Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Conversational Habits of Dog People

Having dinner with some child-free, dog-free friends of ours the other night, I was reminded that dog people have a whole different world of conversational topics that completely elude non-dog people. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that...they just live in a slightly different reality. It's like when friends have children and suddenly all they can talk about are what kind of diapers they're using, the best binky, how long to breastfeed and what to do about colic. Being a puppy parent has its own vocabulary, not entirely different from human parenting in many respects.

My husband works in an office where there are a lot of dog parents. Instead of having baby pictures on every cubicle, they have an entire cubicle wall dedicated to photos of their dogs. Some are also human parents, but they share the passion for talking about their dogs, sharing pictures and comparing notes on a variety of dog-related topics. While I miss having that dog-loving social milieu, I can't complain, because my co-workers ARE dogs. I still engage in a good dog person conversation whenever I can, and the topics that seem to come up most often include:

1) Housebreaking. Never in my life am I so obsessed with pee and poop as when I'm housebreaking a puppy. Doody is inevitable and location is everything. We compare notes on things like cue words (we say "do it" and "do number two" when the pup goes, so he'll associate the words with the actions...this worked like a Pavlovian charm with Baxter, when he hears those two words, he can't hold it for long). The other night our dog-free friend leaned over and asked "so do you really call it number two?" Yeah, we do.

2) Chewing. Teething puppies are ravenous. They'll sink their teeth into just about anything, from electrical wires to your favorite Ferragamos, so finding an appropriate substitute is paramount. Debate rages on about the benefits of rawhide vs. greenies, real bones vs. nylabones. All that seems to matter to the puppy is having something to chew on and all that matters to me is catching the puppy approaching a verboten object so I can do the old "NO!, distract and replace" trick.

3) Best food and treats. We're in a pretty environmentally aware and health-conscious community, so subjects like "raw diet" and "grains cause dog allergies" and "what digestive enzymes are you feeding your pup?" are not unusual topics of conversation.

4) Control issues. Gentle leader vs. harness vs. choke chain vs. prong collar vs. that thing that gives a shock. Everyone has an opinion. No one seems to have control over their dog.

5) On the furniture or not? There are the "I'd never dream of banishing my dog from the furniture, he's part of the family" people and the "I'd never let my dog up on the furniture, he's perfectly happy in his own bed" people. We tend to fall in the second category. Our dogs are part of the family, yet they know that their role is to keep our feet warm when we watch TV. It's a pack order thing. The alphas get the couch and the big bed.

6) Dog park or no dog park? I've heard people say that dog parks are terrible for dogs, they're dangerous, dogs fight, dogs pick up diseases, etc. Personally, I like 'em. Baxter and I have had mostly great experiences at dog parks -- fellowship, lots-o-smells, very little fighting and lots of playing. Of course, where there are young dogs, there's a lot of play-fighting, and I'm convinced some people think their dogs are little furry humans and don't know the difference between a dog wrestle and a real fight. That said, we have a really excellent dog park in our town where the dog parents kick-out anyone who brings in an aggressive dog.

7) Sibling rivalry. How do I know when the play fighting turns into a deadly game of "if I whack the little guy I'm top dog again?" This is also an issue with cats. A friend got a kitten and was concerned that her young dog was going to kill the kitten because the dog was so rambuctious. Her vet, who knows the dog well, said to let the kids settle the score on their own. Sure enough they did. And, as usual, the cat is now in charge.

Oh the subjects are endless. And I enjoy every minute of talking about them. Dog people know. And I can usually tell a dog person when I meet one...they see a puppy and they melt. They talk about their dogs with a love and devotion usually reserved for talk of grandchildren. I'm sure it's somewhat of a mystery to our dog-free friends and relatives. So we'll hold out until we're among our kind, and then let the conversation roll!

1 comment:

ScruffyDog said...

UPDATE: We finally broke down and decided to allow the dogs on the couch (but not the bed, we'd never get any sleep otherwise). It all started because of Kirby. Baxter used to sit next to the couch with his head on my lap. But little Kirby was too short to do that without standing on his hind legs. So we started inviting Kirby up on the couch. Then Baxter looked really morose. So we started inviting him up there too. Now I barely have room to sit. Oh well, I like it better this way, and so do the dogs.