The phrase “man’s best friend” is often overused and cheesed-up much like a Live.Laugh.Love sign that you can get from Bed Bath & Beyond. But, in this post, I try to redeem it and use it as a sincere compliment of my canine soulmate.
From a very young age, dogs have always been a part of my life. When my wife (then fiance) and I thought of getting our own, it was a no-brainer for me. She hadn’t ever owned a dog and didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew I missed having one around. Owning a dog can be somewhat of primer for having kids, and fulfills the credit hours of the pre-requisite course “Introduction to Suburbia.”
We came to the agreement that we both wanted a German Shepherd. After several months of puppy fever we made the decision to find the K-9 of our dreams. Upon finding a freshly pressed GSD from a breeder near Austin, Texas, we met up at a park in Dallas to pick up the little man and start the beginning of our learning.
Immediately, we were faced with our first learning lesson – no matter how prepared you are, there is always the unexpected. We had the food, the water, the leash, the toys, and the back of the car set up with a cozy cage. We only had a 25 minute ride back home so we were just concerned about getting him back. But what happens when the dog takes a dump in the car when you’re driving 70mph down the expressway? Within the first 30 minutes of our relationship I knew I had a lot to learn.
Two to three months of constant attention and a couple of beginners books later – we had this thing down. From the start, one thing that stood out to us was that any and everything called for positive reinforcement of the puppy’s good behavior. This may seem relatively simple, but we as humans receive more negative reinforcement from our behaviors than we do positive reinforcement for our good behaviors. This is especially the case when you come home for lunch early October afternoon to let your puppy out and there are two pumpkins mangled and spread all over your rug. I restrained myself from scolding him and figured he would learn the hard way what pumpkin seeds do to a dog’s stomach.
Aside from a couple interesting stories it was smooth sailing. My new alarm clock would wake me up at new record times that I hadn’t known existed. A young fitness aficionado, Rudy requires a lot of walks and exercise. Guess who else has gotten a pretty good workout over the past 2 and a half years? But in our many round-trip travels around the same block, it really got me to pay attention to things I had all but forgotten – sidewalks, curbs, and streets. It opened my eyes to a lot of the built environment that we take for granted. It also opened my eyes to how poorly we are at maintaining what we currently have.
Although we were doing good on our own raising this handsome young man, we knew education was the key to his future. We enrolled him at PetSmart University – not so much to learn new tricks – but for the socialization that helps with development. A dog’s behavior is judged not only by whether or not he can sit and lay on command, but how well he act around people and other animals. As the Prince of the Reader Estate, it was time for Rudy to learn he was not the only dog on the block.
It’s easy to see why dogs are so endeared around the world. If you meet their basic demands and simple needs, you are guaranteed a loyal companion for life. That is a rare and humbling feat. In his 2 and a half years, Rudy has taught me more than I have taught him…and he continues to do so. It has trickled over into this company that I created. My passion for buidlings, spaces, and places, has only been heightened because of having to slow down and get back to the basics of what we are doing here.
If, and when, we can learn that we don’t always have the answer, when we can learn positive reinforcement is a better teacher, when we take special care of what we already have, and when we learn that the best education comes not from a book but from each other, we can really start to improve the things around us. Ok, that may be just as cheesy as other clichés, but lucky for me, my MBF is not aware that I am writing this tribute.