It is the holiday season, and I am flooded with so many memories. I remember going Christmas shopping at the mall with my parents and admiring the puppies in the the window of the pet store. I would occasionally ask if we could buy a puppy. My parents always answered, “No, we only get puppies from the pound. Pound puppies appreciate you more.” I later learned, this was my mom’s G-rated answer, to end my 20 questions. Throughout my life my parents always preached, “adopt before shopping,” and the reason remained the same: Pound puppies appreciate you more.
This memory got me thinking; are dogs thankful? Everyday at dinner time, Popeye will sit at attention while he waits for me to prepare his dinner. I put his dinner on the floor next to the water bowl, while he remains seated. He gives me direct eye contact, then I say, “Eat-up.” He digs in. I trained him to do this feeding routine. Then, every night when he finishes his dinner, he comes and sits right next to me at attention. I did not train him to do this. He does this on his own. My husband always says, “He is saying thank you.”
Popeye’s small “thank-you” gesture reminds me of all of the things I have to be thankful for this holiday season or anytime of year. It reminds me that I am entitled to nothing. If I want something, I have to go get/earn it myself, meaning I will have to work for it. It reminds me that I should be thankful for even the smallest things I have. Things that may be taken for granted sometimes: The opportunity to work, doing what I love, a roof over my head, 3 meals per day, a supportive husband, family, and friends, etc.
I don’t know if Popeye understands “Thankfulness,” but I do know that he understands that he gets one meal per day and it is earned not given. He has to perform certain tasks to earn his meal. He also understands that his meal comes from me, and without me he does not eat. I also know that this “work ethic” we established in our relationship makes him a much happier dog than before. He knows what to expect each day, and he is not guessing as to what behaviors are going to be rewarded or corrected. This “work ethic” creates balance in both of our lives and ultimately results in a peaceful, happy, cooperative relationship. Establishing this was not casual and did not occur at random. It is something that we built on and continue to build on EVERYDAY! It became/is a lifestyle!
The more I reflect on the relationships I have with my dogs and the more I observe the relationships other people have with their dogs, the more I realize these relationships are circular. I taught Popeye what was expected from him through training and establishing household rules. In return, Popeye very willingly gave back to me. He reminded me that even the small things I have matter; be thankful. The more I put in the more he gives back! I don’t think he is keeping tabs either! Another reminder for this holiday season: Give without expectation of anything in return. If Popeye does not understand “Thankfulness,” at the very least, he does embrace and value our relationship, and I think his gesture at the end of every meal is a reflection of the value he puts on our relationship.
If I learn anything from Popeye’s small “thank-you” gesture, it is that “Thankfulness” should not be a once-a-year lifestyle, it should be a year-around lifestyle.