Since 1963, I have trained more than 14,000 dogs. All shapes and sizes. Some crazy, some not-so-crazy. Some with minor problems, some meaner than a teased rattler. Some docile, some aggressive.
I’ve seen Dobbies that would snuggle across your lap as you watch the evening news, and Dachshunds that’d just as soon bite your ankle as take another breath.
I’ve worked with fence-jumpers, fear and sneak biters, run-a-ways, car chasers, fighters, chicken killers, incessant barkers, boundary breakers, and dogs that would attack anything on two legs. I’ve trained with traditional methods, with psychology, and hypnosis.
I’ve known dogs, without professional training, that would give their life for their master. I’ve heard of dogs that come between their master and mistress during an argument, during play-time, and even while lying in bed watching TV. Surely, you’ve also heard of this type of canine behavior.
I’ve trained dogs for the TV series “Movin’ On,” trained dogs to prevent break-ins at hotels, and trained them to protect Sisters of the Cloth. I’ve trained dogs for business security, for the disabled, and for personal protection.
I’ve seen dogs pine at the feet of a sick master, lie at the site of a buried friend, and refuse food until a lost litter-mate had been found.
Conversely, I’ve seen people spend thousands of dollars on a sick pet, talk to a dog as if it were human, and fix his every meal as if they were feeding the pope.
I believe dogs to be mate-substitutes, empty-nest substitutes, and child substitutes. They are one of the reasons I believe in God. I’ve seen them do more for humans than humans do for humans. If the relationships, bonds and friendships we have with others are our greatest assets, then too, a dog at our side is as immeasurable in value.
They help us stave off loneliness, fear and need. They protect us from physical and mental aggressors. They remind us that food, water and shelter is, in reality, plenty for anyone to be happy.
There are easily drawn parallels between dog and man. We share the fight against enemies and traitors, our charity for others is immeasurable, and we are quick to forgive those wishing us harm. We stand by our family and friends in prosperity and in failure, in sickness and in weakness, during happiness and loss. We deal with misfortune and danger to the best of our individual abilities.
We humans, though, have advantages, one of which is our memory, permitting us to relive bygone days with family and friends. But our dogs cannot.
In 2011, prior to writing of my novel, “The Bog, The Legend of Man’s Best Friend,” I ran a survey with 200 responses from 24 states, Canada, Belgium, UK and France. Here are some tidbits from the respondents. (By the way, there are 43,346,000 households in the U.S. with an average of 1.8 households with a dog. That’s 78,022,800 dogs!). From the survey, 99 percent like dogs, 90 percent love dogs, 87 percent talk to their dogs, 98 percent believe dogs have emotions, 95 percent believe dogs make choices, 80 percent believe dogs are a gift from God, 75 percent believe dogs have a soul, 70 percent believe dogs go to heaven, 87 percent believe their world would be significantly changed if, upon waking tomorrow, there were no dogs. (I am particularly interested in your thoughts about the results of this survey).
In the next few columns I will answer questions that eat at you about your dog. How was he chosen to be your best friend, does he possess a soul, how do you know when to let him go, where is his place of rest after death, will you ever see him again, what does he want when he licks your lips, and what are the two commands that will solve 95 percent of all canine problems? Where does the Bible stand regarding a hereafter for dogs? What does he think about, how does he handle time, and what are his three levels of attention?
Thanks for reading.
John Preston Smith, of Huntington, W.Va., is the author of nine novels, all are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Questions or comments can be directed to him at facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds from his writings support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.