Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Loyalty - a strong feeling of support or allegiance

A few months ago I was asked to speak to a group of elementary school-aged kids on the topic of "loyalty".  I cringed a little at the request because when I've heard dogs being described as being loyal I'm never quite sure what that means. 

Dogs are a bit fickle in their allegiance, which is as it should be because they are dogs and see the world quite differently than us humans.  While my dogs love me and enjoy my company, I don't see them as being "loyal" to me in the sense that I would ascribe that same characteristic to a human friend. Certainly if my dogs had to choose between walking slowly (from their perspective) by my side on a walk or running off to chase squirrels they'd choose the squirrels.  And unless they've been well trained they wouldn't come back to me until they'd finished their pursuit no matter how loud I called or what kind of treats I happened to have in my pocket. 

On the other hand, if I was in the middle of a conversation with a friend and she took off on me in the middle of a sentence to do something more appealing I'd be very hurt, while when my dogs do the same thing I see it as them behaving like dogs.  

But that request got me to thinking about loyalty and our relationship with dogs, and it struck me that we shouldn't be describing dogs as being loyal to their humans, but should be talking about how we (the species with the bigger brain and opposable thumbs) should be loyal to our dogs (or other pets). 

Without a doubt when we choose to have pets we take on the responsibility for their care and well-being.  This includes such basics as ensuring that our pets have appropriate food, access to water, exercise, veterinary care and humane treatment. 

But I think that being loyal to our pets takes it a step farther. Being loyal means learning their species' communication signals so that we have a better understanding of their emotional states, and what they're trying to tell us. It means looking out for their emotional well-being.  We should be standing up for them by saying "no" when we know they are stressed or frightened and people want to pet or engage with them.  We should be training them in a manner which is fun and not stressful.  Being loyal means learning about and providing an outlet for their natural instincts and behaviors. Being loyal means being an advocate for our pets and speaking for them since they cannot speak for themselves. 

I try very hard to show my loyalty to my dogs by ensuring they have all their needs met and act as their protector for any danger, real or (from their perspective) imagined.  I don't expect loyalty from my dogs, but I'm sure going to give it to them.