That is the question, or rather, a point of contention between Liliana and me for the past several months. OK fine, if I am to be 100% honest, both Liliana and I baby Sasha. We’ve always treated our dogs very good, lathered them with praise when they do something special, and talk to them as if they were humans. They sleep with us, watch television beside us on the couch, and eat the best food that we are able to afford for them. But the way that we treat Sasha since she was diagnosed with cancer has changed. While some special treatment may have been called for as Sasha limped in pain from the tumor that ravaged her humerus, or while she recuperated from having her arm amputated, now that her physical pain is gone, perhaps our well intentioned pampering borne from love does her more harm than good.
In order to help give my thesis a little validity, let me tell you all a story about Sasha when she was a puppy. The day that we brought Sasha home to live with us, she was 10 weeks old and probably weighed about 10 pounds. We set her down at the base of our apartment stairs and waited to see if she would make an attempt to scale the twenty or so steps that lead to our living room. She did not. But that was okay. Mom or dad (I don’t remember who now) scooped little Sasha up and carried her up the stairs and into her new home. It would take Sasha several days to master going up and down the stairs, but as we all learned in our economics class, incentives matter, and Sasha provided a perfect illustration for that particular lesson. She found an incentive – a motivating force that would have her master those stairs and turn her new mom and dad into proud fools. Yes, fools.
Liliana and I knew from the beginning of our time as dog parents that we wanted to reward good behavior from our furry kids. If Sasha messed on the carpet, we dealt a swift, “No!”, and then picked her up and ran down the stairs, opened the door, and set her on the ground. If she had more business to do, then we would tell her, “Good Girl!”, and “Pee pees and Poo poos Outside!” in a happy and upbeat voice. In addition to praising her for doing her business outside, we would also give her a treat. This system of praise and reward is how we learned that our little girl was not only smart, but also cunning.
After two days of working on teaching Sasha that she was to do her business outside, and rewarding her with a treat each time that she performed the desired behavior, Liliana and I were proud that Sasha seemed to be learning. She made fewer messes in the apartment, and asked to go outside more frequently. This was great! Sasha would ask to be let out, and then she would squat, and almost simultaneously lift her head in anticipation of the treat that always followed this exercise.
As caring new doggie parents, Liliana and I grew a little concerned when Sasha started asking to be let out every 15 minutes or so. Was something wrong? Why did Sasha need to go out so often? Well, it turned out that Sasha learned how to game the system. She was being sneaky about it, but we figured out that she wasn’t actually ‘producing’ 80% of the time that we let her out to do her business. Nope. Instead, she was just squatting for cookies. Sly.
OK, so with that background on Sasha, it may help you to see my side of things a little better. It is in Sasha’s nature to figure out ways to get what she wants from her humans, and she is not above a little trickery to get her way.
While Sasha was recuperating from her surgery, Liliana and I would lay beside her on the floor, sleep with her, and bring her food and water. She was in terrible pain, and she had not yet learned to walk in a stable manner as a tripawd. Babying Sasha during her recovery was something that I don’t think anyone could find fault with, and even if they could, it wouldn’t have mattered to me.
Things are different now. Sasha is a running, jumping, swimming tripawd. She loves to fetch her flying disk, explore the front yard (the backyard is just for peeing and pooping as far as Sasha is concerned) and go swimming. She can also run up stairs, leap up onto the living room sofa and our bed, and she always runs out to the dining area of our house for feeding time. Sasha, on three legs, is faster than our Big Guy, Argus, who has all four of his legs! She’s my supergirl.
Even though Sasha is back to being an athlete again, she still remembers that mom and dad used to bring her the water bowl when she was thirsty. Being the sly trickster that she is, and playing to her MOM’s loving naiveté, Sasha plays the role of a poor helpless cripple when she is thirsty. She’ll let out a few whimpers and then turn a sad puppy dog gaze toward Liliana. That’s usually all it takes for Sasha to get her way, but if she has to, she will turn up the guilt trip a little more. The next step of her game consists of actually standing up from her dog bed, taking a step or two in the direction of where the water is, and then looking over to Liliana again. If Liliana still doesn’t get up, then Sasha takes another step or two and combines the sad puppy dog face with whimpering and then looking off toward the hallway, and then back at Liliana. GAME OVER! Sasha wins. Mommy brings the water bowl over to Sasha.
Sasha has learned how to manipulate her humans to bend to her will. She did it when she was a puppy, and she’s still doing it now as a twelve year old dog. All of our dogs, and I’m sure every dog in the world, knows how to use the sad puppy dog face to get their way with people. I’m convinced, however, that Sasha has a few more arrows in her quiver than the average dog, and she has no shame in using all of her special doggie powers to control Liliana and me for her benefit.
Do I mind babying Sasha? Do I not want to give into her every whim and desire? No, of course I don’t mind babying her, and it makes me happy to pick her up to put her on our bed each night before we go to sleep. What concerns me though is that by always giving into Sasha, we are encouraging her to live a more sedentary lifestyle. If we choose to stand our ground when Sasha wants us to bring her the water bowl, she will eventually get frustrated and hop to the water bowl on her own. But she will no longer jump up onto our bed on her own. Does she refuse to make the jump because she no longer feels like she can clear the mattress? I have no doubt that she can do it from having seen her sprint after her flying disk time after time, and then jumping up for it when I wave it above her head, but maybe she doubts her own abilities now.
Bringing the water bowl to Sasha and putting her on the bed are only two examples of what I am referring to when I use the words, “baby” or “pamper”. I don’t want to give the impression that we now treat Sasha like a total invalid, and I also don’t want to give the impression that Liliana is the only one who gives Sasha special treatment. I am also guilty of pampering our girl. I just don’t want to cause harm with kind intentions. I want Sasha’s body to stay strong, and I want her to keep her ‘do anything’ bulldog attitude.
What’s your opinion? Cut back on the babying, or baby away!?! How do you baby your babies? Let us know, and please don’t forget to enter the contest to win a free 8″x10″ canvas print from Printcopia! To learn more and enter, click here: Printcopia Giveaway!