Kierstin and I pulled up to the modest house in the small, isolated housing development,sitting next to empty dirt fields like a reminder of a popped housing bubble. We knocked on the door excitedly, smiles bright like kids in the hallway on Christmas morning. The woman answered the door and led us to the back. Oversized brown eyes looked up at us as we stepped into the backyard. There was a quiet, gentle yellow lab, stomach still swollen from the litter she just whelped. We crouched down and scratched big, floppy ears that felt like velvet; we were quickly surrounded by tiny wagging tails and clumsy golden, furry bodies. A massive barking male lab started spinning and barking behind a 6-foot tall wire fence, presumably in place to protect us from being mauled by sloppy dog kisses.
“There were six,” the owner said, “but two were already purchased. And I’m keeping him.” She pointed to a panting little puppy with giants paws. “So, there are two females and one male left.” We found the last little boy, mostly yellow like his brothers and sisters, but speckled brown from the mud that he had just been rolling around it. We approached cautiously, and he shyly let us pat his head. “I’ve been selling them for $300,” she continued, “but that one, I’ll let you guys have for $200.” He was the runt of the litter, and for a lab, he still is kind of a runt. But Simba is our little runt, and we spoil him. After all, a dog is meant to be spoiled.
When we first got him, he was just a fun thing to have. We had our ideal visions: a soft little critter to cuddle with, to greet us when we got home, to laugh at for crazy antics. But he was just there. I kept him at my house in Davis when Kierstin moved to Sacramento after the summer ended. He was there in the morning, there when I left for school, and there when I got back. He was just there. Eventually, I bought Kierstin a book: Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. And by “bought Kierstin a book”, I mean that I bought a book, gave it to Kierstin as a gift, and then kept it for myself to read.
This book had lots of great information: current theories on dog training, how dogs understand their surrounding world, and questions you’ve never wondered about until you’ve read the book (like, do dogs recognize their own reflections?) But the author, besides being an animal behavior researcher, is also a dog owner. She used part of the book to discuss less quantitative findings; mostly her feelings and own experiences with her lovable pups. I found a lot of her thoughts compelling and started thinking more about our relationships with our dogs.
Simba would never spend much time alone when we were living in Davis. I had two other housemates, and we all had different schedules. There would be times where I wouldn’t come home until 9 or 10 PM after late night classes. On days like these, I would check his food and water, and I might scratch behind his ears, but I apparently had too much to do to throw him a ball or take him for a walk. Sometimes, on late nights of studying, Simba would come sit next to me and stare. A paw might rise up to my thigh and gently rest, begging for attention. Only then would I take him for a short walk around the park. Like I said, he was just there.
But after reading this book, reading about the value of a daily walk, for example, I needed to try it. It started off with walks around the block every morning. This progressed to where two walks per day were the minimum. But it’s been well worth it. Memories from walks are simple ones, like deep breaths of cold, fresh Davis air while walking through the wet grass at 11 PM at night and looking up at the twinkling stars above; long treks through Davis greenbelts, seeing strange houses and running through grassy fields; crossing city blocks and winding up in a different world, one of trees, rocks, and water, along the riverbanks in Sacramento; dirt paths that lead to the cliffs above the beach in Santa Barbara where we can watch the sunset over the ocean. The walks are definitely good for Simba, but they’ve been really good for us, too.
If you think about it, you really have no choice but to spoil your dogs. You owe it to them. For us, Simba sits in a wire cage, sometimes for 8 hours at a time, waiting for us to come home. He eats the same food nearly every day. And no matter what, he wags his tail happily when he sees us and provides us comfort and warmth. They say ignorance is bliss, but my own awareness instills a little guilt in me. And maybe he would never care. He could be chained to a post in the front yard, fleas biting and ribs sticking out as a sign of negligence, but he’d still give a happy lick on your hand when you scratched his chest. That could be true, but spoiling your dog may not be for the dog’s sake.
Dogs are not known for their longevity. A factor of 7 is used to convert a dog’s age to a human’s. The best reason for spoiling a dog might just be because their time is limited. There are memories to be made; trees to be sniffed, hydrants to be dampened, faces to be licked, food scraps to be devoured injudiciously, other dogs to romp with, rivers and lakes and oceans to be swam in, trails and roads to be traveled and crossed. And there’s a finite time for a dog and his human to do that. So get to it; leash up your dog and explore the world together. Or just give her an extra belly rub. Whatever your method, spoil your dog, if even for selfish reasons.