Lessons My Dog Has Taught Me
Lesson #3: Putting things in their place
Frantically chasing wild rodents
This might seem obvious to dog owners, but there is one simple truth that all puppies embrace: SQUIRRELS BELONG IN TREES.
Nothing makes Reilly more excitable than the spontaneous spotting of a squirrel in our backyard. The sighting inevitably leads to a frantic chase, with the wild rodent (I am talking about the squirrel here not Reilly) ending up the first tree it can find — squawking down at its canine pursuer once it reaches safety. If you are a member of PETA, don’t worry: Reilly has never actually caught a squirrel. As many witnesses of the squirrel chase have observed, Reilly wouldn’t know what to do even if he did catch one.
In my humble opinion, Reilly’s wild pursuit of squirrel’s who dare leave the safety of trees is a simple exercise in establishing healthy boundaries. I don’t really understand why Reilly – and every other dog I have met – hates to see squirrels out of their trees so much. However, it cannot be denied that Reilly becomes a dog possessed when he sees a squirrel behave in a manner that he doesn’t agree with. In fact, he finds their meandering away from a tree trunk so disagreeable that he feels compelled – not by mental defect but by an ingrained sense of Darwinian purpose – to put the squirrel in its place. And, of course, its place is up a trees trunk.
Oh, to see the world with such clarity. To know clearly where things belong and where things do not belong. This is the evolutionary gift of the dog. Similar chases occur when Reilly sees other animals. The rabbit population has exploded in our neighbourhood and Reilly has chased more than a few rabbits off our property. We had a groundhog sludge through our backyard one day – with Reilly backing right off when the animal showed its teeth. We encountered a porcupine on a hike a year ago but I was able to coax Reilly back in the nick of time. Raccoons like to fraternize on top of our property’s storage shed. They just look disdainfully down at our barking Westie while they go about their business (which usually ends with them pooping on the shed’s roof). And Reilly’s encounters with skunks are the source of family legend – with Reilly coming out on the stinky end of every meeting. But it is the squirrel that singularly drives my dog to complete and utter distraction.
Put things in their place
Beyond healthy boundaries, Reilly and his canine kin are teaching us that it is important to recognize where things belong and ensure that they are put there. Certainly foaming at the mouth and a frantic chase might not be appropriate (we are human after all) but a reflective moment followed by a purposeful and passionate action is often a healthy choice. So next time you see a person bullying someone else, speak up. And next time you greet a forlorn grocery store clerk who is overcome by the monotony of the day, flash them a smile. And when your friend stops talking to you and gets overwhelmed by some hollow message on their smartphone, remind them that you are present and the digital world can wait. These little actions are the human way of saying, ‘Squirrels belong in trees.’