[VIDEO] Just A Dog

We have precious few moments on this earth. Why do so many of us choose to spend so many of those moments with “just a dog?”

I suspect we share many of the same answers, while each having our own reasons.

This is my story. What’s yours?

Fast(est) Friends

Ever been enjoying a relaxing dip in the pool until out of nowhere some chucklehead kid does a cannonball next to you?

Penny is that chucklehead

Penny certainly made a splash during her introduction to a German Shorthaired Pointer we’ve never met before. Penny kind of has a thing for Pointers.

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As expected, Penny’s cannonball hello sent the Pointer running

But that’s when things got interesting. Because some how dogs are able to know each other nearly instantaneously. In the space of a few strides – or a single camera click – pups can seemingly articulate a lifetime’s worth of information.

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It seems closer to telepathy than anything else, but in the fractional space between this photo and the previous one, the two dogs became best friends

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For the rest of our time at the beach these two were inseparable companions, storming through the sand and shallows

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It looked like these two were posing for a buddy-cop movie poster

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Anyone watching would have thought these guys had been friends forever

It seems you don’t need a lifetime to make “friends of a lifetime.” Nevertheless, my wife still says I’m not allowed to cannonball strangers at the public pool. Oh well, more friends for Penny I guess!

Just A Dog

For the past five years, five days a week, I’ve written about dogs. About the love, loss, joys and frustrations we experience with our pups.

To commandeer the famous Lou Holtz phrase, I believe that for those who know dogs, no explanation is necessary. And for those who don’t know dogs, no explanation will suffice. Rhodesian RIdgeback, blog, adventure, travel, marking our territory

So five years ago, when this puppy jumped into my arms, I understand why some questioned my enthusiasm

For many people, a dog is, dismissively, “just a dog.” Just, meaning – simply; only; no more than.

No explanation can fully illuminate why the time, dedication and love we share with our pups are worthy efforts, but I hope my story might help some rethink what “just a dog” really means.

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Because “just” can also mean “exactly.” As in, Eko was just what I needed at a very difficult time in my life

Five years ago I was a ship unmoored, battered by the waves of life. I was uncertain of my direction both personally and professionally. The only thing I felt certain about was wanting a dog.

Just a dog.

Not until you have held your first dog in your arms do you realize every dog is a guide dog. My wrinkly puppy fearlessly guided me through choppy waters. People ask questions about plans, directions and deadlines. Because Eko is just a dog, he didn’t care about those things – as long as we were together.

So that’s what we did. Just – simply, only, no more than – stayed together. And we did so on the adventure of a lifetime – a 15,000+ mile road trip across the country.

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We just saw a few buildings

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Just visited a few parks

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Just marched in a parade (or two)

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And just caught a few waves

Like all adventures, my journey was one of self-discovery. One entirely made possible by my four-legged co-conspirator. Who else but a dog would so gleefully and eagerly follow you without concern? I often lacked direction, but I never lacked effusive love.

The judgmental implication of the phrase “just a dog,” is that dogs are not deserving of the love and attention we give them. It’s an admonishment. A reminder dogs are not people. A warning we’re too attached.

First, we must address the shocking truth. Dogs are not people. *gasp* And thankfully not. The relationship between a person and a dog is unique. It’s a retreat away from the demands of relationships with other people. It’s a quiet, persistent bond unlike any other.

The mistake in the above logic is the inherent assertion only people are worthy of effort and devotion. In fact, the fidelity we show our dogs is only just — just, as in, fair, equitable, deserved.

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One of these things is just a dog, and it’s not Eko

After he helped me overcome one of the most difficult times in my life, how could I show Eko anything other than the same singular devotion he showed me?

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It’s a devotion the people who love us understand. Because love is not a finite resource to guard. It’s an infinite possibility that can somehow still fit on a single futon

Which is why after our road trip ended, Eko and I moved to Chicago to be with my longtime girlfriend, Emily. We settled into a comfortable routine, until a couple years later when I had a familiar feeling that we needed to shake things up.

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And so we did! 

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Puppy Penny kicked off a mad scramble of near continuous (mis)adventures as we scouted our new city

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Because of Eko and Penny we’ve explored more than we ever would have without them

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We’ve savored each day more than we ever would have without them

Rhodesian RIdgeback, blog, adventure, travel, marking our territoryAnd we’ve certainly smiled a whole lot more than we ever would have without them

On account of a couple dogs helping one lost boy find his way, we even had a wedding!
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Emily and I got married, that is. Not the dogs.
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Through it all, everything I love still manages to fit on an old futon

So why do I write about just dogs? Because it’s just a couple dogs who help me find and rediscover myself each day.

And for those who still say they’re “just” dogs? I agree. I’d never want them to be anything else.

What Preposition Defines Your Pup?

We live in a world of nouns, defined by verbs. People, places and things defined by actions, occurrences and states of being.

But I think to know someone you need to know the answer to not just “Who?” and “What?” but also “How?” It’s a fun question I asked myself about Eko and Penny as I watched them play at the beach.
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 How does Eko play? He plays with

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Happiest when playing with me, or Penny or that crazy-smiling Weim in th background

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Left alone, Eko is easily bored. But give him someone to play with, and he couldn’t be happier

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How does Penny play? She plays despite.

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That is, she plays fearless 

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Despite being diminutive, she gamely crashes into Eko

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And despite whether Eko wants to play with her, she’s mixing it up with him!

Despite her size, despite the weather, despite just about anything, Penny plays on.

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To know Eko is to know the world with him

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To know Penny is to know her despite the world

Penny drives us forward, while Eko keeps us together. Forward and together, a pretty good motto to live by!

What about you guys? If you had to pick a preposition most suited to your pet, what would it be?

How Do You Measure The Age of a Dog?

When Penny first came on the scene, it was quite clear who the younger sibling was.Rhodesian RIdgeback, blog, chicago, adventure

No doubt that this stinker was the family puppy

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But a couple birthdays later, it’s immediately clear at a glance how old each dog is

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And thankfully, Penny’s days of decor destruction are behind her so we can’t judge based on that either

But there are some habits and traits of this younger sibling which seem permanent.

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Such as Penny’s role of Instigator-in-Chief

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A job which she’s never taken a day off from

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But despite being hard-charging herself, Penny will always follow Eko’s lead

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This (not so) subtle discrepancy between tags is one of my favorite markers of personality. Take a wild guess at which tag belongs to which pup
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And of course my favorite cue – wherever Eko lays his head, so too will his little sister. Often, quite literally

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So yes, while they both may look all grown-up, there’s never a doubt about which sibling is which age

But I wonder how many of the differences between Eko and Penny are based on age and how many are based on personality. If you have more than one pup at home, what are some of the subtle ways you notice their age differences?

How To Leave Your Dog Home Alone

“Hi, while you’re not home I’d like you to leave an animal whose favorite activity is ‘chewing on stuff’ loose in your house.”

It sounds like an insane proposition, but it’s one many of us accept each and every day. Thankfully, these days I have two well-adjusted (always using that term loosely with Penny) pups who don’t cause any trouble while I’m gone.
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This was certainly not always the case. Goodbyes used to be quite anxiety provoking for Penny

While attempting to train Penny to stay home alone, outside of her crate, we had a few…setbacks.

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There was the time she turned my loafers into “Penny’s loafers”

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And the mysterious case of the Swiss cheese blanket

Much of my initial training centered around making sure Penny was tired before I left. But despite being well-exercised, and despite getting a small training treat before I left, Penny inevitably caused trouble.

I realized the issue was none of my training changed the basic problem that my departure was a negative, anxiety-inducing experience for Penny. So I changed my training with the goal of making my departure have a positive association.

How’d I do that? By harnessing Penny’s ravenous love of food. Prior to leaving I put a high-value treat in front of Penny, but keeping Penny in a “stay” command. I put on my shoes and went through my normal going-out routine, all with the treat inches from Penny’s face.

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Penny would tell you it was cruel and unusual punishment

It wasn’t until I opened the front door and stepped outside that I gave Penny the “take it” command. Over time, Penny associated my sticking around with a negative feeling (the interminable wait for a treat) and my departure with the rapture and relief of finally chomping down on her sweet reward.

The new training method worked so well that these days Penny gets exasperated when I don’t leave quickly enough!

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“OMG, Will! Go! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

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And Eko? Eko calmly plays along and earns easy treats

There’s no getting around the fact we have to leave our dogs alone sometimes, but there’s certainly a way to change our pups’ perceptions of that departure. In fact my method may have worked a little too well…

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Because sometimes I think Eko and Penny are happier to see me go than they are to see me come home empty handed!

But it’s a small price to pay to keep all of our sanity (and furniture) in one piece. This lesson was a costly one for me, but it’s one I’ll be able to use for the rest of my life. We can’t always change circumstances but we can certainly change perceptions.