I feel sorry for the dog who lives in the house next to ours at the beach. She’s a sweet dog—though I worry for her future. She’s about ten months old, weighs about fifty or sixty pounds, and has loads of pent-up energy. Whenever we go out onto out deck, she comes out onto hers, puts her paws up on the deck railing, and barks. Her tail is wagging, and she’s clearly wanting to play. I talk sweetly to her, and she stops barking.
But she’s frustrated. We rent our dog-friendly beach house out to vacationers, so there are always dogs coming out of our house with their people and playing or walking on the beach. The house on the other side of ours, same story. This is a dog beach.
Her people are an old couple who never (and I mean NEVER) take her out to walk or play on the beach. I can only suppose that she uses potty pads to do her business. She has a big deck with a gated walkway that she can run up and down, but she is becoming increasingly jealous of the dogs she sees getting to do all the fun things she never gets to do. I fear that it’s only a matter of time until her frustration at never being allowed to play or walk on the sand will turn to anger and then aggression.
This poor, sweet dog is an accident waiting to happen. I wish there was something I could do to help her. I gently broached a conversation with one of her people about her wanting to go out onto the beach to play the way other dogs do. The woman claimed that the dog doesn’t like the beach: “Whenever we tried to take her out there, all she wanted to do was dig.” (That was about four months ago.) Yes ma’am, most dogs like to dig in the sand at the beach. It actually means that they LIKE the beach. They dig in the sand because it’s fun for them.
But okay, whatever, the real problem is that she is way too much dog for this old couple. She is young enough to have a lot of energy to burn, and big enough to pull them down and break free—which is something she is becoming more desperate to do with every passing day.
There’s nothing I can do for the dog—except communicate with her. I sat on my porch, looked across the way at her, and silently asked her what she thinks about her life. She cocked her head, wagged her tail, and barked. It wasn’t an answer.
I tried again, and she still didn’t answer the way most dogs do when approached telepathically. The problem is, she’s in output mode all the time. With no way to burn off excess energy, her body and mind are both as wired as a high-tension power line.
With some time and patience, I was finally able to soften the wall of pent-up energy that kept her from hearing and answering my questions. I learned that she loves her people and wants to protect them. She is very aware of her function in the lives of these people who are afraid of just about everything outside their domain. She understands that they are afraid to take her out on a leash. That’s why she barks at the people over here when they take their dogs out.
She can see that the people walking their dogs are not afraid of being pulled down. And since she knows that these people who walk their dogs would be capable of walking her too, she would very much like to be allowed to come along. She is eternally hopeful that one of these days, someone will invite her to join them for fun time on the sand. I’ve wished I could do that for her, but I know that no good deed goes unpunished, so I know better than to offer.
The point of all this is to say: Please think long and hard about the kind of dog your family needs before you bring home a new canine family member. When you adopt them, they have no choice but to come along and hope for the best. But here’s what they’d say to you if you knew how to listen:
Please match your energy level and age to mine.
If I’m young and lively and big-getting-bigger, I need to live with someone who has a lot of energy and lives an active lifestyle. I’d do best with someone who would take me along on a morning jog or an afternoon run. If they had a convertible I could ride in too, that would be even better.
If I’m young and small and yappy, I need to stay busy! I’ll need a family with people who putter around the house a lot. I’ll follow you around and make you laugh with my silly behavior. I’ll pee every two hours at least, so I hope you have plenty of time to take me in-and-out-and-in-and-out during the potty-training phase—which will take a long time because I have a bladder the size of an almond.
If I’m an older dog of any size and past the point of getting too excited about anything, I’d love to live with an older person who likes to lie around all day. I’m good at that! I’m also smart enough to know when something is a threat. I won’t bark at every dust mote that floats past. I’ll alert you when something sketchy is going on, and I’ll bark just enough to warn them to stay away. I’d also make a great apartment or condo dog, so I’d be great for someone who works a lot, because I’ll just sleep until you get home.
There’s a perfect dog for everyone. But the shelters and roadsides are full of dogs who were brought home by people who had no idea what kind of dog they needed. If you’re not sure, volunteer at your local shelter for a while. You’ll get a good sense for the dogs you can handle and those you can’t, the dogs that fill you with joy and the ones that wear you down, the dogs who’ll enjoy doing whatever you’re doing and not yearn for more than you can provide.
Just consider your needs and theirs, then decide whether you’re a match made in heaven. It’s really that simple.