On God, Dogs, and Doggy-ness
By Regular Contributor Peter
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Did you know that around one-third of Canadian households have a dog as a family member? Dogs have been described as a ‘designer companion animal’ for humans and have co-habited with human beings since before the time of recorded history. I personally have affection for dogs in general based on my love of some dogs in particular. As a baby and toddler, Sally, the neighbour’s water spaniel, stuck close to me when I was outdoors. First guarding my carriage (apparently my Mother thought it was fine to leave me outdoors attended only by Sally!), and then, as I got older, letting me snuggle with her in the grass. I have, through the years, been variously blessed with lovable canines, and have my current love snoring beside me as I sit and write now.
Although human relationships with dogs are diverse and dogs differ a great deal as individuals, there is something instructive about the way we can relate to dogs. I have come to believe that our attitude and treatment of our four-legged canine companions tells us a lot about ourselves.
Certainly the furry little girl sleeping next to me now tells me about myself. She is now ten years old, but when she was a puppy we brought her to dog obedience school. Any of you who have been to dog obedience realize of course that the individuals ‘trained’ are the people, not the dogs. Witnessing the members of our class gave me a lot of insight into just what love and selflessness was about. The instructor for the obedience course was a tough somewhat mean-spirited man, who none-the-less was able to make people make their dogs behave. Over the weeks, we got to know our human and doggie classmates quite well, and it became apparent to me that there were two very distinctive attitudes people held towards their dogs. The first – and the one encouraged by our instructor – was that one’s dog was to be forced to be as obedient and pliable to their “owners” will as possible. A well-trained dog was one that, like a robotic dog, did everything asked of him or her without thought or question.
The second distinct attitude, however, was not this. Yes, everyone was there wanting their dogs to learn to behave in a civilized, cooperative, fashion, and yes, everyone wanted their dogs to follow their instructions. But this second group – of which I counted myself – wasn’t wanting to ‘command’ the dog with authoritarian rule, but rather, wanted to develop a good mutual relationship with their dog through love and respect. I am sure that I and others like me hoped that our dogs would come when they were called, heel when they were asked to heel – and so on – but we asked them to do so not because of threats, coercion, or brainwashing, but because they intrinsically wanted to. Ours was not a power-relationship based on our own desire to simply extend our will to control them, but was one relying on the influence of love and reason.
It was interesting to note that the results of these two approaches to dog training were indistinguishable. The dogs that were trained to accept the command of their owners as an extension of their owner’s wills acted in the same manner as the dogs that were treated respectfully for themselves and with love. When I meet a person and their dog on the street, I cannot tell if the dog is well-behaved because he or she has been cowered into behaving, or whether he or she is choosing to be well-behaved because of love. While love isn’t indulgence and carelessness in the case of a human and a dog, it is the human’s respect for their dog-companion’s ‘doggy-ness’ that matters. It is the recognition that their dog has an independent sentient mind of his or her own, and that, while most dogs are wholly dependent upon their humans for their very survival, this dependence does not mean that the human has the right to suppress their intrinsic doggy-ness – even if they can.
Dogs, unlike children who grow into adults, are silent and vulnerable to the whims of human power. That so many of them enjoy rich lives and thrive attests to their human companions’ abilities to love with respect and protectiveness of their intrinsic doggy-ness. Humans have, in a sense, god-like powers in their dog’s life, and it is this relationship that might serve well in our understanding our own relationship with the one and true God.
While people, like dogs, may act in the same pious and awe-struck way when they regard God, those that feel their “god” is a punishing coercive “god” have lost their humanness – just as the dog loses their doggy-ness. But people who know God personally, the one and only true God, respond to His love, and not only retain their humanness, but can embrace and celebrate their humanness. This is the life that God intended for His creation from the very beginning. A life whereby we can reign on earth knowing the peace and joy and understanding that comes from knowing that the same God who created us in the beginning also loved us enough to shed His precious blood on a cross.
“For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one – Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)