Resolutions for Dog and Owner-An Action Plan for Change (or maybe not)

Dog ownership is a privilege, and four years into Joe’s life I wrote this piece about resolutions for both me and him which might strike more than one chord with other Jack Russell owners.

A new year wipes the slate clean and allows us the privilege of a fresh start. All the unfulfilled promises of the previous year can be wiped out, shut firmly behind that festive door of over indulgence, leaving us desperate for discipline and order. The crisp winter air cleanses and adds to this seasonal desire for reform by inspiring great resolutions. Just as winter hides the promise of spring, January marks the point where we resolve to find the new person within ourselves.

This year I am resolving with a twist as all my promises will focus upon our four- year old Jack Russell terrier called Joe. To ensure the success of my idea Joe will be expected to keep his resolutions as well. For Joe to change the habits of a four- year old lifetime will not be easy as dogs cannot consciously resolve to change their behaviour, unlike humans whose reason allows them to see a problem, solve it and act. Dogs do not change through reasoning but act according to external influences. For dogs’ behavioural changes come through human intervention by training or treatment or are a result of an instinctive action that may not be repeated in a uniform manner. Dogs live for the moment, and their recall of familiar objects is based upon their senses and the routines that fill their lives. Therefore, if some of our resolutions are interdependent my conscious decision to change how I behave will affect Joe’s routine and so may ensure success if I am consistent. The resolutions interdependence also means that Joe’s success will be linked to my own ability to stay resolute, so the changes become routine. Unfortunately some of my resolutions, helpfully drawn up by myself, require inward change from Joe without my intervention so maybe more difficult.

On the other hand, humans are full of “sin” and so often fail, whereas dogs know no right or wrong only instinct and so do not consciously fail. Joe will not fear failure or savour success as neither can be experienced without a reasoned course of action. Joe will just respond instinctively to my feelings; sharing my pleasure and despair as we try to keep our resolutions. Dogs are without sin, as they do not act cruelly or wrongly consciously, which explains why dogs appear to tolerate deliberate mistreatment from humans. Any viciousness on the dog’s behalf in response to mistreatment is instinctive not reasoned. In mitigation if a human is going to make a conscious change for the better they are far more likely to succeed if it is for their own dog.

These resolutions attempt to redress the balance of power in favour of the human members of the household and reassert the role of pack leader. This may not be helped by Joe’s identity crisis created by his adoption of our way of life; he is either an unusual looking human or we are oversized two- legged Jack Russells. We confess that like many we are a dog directed household.


My resolutions

  1. Walk further, which maybe an awful lot further given a Jack Russell’s capacity for walking
  2. Remember to put the dog out last thing at night, as he cannot be blamed for accidents all the time
  3. Lots more brushing
  4. Try to remember to check the bed for the dog before you shake the quilt out
  5. When with the dog in public try harder to resist the temptation to pick him up and bring him into the conversation, try especially not to answer for him in a silly voice
  6. Try not to always assume your dog is behaving himself when you cannot see him
  7. Try not to lose so many leads, as there may not always be a piece of bailing twine to hand to attach to his collar
  8. Do not always go into denial about the quantity of dog hairs in your house
  9. Buy more air fresheners, as familiarity may impair the sense of smell, but the doggy odours are still there
  10. Do not leave the food out in the warm weather so that it becomes a fly nursery and moves of its own accord after several days when the maggots hatch

Joe’s Resolutions

1.Always wipe your paws

2.Never eat the cat food.

  1. Try not to eat your own food in the style of an electric blender, and don’t pick out the jelly bits and drop them where someone can tread on them
  2. Try not to share your fleas so generously by sleeping in every room and on every bed in the house
  3. Try to sleep less

6.Don’t overdo the terrier thing too much, the local dogs are tired of fighting and not everyone enjoys seeing the wildlife slaughtered- in fact less fighting generally please

  1. Try to share the fire more
  2. Try to remember that as much as terriers’ love cars not everyone appreciates dogs inviting themselves into theirs
  3. Try crossing your legs rather than simply relieving yourself in the house in the middle of the night
  4. Less scent marking of other peoples’ cars and houses as we can only be lucky enough to clear it up without being seen so many timesIMG_2497.jpg
  5. The hardest thing about some of these resolutions, which will make them more difficult to keep, is that they are there for others and not ourselves. The world is divided into those that love dogs and those who do not. The two camps are separated by an incomprehension gulf, and when recognising each other both stick to their respective worlds. The non- dog lover is a real culture shock to its opposite, it takes a while for an owner quite genuinely to realise that someone does not appreciate a Jack Russell on their lap, or that a visitor is trying to shoo your dog away and not sing its’ praises. To protect themselves and their beloved dogs from charges of over indulgence and selfishness the dog lovers have developed the defence of responsible ownership. It is in this spirit of bridge building that some of the resolutions were made.Other problems maybe breed specific. For those that do not own a Jack Russell something maybe lost in translation and effect when you say that if a Jack Russell does not want to do something he will not do it. Perhaps a colourful example can convey more of an understanding or feeling for the problem. Joe loves our car, and he particularly loves it when he realises that we are going out in it and leaving him behind. The worse- case scenario is when he manages to get into the car when we must leave him behind and refuses to leave it. The only answer is somewhat like the approach taken by wardens who collect dangerous snakes abroad; a large stick, a big bag and lots of healthy respect.Some dog owners may tut at the list of resolutions or even the need for them. They may see these resolutions as a sign of my failure to make something of Joe and go on to reiterate the need for thorough training for dog and owner. Others may berate my weakness and inability to dominate Joe, or question how on earth he could do half of the things he does in the first place. There is an awful lot written about respect in the canine and human world. People get hung up on their belief in the virtue of hardness and the weakness of sensitivity. It seems that now respect can only be gained by dominance, control and power. What is forgotten is that respect earned through love, sharing and tolerance is a far more fertile option reaping more than can ever be sowed.

    Many people will identify with the picture I have painted of our life with Joe, and some will say what would life with our dog be without all the incidents that make it so special. To those I say look on these resolutions as a celebration.

    Meanwhile I tell Joe of his resolutions and by talking to him break one of mine. He listens, accepts his treat and goes back to bed. I ignore this by concentrating on the fact that he will shortly be shaken out of it, and then promptly slip on a piece of jelly dropped defiantly on the floor next to his bowl.


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