Monica Collins

Why not unleash kindness?

By Monica Collins
December 9, 2009

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MY DOG’S BEHAVIOR bothered me, although the visitor in my home didn’t seem to notice as she nibbled a Trader Joe’s cocktail frank. My dog perched an inch away from her staring - begging - intensely. And, really, who could blame him? A hot dog at canine eye-level is a devil’s plaything.

My guest remained absorbed in conversation and didn’t seem to notice the greedy hairy fellow as I fought off the temptation to shoo the animal with a firm “no!’’ or “go to your bed!’’ - commands that may have gotten results.

Later, I spied him under the dinner table where the scavenger waited for scraps to rain from heaven. He was too calm and too cute for me to order him to go anywhere else.Our dogs are not perfect. The best we can hope is for them to become perfect for us. They grow into us, weaving into our lives. And we accommodate them, laugh at them, enjoy their company and, in many cases, love them as members of the family.

They can drive us crazy by doing all the wrong things at all the wrong times. They chew underwear, throw up grass, bark indiscriminately at garbage trucks, vacuum cleaners and motorcycles, jump on furniture and people. They eat anything rancid. They fixate on tennis balls, penlights, Frisbees - pick your pooch passion.

We keep dogs around because life would be emptier and less vibrant without their presence. Dogs remind us of innocence, joy, and the persistence to achieve dreams. In their case, that would be the evisceration of a squeaky toy. We tolerate because, in reality, we don’t have the patient mettle to be unwavering mutt military commanders such as the Generalissimo bringing his “Pack Power’’ tour to Boston University on Sunday. Cesar Millan, the legendary Dog Whisperer of National Geographic Channel fame, leads an army of acquiescence. And people will pay up to $150 a ticket for the privilege to become a “Pack leader,’’ which includes prime seating, online tutorials, and admission to a half-hour audience with Millan after the show.

Millan will exhort the faithful to become confident pack leaders and enlightened dog disciplinarians. The Millan philosophy? Walk ’em hard; hold head high; hiss venomously to arrest sudden bad behavior; bestow food and affection only when earned. These methods come couched in stern advisories not to try on your own, although Millan does appear to perform TV miracles. Scary, aggressive curs that might have been put out of their misery without his intervention become chastened critters under his care.

Most of us don’t have extremely disturbed dogs. Still, we apply human damaged terms - anxious, neurotic, and obsessive-compulsive - to nutty house pets who watch us for any clue about what they should do next.

We complain about behavior we have caused by not walking the dog enough and by forgetting to give appropriate chew sticks and hard rubber toys so the pet munches on the chair leg instead. We don’t socialize our companions with canine kith and kin and our domestic animals become whiney brutes. And we have no time to indulge our dogs in species-specific activities - a squirrel chase, a romp off the leash, a roll in stinky stuff, a sniff in another dog’s butt, which is natural to them and abhorrent to owners.

A woman I know is candid about her dislike for dogs. Nonetheless, she tells the story of a visit to pet-friendly friends who treat their dog with kindness and respect. The dog seems to take cues from this healthy atmosphere and is friendly and well-behaved. The moral of this story is why I thought better of making a scene when my dog fixated on a cocktail frank.

Monica Collins writes a syndicated column, “Ask Dog Lady,’’ and is host of a weekly radio show on WCAP AM in Lowell.

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