I must be part dog because I can sense when I’m around dogs. Both of my ears go up. I become excited and playful—like I’m about to make a new friend. If I’m around dogs that I’ve already befriended, dogs know and love me because I act like a dog. I immediately get down on the ground and playfully connect, and I temporarily ignore people and the rest of the world to connect with dogs.
When I’m connecting with dogs, it helps to be trauma-informed. I watch the dog owner while I’m watching the dog. Both have frequently survived trauma, and my pattern of connecting with dogs depends upon what my senses are telling me about the dog and its owner. Like people, dogs who have been mistreated aren’t too sure about meeting new people. Anxious dogs tend to hide behind their anxious owners. Many anxious people struggle to trust and connect with people, and they’re more comfortable talking about their dog than talking about themselves. Some mistreated dogs are ready to bite your head off if you get near them. Their snarls and growls can quickly send intruders on their way. If you can’t read people-cues, you probably can’t read dog-cues, and you’re likely to get bit.
Dogs are like kids. They want to be noticed, played with, cared for, and loved within good boundaries. Some dogs want to make friends with everyone that they see. Some dogs want to be left alone. Like kids, dogs can get used to anything. Like some of the traumatized kids that I counsel, dogs can get locked in rooms and cages or left outside and completely ignored for hours, for days, or for years.
Dogs become what you are. If you’re mean to dogs, they’ll be mean to people. If dogs are completely ignored, they won’t respond to human touch or care. If they haven’t been fed or watered, they might eat or drink everything in sight because they’re in survival mode.
If dogs have been abused, their response to you may be completely unpredictable, and you must go very slowly and maybe someday you may earn their trust. On the other hand, if you are loving and nurturing and responsive, you will train man’s best friend to be your best friend.
Like dogs, our relationship with Jesus was never meant to be boxed in.
If your relationship with God only happens on Sundays for an hour at church, your relationship won’t grow in depth. Healthy relationships need lots of structured and unstructured time, space, love, intentionality, steady feeding, exercise, communication, and change. Just as dogs get tired of playing with the same toys, our relationship with God needs to be continually fed what is new, missing, and needed. Just as dogs love to stop and play with other dogs and people, our faith-based lives must be lived out in community where dogs and people connect. If you expect to share your faith but don’t leave home, your faith and your relationships will stagnate and die. We don’t grow up in a vacuum, and we need one another in order to connect, heal, and grow into our God-given potential.
We got our dogs for free—just like our salvation. Our mercy-filled Lord paid the price in full. Mercy people get their dogs from the shelter. Put out some food or water and watch how many dogs end up being yours.
Privileged people spend a lot of money buying expensive, popular dogs. They take them to dog school and get personal training to learn how to teach dogs to “be good”—just like parents who drop their kids off to church or to counseling hoping for a magic fix and well-behaved kids on the way out. But dogs are really smart. They know who cares and who responds to their need for food, water, attention, play, and love. Dogs quickly discern who and what is safe and not safe. They have amazing instincts and incredible ability to love, forgive, and always be there for you.
Tippy was my little dog who licked away my tears and listened to me and traveled with me through all the moves during my childhood. Tippy was my only friend that I kept, because whenever I made good friends, it was always time to pack up and to start all over again. I would have been lost without Tippy.
I was given my dog Tasha from a girl in my youth group who had to get rid of Tasha. Being a softy for dogs isn’t always a good thing. Tasha had a serious learning disability. Tasha didn’t listen to anything that I told her. Our “placement” with Tasha was abruptly disrupted one unforgettable day. The final string that snapped our “connection” occurred on a cloudy day. I washed the car and thoroughly cleaned the inside. My wife had made a chocolate pudding dessert for a work party. With the chocolate dessert in the back seat and with the back car door open, Tasha tore around the muddy backyard, kicked the latch on the back gate, lunged her mud-covered body and paws into my back seat, through the chocolate “muddy” dessert, and then proceeded to run all over the inside of my car. I promptly found Tasha a new home with a friend who lived in the country.
Coco was my favorite dog. Coco faithfully loved our family and friends for 12 years. Eight years ago, when Coco died, I lost one of my all-time best friends, and now I make friends with everyone else’s dog. Most nights as my wife and I go on walks, I look for dogs to make new friends with. My wife used to say, “Love me, love my kids.” I think it’s the same with dog owners. “Love me, love my dog.” Sometimes dogs are more ready to connect with people than people are. Dogs are great bridges for building relationships. We’ve met some amazing people this summer, thanks to their dogs. Dogs don’t let us ignore people or just walk by as strangers. Dogs know when someone new could become a new friend and give them attention and love. I’ve learned so much from dogs, and I love how God uses dogs to help us to make friends.
When dogs grow up, lose their puppy charm, and get older, they can find ways to cause trouble and get attention so that they don’t die of neglect or loneliness. Older dogs can feel a lot like seniors. They still have the same needs for love, attention, and relationships, but people don’t notice or value them like they should. Mature dogs can be incredibly loyal, understanding, loving, and make sure we get our exercise. Research has shown that when we take good care of our dogs, we tend to take better care of ourselves.
Next weekend I might get to dog-sit my grand-pup Remi. I can’t wait to have a golden retriever in my home. I’ll bet Remi fills up my dog-sized love tank and helps me to make some new friends. I doubt that our cat will like it, but Tim-the-cat got space in last week’s blog and doesn’t need more spoiling. As you venture out with people and dogs this week, be on the lookout for opportunities to connect with dogs, people, and God. If God can teach me lessons through my cat, He can teach me anything through dogs.