“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
~ David Farragut
In the United States, 6 to 8 million Dogs and Cats are surrendered to animal shelters every year (Humane Society of the U.S., 2013). This staggering number reflects the lack of what keeps a relationship strong: determination and commitment. When we decide to bring a Dog into our lives, we are taking a leap of faith. The stronger the spirit of determination and commitment is, the more the relationship can weather tough times that inevitably arise, and the greater the chances for success.
According to an article from the American Journal of Applied Psychology, Pet owners’ “commitment to their Dogs follow the same psychological factors used to explain people’s commitment to [Human to Human] relationships: satisfaction, investment size, and perceived quality of alternatives, with satisfaction being the number one factor effecting commitment level.” (Brian Collisson, 2015). Let’s take a closer look at each of these:
Statistically, only 5 percent of Dogs in shelters are purebred (NAIA, 2015). One possible explanation for this is that purebred Dogs are a financial investment. Purebred puppies can cost anywhere from $500 to over $4000, depending on the breeder and the breed. It makes sense that people would not want to give away a dog that was such an expensive purchase. However, this in no way means I am advocating for “selling” dogs for a profit. I am just stating an obvious fact. There are, however, other sizable investments that someone makes in their Dog which are not monetary, and I would suggest that these investments are an even greater predictor of whether the relationship will remain intact. I am speaking about emotional and time investments. In my last blog post, Roots of Devotion, Part 1: Devotion of the Heart, we discussed the idea of unconditional love, which is an emotional investment. In my next post, Roots of Devotion, Part 3: Devotion of the Body, I will be discussing the investment of time. For now, suffice it to say that either of these investments will increase the likelihood of achieving deep and rewarding friendship with your dog.
Perceived quality of alternatives
Today, we live in a culture full of choices. In fact, we are bombarded on a daily basis with alternatives. There is always the new model car, the latest smartphone, the better job, the better house, the better television show, the better body, the better laundry detergent…, and on and on. It’s no wonder that no one can commit to anything. We have been conditioned that a “new and improved” version is just around the corner. It has become easy and even acceptable to give up at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction and find more attractive alternatives. Unfortunately, this is also true of our relationships with our Dogs. It has become too easy to replace, rather than repair, our relationship, and some in our culture view dogs as disposable. I once had a client years ago that would get a new Dog every time she replaced her carpet, so they would match. This stems from the shortsighted mindset that Dogs are simply accessories and less valuable than we are. Although this topic should be a blog post unto itself, it should be evident that the relationships we have with our Dogs are not the same as the relationships we have with our cars.
The research suggests that the more someone is satisfied in a relationship with their dog, the greater the level of determination and commitment. I wold suggest, however, that it should be stated the other way around: the more someone is committed to the relationship, the higher the level of satisfaction in that relationship there is. One only has to look at the statistics of arranged marriages (those based on commitment) versus love marriages (those based on romance) and the corresponding divorce rate. Studies show that 40-50% of marriages in the United States and Canada end in divorce, while only 4% of arranged marriages fail (Vaniar Institute of Family, 2010). Couples in arranged marriages tend to feel more love for one another as time goes on, and couples in love marriages tend to feel significantly less love for one another as time goes on. One reason for this is likely due to the level of unrealized expectations the couples have for each other. When we expect too much, we are often disappointed. However, when we approach a relationship with an open mind, or what’s known in Zen as Beginner’s Mind (shoshin), we embark upon a journey of discovery and learn to grow together. Unfortunately, our culture’s expectation has increasingly created stricter criteria for what a Dog “should” be. Television, movies, social media and even so-called “experts” have narrowed the acceptable behavior of Dogs that they have to fit a procrustean ideal. This is reminiscent of the 1972 novel “The Stepford Wives” by Ira Levin. I call it the “stepfordization” of Dogs. It’s no wonder that so many feel dissatisfied with their Dogs, because these artificially imposed standards create unrealistic expectations in most cases.
The good news is that we can easily foster the spirit of determination and commitment with our dogs. Just as a couple takes vows when they tie the knot, we can also vow to stick by our Dogs through anything that happens. Dogs naturally commit to us and they have earned their long time reputation of loyalty. We can learn a great deal about commitment from them, but only if we are to take that leap of faith and and move forward together. Giving up and giving in is not an option if we are to become true friends – if we are to be Kenzoku.