years. “Name this act so that Teddy knows when it is permitted,” counseled Felicity. We did, and “hug” has come in very handy.

So, what’s the problem that has me sometimes unfavorably compare Teddy to Nemo? Let’s start with that he is a “scaredy-cat” (yes, an odd descriptor for a dog) who feels a need to loudly declare himself when he sees a dog he doesn’t know. He packs a big bark which then leaves us to explain to the nervous owner, “He has a bad user interface at the start. He is trying to say, ‘I am fierce. Please, pretty please, don’t mess with me.’”

Once he is allowed to sniff the dog, he changes modes and either engages in play or looks at us to throw the ball. Every morning he goes to the park where he sees roughly the same group of dogs, and all is good — that is until he covets a ball from his doodle-friend Tukka, who is half Teddy’s size.

Now comes another flaw. Once Teddy sees Tukka’s ball, no matter that we have exactly the same ball — purchased after we noted his love of Tukka’s ball — he cannot change focus. Inevitably, we swap balls with Tukka’s owner. Teddy’s obsessive-compulsive behavior defies all reason as I begin to explain to the owner, who quickly smiles and says, “No need.”

My takeaway from two dogs who have deeply contributed to my life is that dogs are as imperfect and varied as we are. Teddy lacks Nemo’s confidence though he is fast and goofy and loving. In contrast, Nemo calmly commanded attention, asserted himself only when needed, and led with reserve and smarts.

Our daughter, who we’ve nicknamed “the sensitive soul,” is arguably Teddy’s favorite person (and he has many people he knows and loves). As a young child, our daughter would wear her socks inside out to not feel the seams. She has outgrown her sensitivity, but at some profound level, she understands Teddy in a way that I don’t. I suspect Teddy’s love of her is in part recognition that he has a soulmate. On the rare occasion that I complain about Teddy, my daughter counsels me, “He is three years old. Give him a chance to grow out of some of this.”

And if he doesn’t? I am going to love him, not one iota less. He tries so hard and loves so much. When we remind Teddy, “No barking,” upon seeing a new dog up the street, Teddy’s lip will quiver as he tries to hold himself in check. He is obeying to the absolute best of his ability. When the dog he sees is a puppy, a whole other side comes out — soft and tender as can be.

Like us, Teddy is complex, imperfect, and a work in progress. Most importantly, he has taught me a lesson that our perfect Nemo hasn’t. We need to embrace our imperfections. Teddy gives me good practice.

Jill Ebstein is the editor of the “At My Pace” series of books and the founder of Sized Right Marketing, a Newton, Massachusetts, consulting firm. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.