THE DOG AND HIS MASTER
A wise friend, intrigued by animal behaviour, told the story of his dog who had started to run away.
The dog was not a young dog and had been a faithful and loving companion for ten years, so running away was not his usual way. His normal routine was to calmly walk free alongside his master on their regular morning outings. But one morning he disappeared… and didn’t return for half a day.
At first, the dog’s master was somewhat angry and confused. Why did his once so-steady companion leave? This had never happened before!
As he pondered the situation he realised his dog might have been unhappy about some of the changes recently asked of him.
For a long time, it had been the dog’s habit to stick his nose into the man’s kitchen whenever he was preparing a meal, trying to sniff out what might be in it for him. His master had dismissed this behaviour for many years (isn’t that just what dogs do?) but had come to understand it wasn’t something that needed to continue. He realised he had always found this behaviour to be quite intrusive and disrespectful.
So the master lovingly told his dog he couldn’t behave like that anymore. He asked him to step up and be more respectful. This, he felt, was the natural thing to do – for both his own, and his dog’s, development.
But it now seemed the dog might be reacting to this new request.
To make him learn his lesson, the master put his dog on walking restrictions after he had returned.
The very next morning, the man took their customary walk by himself. The second morning, he followed the same routine. The third and following mornings, he allowed the dog to come on the walk, but on a lead.
After a week of tethered walks, the master thought his dog had received the message. So the next morning he walked the dog without the lead. The dog stayed by his side.
But… the very next day, the dog ran away again.
Later that day the master heard from a café in the town where they lived. His dog had been observed for some time by amused patrons, trotting backwards and forwards between the bakery nearby and the lake with stolen dough-nuts and pies, burying them under a tree. He was now tied up outside the café.
The man took the dog home and put him on even tighter restrictions. He tied him up outside for a week, giving him little inside time. He engaged with the dog only when necessary.
The master then started the same restricted morning walk routine as before.
But then he stopped. That strategy hadn’t worked the first time, so why would it now?
He realised it didn’t work before because it was done unlovingly. He had disconnected from the dog and stopped relating to him. He made a new decision, to stay connected to his dog.
The man continued the same walking pattern as before, starting with the on-leash morning walk. This time though, he was very loving with the dog rather than cold and detached. The master gave the dog pats and spoke to him with warmth. The restrictions were still in place, but they were implemented in a very different way.
As the week progressed, he could feel the dog was reconnecting to him too. By the following week, the dog was with him once more, in all respects.
The master realised that while discipline will be required from time to time, it doesn’t have to be delivered in an unloving way. In fact, he thought, the lack of connection just created more difficulty. A new level of understanding animal behaviour had been reached.
He recognised too that the way he had behaved was another kind of reflection: of how loving – or rather unloving – he had been with himself.